Hardly any bounce in men's basketball trip to China and Dubai

There are two posts this Monday. Be sure to scroll down!
✔✔ The men's basketball team's August public relations trip to China and Dubai is in danger of being an air ball. And a very costly one at that.

FC has details from a reliable source. We tried to reach athletic director Kevin White for confirmation, but he keeps his e-mail a secret, the only official we have ever encountered who is not in the campus directory, and that even includes President Brodhead and Coaches K and Cutcliffe.

A Deputy FC wrote Senior Associate Associate Athletic Director Christophe Kennedy seeking information, and were impressed by his prompt response. But all he did was to refer us to someone else, who gave us another name, and then a new person gave us yet another. After two weeks of bouncing around like a loose basketball, we went back to Kennedy, laid it on the line, and this time he apparently had sniffed out our questions and we were ignored.

We wanted to know the budget.

We wanted to know where the money was coming from.

And we wanted to check on reports that the charter plane for team and fans was still half empty, with players and hangers-on taking all of the first and business class seats, pissing off supporters who are being asked to pay an outlandish price while being relegated to crowded coach seats for long flights.

✔ This trip was conceived back in the heady days this past season when there was talk of our men's basketball team's repeating its National Championship, with Fuqua's Dean Blair Sheppard and Global Vice President Greg Jones, among others, conjuring up a fantasy tour that somehow was to profile Duke as an international university: "to showcase not only Duke basketball, but also the university's pioneering business education, health, arts, civic engagement and policy-oriented programs around the world."

"The team" would go to China to play -- right into Kunshan which was to be the heart of Duke's new presence -- and to boot would go on to play in Dubai, one of the cities used as a stage by the showy Cross Continent MBA program.

Fast forward to the third week of June.

We put the words "the team" in quotes because when conceived, there was the distinct impression that superstars like Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler would be along for a reprise of their Duke careers. Nope.

"The team" includes the incoming recruits, and while they are impressive freshmen on paper, they are unproven. Individually and as a unit working together.

✔✔ And who is "the team" playing against. We're ten phone calls deep in asking that question. We reached an official at the Iron Dukes, the fund raising agency for athletics, who very graciously stumbled through an explanation that while he did not know the names of the teams, we'd be playing hot basketball.

No one we reached at Anthony Travel in Dallas, which handles sports travel for many universities, knew.

✔ Anthony Travel -- touting this as a trip to "circle the globe" even though there are two nations included -- did tell us everyone will fly on an outdated chartered plane from an outfit we never heard of. The plane cannot carry enough fuel for long legs, and there will be stop-overs. The plane is not a wide-body, so there is one aisle in coach, with three seats on either side. Which is another way of saying you have a one in three chance of landing a middle seat.

The 40 first and business class seats are all taken by coaches, the team, support people and official hangers-on. So there are 160 seats for fans -- only half are sold right now. Small wonder, since the package of airfare, hotels, some meals and tickets to four games costs $11,995 per person double occupancy or $13,465 for a single room.

That price is absurd.

The website ITASoftware.com (the best place to plan for flights) reveals a coach seat out of Raleigh Durham, to Shanghai, to Beijing, to Dubai and finally back home costs $2,644 if purchased now for the days "the team" will travel.

As for hotels, the chartered jet will depart Raleigh Durham Sunday, August 14th. Because of time changes, it will arrive in Shanghai just before midnight local time on Monday, August 15th. The hour be damned, everyone will make a bus ride (FC estimate: 3 hours) to the Fairmont Hotel in lake country the other side of Kunshan. Luckily the hotel is out of the city, because Kunshan only has one hotel with stars and it was recently sold, its future in doubt.

Pooped from the trip? No problem. The only event on Tuesday, August 16th is a group tour of the Duke Kunshan University campus. FC notes that this is the only sightseeing organized for Kunshan, which fact adds to the backwater classification we have given the city. Hey Dean Sheppard, if this place is so alive as you have stated, how come no one will see any of it?

The first game is on Wednesday, August 17th.

Total time in Kunshan: 3 nights.

On Thursday, the tour moves on to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Shanghai with game #2 that same night. Curious move, since Sheppard has been telling us how close Shanghai is to Kunshan and about the nine minute train trips.

