The name remains

After almost a week of controversy surrounding the proposed corporate sponsorship of the Sun Dome, we finally know one thing for certain: it will not be renamed Academic Financial Services Arena.

Tampa-based student loan company AFS withdrew its name from sponsorship consideration Tuesday after it became clear over the past several days that USF had no interest in pursuing such a high-profile affiliation with a company whose industry has faced serious governmental scrutiny recently.

“I’m very pleased the controversy has ended,” said Steven Oscher, president of the board of directors for Sun Dome, Inc. “But it’s important to add this issue was never about Mr. Morgan or AFS. The focus of our concern was with the current state of the student loan industry.”

Following last week’s announcement that USF was close to finalizing a five-year deal worth nearly $3 million with Academic Financial Services, several reports surfaced documenting AFS CEO Wayne Morgan’s criminal history. Morgan was arrested on numerous felony charges between 1993-96, shortly before forming AFS, and pleaded no contest to a bad check charge in 2002.

According to Oscher, USF’s reluctance to pursue a sponsorship with AFS – which has previously had a close relationship with the school, including the sponsorship of last year’s homecoming – had nothing to do with Morgan’s history or the company itself, but was a result of the ongoing controversy surrounding the student loan industry as a whole. The industry has been under intense governmental scrutiny recently after revelations that some companies – though not Academic Financial Services – have developed questionable relationships with colleges in which school financial aid officers have received perks for steering students toward “preferred” lenders.

“If there was something that were to go wrong or there was something that caused more scrutiny to be put on the industry, it would have been an embarrassment to the Sun Dome,” Oscher said. “It would have been an embarrassment to the University, and frankly, it would be an embarrassment to the Big East.”

According to Oscher, Action Sports Media – the Tennessee-based company hired to broker a sponsorship deal for the Sun Dome – had set a deadline and was pushing to finalize a deal with AFS despite USF making it known that it had no interest in forming a partnership with any member of the student loan industry.

After the story went public in an article published by the Tampa Tribune last week, a feud began between Action Sports Media and USF over whether the school had the right to reject any potential sponsors provided by ASM.

ASM claimed that the contract, allowing it to broker a sponsorship for the Sun Dome – which came about after ASM provided $1.8 million worth of video scoreboards to USF last year – gave them the right to override USF when choosing a sponsor. USF disagreed, claiming that language in the contract allowed for the school to reject any sponsor it deemed “offensive or inappropriate” and that a member of the highly scrutinized student loan industry qualified as inappropriate.

Academic Financial Services – which received the brunt of the situation’s media spotlight in the form of Morgan’s criminal history, as well as documents questioning AFS’s business practices – insists its only goal in seeking sponsorship of the Sun Dome was to improve the facility.

“Our only hopes in wanting to do the deal was because we were so excited about the fact that a majority of all the monies being spent on the sponsorship were going towards re-doing the Sun Dome and giving it the facelift that it needs,” said Christina Barry, public relations director for Academic Financial Services. “We feel that at this time, because the University is not comfortable with the decision and because the community seems to have some animosity toward it, we decided that it would be best to withdraw the proposal to form a partnership with USF.”

According to Barry, AFS had no knowledge of USF’s reluctance to form a partnership with a member of the student loan industry while the company was negotiating with Action Sports Media.

Action Sports Media general manager Tom Veit, who created the deal between AFS and USF, failed to return numerous phone calls.According to Barry, Academic Financial Services had no intention of going against the wishes of the University and hopes to continue to be involved with USF in the future.

“At the end of the day, we want USF to be happy,” Barry said. “We love USF and our goal was never to upset the people that apparently were upset. We will continue to support the school and the students as much as possible in anything that they will let us have sponsorships in.”