The University of Oregon administration is sending its own team to Texas.

While the Duck football players vie for the National Championship, 50 UO administrators, recruiters, fundraisers and some spouses and partners are also going to Dallas. Their stated goal: To spread the word about Oregon, to win some out-of-state students, to make nice with donors and generally try to build the UO brand amid the media frenzy.

The administrators’ junket will cost the university more than $110,000. The Texas trip comes a week after the Oregon administration made a similar trip at similar cost to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

Oregon has reached the pinnacle of big-time football. Oregon’s lightning-speed offense, the grace of Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota and the snazzy uniforms provided by Nike have made the Ducks a darling of the ESPN’s GameDay chatterers.

As the Dallas trip illustrates, joining the elite of college sports doesn’t come cheap. And that has fueled significant tension on Oregon’s campus, where some critics argue the heavy emphasis on sports has taken a toll on the rest of the institution. It is a particularly cogent debate at Oregon, where deep-pocketed alums have donated huge sums mostly to sports facilities while the rest of the institution has suffered from a decade of waning state support.

Administration officials are convinced a strong sports program will help the UO recruit more and better students and land more donor dollars.

Academics who have studied the issue say theory is more tenuous than boosters like to admit. Andrew Zimbalist, a professor at Smith College, and Malcolm Getz, of Vanderbilt University, both said a national championship would lead a to short-term but “statistically significant” increase in donations and a similarly short-lived surge in student applications. Bottom line: The benefits can be minor and temporary, they say.

Zimbalist said the increased donations often go to the athletic department, and possibly “cannibalize general fund donations.”

Michael Andreasen, Oregon’s vice president for university advancement, is more bullish.

“Athletic success has been a way to get alumni back in touch with the university,” he said. “It makes them more receptive to getting involved.”

The National Championship notoriety is coming at a great time for Andreasen’s crew of fundraisers. Five years into an eight-year capital campaign, Oregon has raised $750 million of a hoped-for $2 billion.

The agenda for this weekend is packed with banquets, parties and pep rallies. The administration is hosting a giant tailgate party Monday afternoon for 830 alums. The party, featuring “traditional East Texas BBQ,” is open only to those who have donated $250,000 or more to the university.

Scott Coltrane 

University President Scott Coltrane is bringing a delegation of 25, including the provost and deans of the law school, Honors College, journalism, music and dance and other academic departments. Spouses and partners are also among the delegation. All are required to participate in social events like the VIP tailgate.

Airfare and other travel costs alone will cost $50,000. The university was unable to provide an estimate of costs for food, lodging and other expenses.

The university is not allowed to use state-appropriated money for travel, said UO spokeswoman Julie Brown. The money is coming from unrestricted funds controlled by individual university departments.

Eight recruiters from the schools enrollment management department are organizing five events for prospective students in Dallas, Houston and Austin. The costs for their travel, the venues, food and lodging will be about $29,000.

Roger Thompson, UO’s vice president for enrollment management, said if Oregon manages to sign a single Texas student they will pay $120,000 in tuition over four years.

The university’s student life department is sending six employees at a cost of $20,000. They will distribute student tickets at the game. They will also put in several hours at a Dallas non-profit assembling food bags and sorting clothing for local low-income residents.

Ohio State, Monday night’s opponent, introduced Oregon to the notion of doing some community service during the bowl game festivities, Andreasen said. That was in 2009, when the two schools played in the Rose Bowl.

The Oregon athletic department is sending a much larger contingent to Dallas. About 570 players, cheerleaders, marching band members, coaches and administrators, as well as spouses, will be leaving Eugene Friday or Saturday, university officials said.

The euphoria over the big game can’t mask serious issues at Oregon.

There’s the revolving door in the president’s office. The UO has been through four presidents in five years. Michael Gottfredson lasted in the job just two years before he resigned in August amid a furor over the university’s handling of sexual abuse allegations against three UO basketball players.

The alleged victim sued the university on Thursday.

Instructors are disgruntled. UO graduate teaching assistants went on strike last year in a dispute over compensation and benefits. The professors also voted to unionize in 2013. Some of Oregon’s best researchers and professors have left for other institutions, a problem the administration admits has reached serious proportions.

UO, like virtually every other college in the state, faces serious affordability issues. Repeated tuition hikes, forced in part by years of state disinvestment, have priced out many students and led to a student debt crisis.

And the UO administration faces simmering internal resentment over its emphasis on athletics. Michael Dreiling, a sociology professor and president of the United Academics faculty union, said he’s thrilled the football team made it to the National Championship. Among the 435 students in his intro to sociology class are two dozen varsity athletes, including several football players.

But the academic side of UO has played second fiddle for too long, he said.

“We’re 150 tenure-track faculty short of where we need to be,” Dreiling said. “Our priorities are out of balance. The faculty union organized in part to rebuild the support of academics and refocus that balance.”

All of those issues and more await the UO’s new board of trustees, which assumed power last summer. In the wake of a sweeping reorganization of the state’s higher education apparatus, Oregon, Oregon State and Portland State are now in the hands of these new boards.

It remains to be seen whether the new UO board desires a change in direction. If they do, they will likely be bucking Oregon’s most famous and powerful alum — Nike co-founder Phil Knight. Oregon boasts a new basketball venue and athletic  facilities that are the envy of the Pac-12, thanks to Knight’s largesse.

Oregon Law School Professor Margie Paris said the distrust and resentment between Oregon’s academic and athletic sides is nothing new. Fourteen years ago she helped lead a task force convened to examine athletic spending some deemed out of control.

Since then, athletics spending and revenue have exploded.

Paris share’s Dreiling’s misgivings about UO’s sports-centric culture. But she also believes you have to credit Knight and Nike for making Oregon relevant in the billion-dollar pop-culture industry that college sports have become.

“There’s already been a huge benefit,” Paris said. “We’re cool, we’re the Ducks.”

— Jeff Manning

jmanning@oregonian.com

503-294-7606

@JeffmanningOre

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