Physician Groups Bruised By Hogs' Medical Proposal

by Chris Bahn and Rob Keys  on Monday, Sep. 21, 2009 6:00 am  

This story is from the archives of ArkansasSports360.com.

The University of Arkansas’ athletic department offers lots of things for sale.

From autographed memorabilia hawked via auctions on its official Web site to lavish luxury boxes that line Reynolds Razorback Stadium, the department rarely misses an opportunity to increase its cash flow. That’s standard practice for entities with operating budgets of $58 million.

What turned heads in June was the announcement of the UA’s new health care arrangement for its athletes, one that ended half-century relationships with Ozark Orthopaedics and Washington Regional Medical Center. Under the previous arrangement, Ozark, Washington Regional and Medical Associates of Northwest Arkansas dealt primarily with the UA’s football and men’s basketball teams, while the other 17 sports largely were left to fend for themselves.

The pre-existing agreements unraveled, sources said, over the UA’s request for sponsorship money in return for official provider designation.

According to sources at Ozark, Washington Regional and MANA, UA athletic director Jeff Long and other athletic department representatives in December made separate presentations to each group that included a proposal to generate $1.35 million in sponsorship revenue over a three-year period. Long operated under similar arrangements in previous administrative posts at universities at Pittsburgh and Oklahoma.

Joining Long in the presentations was Ryan Gribble, assistant vice president and general manager of Razorback Sports Properties. RSP is the on-campus arm of North Carolina-based International Sports Properties, which handles the UA’s advertising, sponsorship and multimedia rights. ISP was contracted in 2008 to provide $73 million in revenue for the athletic department over a 10-year period.

Despite Gribble’s role in the presentation, Long disputed in an Aug. 28 interview the notion the selection of health care providers was tied to sponsorship money.

“We said from the beginning that’s going to have to be a separate discussion,” Long said. “We said from the beginning, ‘We want you to have that discussion when we reach agreement with partners,’ but nowhere did we ever say, ‘You need to buy this much advertising. You need to put this much on the table.’

“It was never said.”

A copy of a PowerPoint slide obtained by the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal from a source close to the negotiations, however, paints a different picture. The slide, printed on Page 14, was omitted from a six-page group of slides obtained among other documents under the state’s Freedom of Information Act by ArkansasSports360.com.

Most of the slides released by the UA suggested improvements in regard to continuity of care, cost-containment and the challenges involved with servicing a unified athletic department. The final slide, however, was the biggest sticking point for the three medical groups. It reads: “Conclusion: Where do we go from here?”

 

 

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