Mike Crissman

Coaches get free cars in the MAC

Mike Crissman

In the Mid-American Conference, every head coach and several assistant coaches get a brand new four-wheel perk: a free car. These athletic departments give 199 cars and 108 stipends for cars to its coaches and administrators. Only three MAC colleges require coaches and administrators to pay insurance for these vehicles themselves.

Central Michigan University provides the most cars in the division at 38. Ohio University gives out the most stipends at 28. Stipends range from $250 to $480 a month. An added benefit of the stipend at Bowling Green State University is the coach doesn’t have to use it for a car. Jim Elsasser, associate athletic director for internal affairs at Bowling Green, said the $425 stipend his university gives each head coach can be used for anything – not just a car.

Tom Symonds, assistant athletic director of media relations at Ohio University, said it makes sense financially for a Division I athletic department to budget vehicles into its annual expenses.

“Coaches need cars so that they can recruit,” Symonds said. “It is significantly cheaper for coaches to own or lease a car rather than pay mileage for recruiting visits. It is also an industry standard.”

Nick Williams, associate athletic director at Central Michigan, said their cars are “highly important” to the success of his university’s sports program.

“Having those vehicles to get on the road to recruit,” said Williams, who drives around a university-provided 2009 GMC Sierra pickup truck. “To go to high schools, to go to tournaments, to go to gyms, wherever, it’s highly imperative for us to be successful, as it is for everyone else in the country.”

At Central Michigan, every head coach, select assistant coaches, the athletic director and every assistant athletic director is provided a car – which can be used for either business or personal use. Each employee must separate these expenses in a log they turn in every month with receipts detailing mileage and gas usage. Any business-related travel by a coach is billed directly to Central Michigan. According to IRS fringe benefits regulation, universities cover 55.5 cents per personal-use mile, while employees cover the rest.

Strings attached

Getting a car does not come without expectations. Central Michigan gives its coaches a list of suggestions to help them “build a strong relationship” with his or her car dealer including the following: Invite them to lunch or dinner, provide them tickets to an event, invite them to play golf, invite their children and relatives to a sports camp, purchase a vehicle from them.

A professor who says athletic spending is jeopardizing the quality of education is calling for a “unilateral disarmament.” Dr. Kadence Otto, professor at Western Carolina University and past president of The Drake Group, said she thinks many universities are out of balance in its treatment of education and athletics. Established in 1999, The Drake Group is an organization that advocates academics in the face of a growing college-sport industry

“Everybody has to agree that we are going to lay down our arms,” Otto said. “Meaning, ‘Let’s stop spending exorbitant amounts of money on athletics, trying to outdo one another with recruiting.’ Until that happens you’re not going to see any change.”

Of all athletic-department administrators in the MAC, only Williams of Central Michigan could point to an academic department at his school that provides cars for its professors. (In most cases across the MAC, athletic department budgets are significantly funded by student fees.)

Welch Suggs, sportswriter and associate director for the Knight Commission, said education and students should be the highest priority at any university. The Knight Commission works to ensure that intercollegiate athletics programs operate within the educational mission of their colleges and universities.

“In small schools, it’s not right that athletic departments are using money subsidized from students to pay for these things that they give to coaches for free,” Suggs said. “These coaches better walk around campus and say ‘Thank you’ for their cars to every student they see.”

Joel Nielsen, athletic director at Kent State University, where every coach gets a car, said he does not think the balance between athletics and academics is out balance at American universities. Kent State coaches pay a total of $150 a month for their car privileges. Like at other colleges, they do not pay for insurance.

“I think we, being in the MAC,” Nielsen said. “We’ve got a good sense on how to spend money, how much money we need, how to fundraise and how to be responsible to the institution …  I would challenge most people to say there is frivolous spending.”

Dr. Otto of The Drake Group said an individual university can usually be classified as out of balance if its athletic department places “too much emphasis on money and/or winning.”

“Say a university values knowledge, inquiry, discovery, truth and wisdom,” Otto said. “But the athletic department’s values seem to be driven by money. That’s where the divide comes in … It’s a big problem if it’s in conflict with the mission of the university.”

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