Total time in Shanghai: 2 nights.

On Saturday, August 21, the tour moves into Beijing, checking into the Peninsula Hotel.

Game #3 is on Monday, and everyone flies to Dubai on Wednesday. Time in Beijing: 4 nights.

This time it is the Madinat Jumeirah Resort, Mina A'Salam Hotel, translation "Harbor of Peace," and game #4 on Thursday.

The party is over late Friday, when everyone departs for home. (No hotel for Friday) Time in Dubai: 2 nights.

So in sum, you get these hotels:

3 nights in a Marriott outside Kunshan
2 nights in Shanghai
4 nights in Beijing
2 nighs in Dubai

While hotels have more rates than rooms, FC was able to test bookings, and they came in at $2300 total per person for a double room. Corporate rates, which we did not use, are significantly discounted.

To summarize, for $11,995 each you get

-- coach airfare worth $2,644.

-- your share of a a double room with each person for 11 nights, worth $2300.

-- tickets to four mystery basketball games

-- several days of escorted sightseeing and some meals, including Peking duck in Beijing!

You also get ripped-off.

Anthony Travel is also offering segments of the grand tour, and you can even provide your own transportation (frequent flyer miles anyone?). So let's price just joining up with the team at its hotel, seeing a basketball game against who knows who in Dubai and doing some sightseeing.

Dubai? $2,189 each for double occupany, $2,545 for a single. Two nights.

FC checked with the hotel, which boasts it is on the ocean. Well not quite, the Arabian Gulf on our map. The cost for a double works out to $1,095 each, including a 10 percent service charge and 10 percent local tax. That's the "rack rate" booked directly with the hotel; many corporations and other groups enjoy substantial discounts.

Hotel.com quoted us $389 each for a double for two nights. Total 779.

✔ Again, we do not know if the fans are supposed to pay the entire cost, or if there is some other source of money for this trip, which developed after the budget for athletics was framed. We do know that throughout the university -- with the exception of President Brodhead's lavish summer-time spree on Duke's credit cards to Europe, Asia and Africa -- there is a hold-down in travel costs.

✔✔A footnote on basketball: Coach K's salary

We have finally gotten some data from the University (Form 990) for the 2009-10 academic year (almost a year ago) shedding some light on Coach K's salary, the highest on campus.

His base, after several years of healthy leaps, seems to have leveled off at $1,978,031. His bonus -- including the National Championship -- was $2,222,543, approximately $500,000 more than the year before.

In addition, Duke was forced to reveal that Coach K is entitled to transportation by private jet, that he has used this for personal as well as business purposes, and that other people have been his guests on board. His salary was "grossed up" to cover the tax effects of this; in other words, Duke paid the taxes via a gimmick, increasing his pay to cover the taxes.

Thank you for reading and supporting FC.

READER COMMENTS - Because of the irresponsibility of one individual, FC must review all comments. But in the near future, we'll have a system so we can identify any violators by IP address and other means, and block them. Sorry for the inconvenience.

✔✔ Whatever the facts and figures of this tour may finally turn out to be (assuming we shall ever learn them), this entire venture inevitably reinforces the by now widespread impression of Duke's senior administrators egregiously misinterpreting their roles and unable to grasp their core responsibilities. Rather than focusing on improving the academic mission, intellectual stature, and the campus infrastructure of Duke Univ. in Durham, they dilute our focus by organizing some tawdry athletic dog-and-pony show at great expense, with little resonance, and utterly devoid of meaning.

Our so called leadership would do well to recall Talleyrand's remark about Napoleon: "from the sublime to the ridiculous is but a small step."

This is what happens when individuals who have lost touch with what intellectual passion they once had are repeatedly entrusted with the stewardship of an institution devoted to advanced teaching and research; like a corporate update on Barnum & Bailey, they turn everything into a show, a spectacle, a promotional venture ... and, ultimately, into a farce.

The trustees of this university should start to take their custodial responsibility more seriously, and alumni donors should pressure them to restore competence, trustworthiness, and intellectual vision to the leadership of Duke Univ.

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