A.J. Atkinson

Cars program shows what is improperly important to university leaders

A.J. Atkinson

Though universities are established for academics, the athletic department receives far more perks than academic departments, showing a clear imbalance in many universities’ core values.

Despite university’s purpose to educate, it is the athletic coaches who have car programs that enable them to make business trips for free instead of university’s offering cars to professors in hopes of recruiting the best professors in the country.

A commission, called the Knight Commission, is specifically in place to make sure “intercollegiate athletic programs operate within the educational mission of their colleges and universities.”

“Our universities mission is education first,” said Amy Perko, executive director of the Knight Commission. “Athletics is part of the educational mission, and the Knight Commission was created to better ensure operation of athletics in the educational mission.”

So why is it that coaches are the ones to receive free cars and not professors?

Joel Nielsen, Kent State University’s athletic director, justifies providing all 33 of his coaches by saying handing out cars is one of the only ways to attract big coaches to Kent State and would possibly lose his best coaches if Kent State dropped its cars program.

“I think we would have some consideration by people that there might be other opportunities at other places, so there’d be a chance that we could lose some of our better employees, our better coaches,” Nielsen said.

David Ridpath, associate professor of sports administration at Ohio University who also received a free car when he coached at Marshall University, said “if we don’t have academics, we don’t have a university.”

“In the grand scheme of things, on a global and even national scale, it is not right that these coaches receive the highest payments,” said Welch Suggs, sportswriter and associate director for the Knight Commission. “Education and students should be the highest priority.”

Coaches are some of the highest paid people on campus, so why are they the ones receiving free cars?

“When you’re given a lot more money and a lot of these coaches are very, very well paid, and you’re also getting a car on top of that, things are out of balance,” Ridpath said. “If you have such a good salary, shouldn’t you be able to afford your own car?

With all these perks many Division I universities provide its coaches, every coach searching for a Division I school now expects a car program. Ridpath believes many universities need to scale back on the huge coaching contracts and perks to try and fix the large imbalance between sports and education.

“Coaches will coach at a college level for a lot less money than what they are getting paid right now,” Ridpath said. “We have to work with restricting a college athletic salary because right now it’s just so far out of control right now—especially with the rest of campuses are suffering economically.”

Even more of a crime is how the athletic departments receive the money to give coaches these cars. At Kent State University, for every credit hour a student takes, $24 of it goes to the athletic department. Virtually, the students are helping the university provide cars to coaches—all coaches have to worry about is paying taxes on the vehicle.

“These coaches better walk around campus and say thank you for their cars to every student they see,” Suggs said.

Kent State University’s Athletic Department’s first objective in its is mission statement is to “support and enhance University mission and objectives by furnishing an academic support system that enables student athletes to graduate in a timely fashion and at a higher rate than in the overall University undergraduate population.”

Professors do not have any such perks, yet even the athletic department says academics is more important than athletics. Interesting how some, like Tom Collins, Ball State University’s athletic director, can see all the spending in athletics yet still believe there is no imbalance.

“There is no problems from the growing divide between academics and athletics,” Collins said. “Athletics is different, for our coaches need cars to recruit student-athletes to attend Ball State.”

One would think with their six-digit salaries these coaches could easily afford to pay for a car and money spent on gas for recruiting trips.

As Ridpath said, the smaller universities, such as the mid-major schools in the MAC, have gone overboard with coaches by trying to compete with the larger schools like Ohio State and will find themselves spending way more in athletics to keep up than in academics—a system that should be reversed and Ridpath says needs to be fixed.

“We’ve gotten into this ‘Keeping up with the Jones’ spending,” Ridpath said. “Schools in the MAC who are trying to play in the same box they can’t play in, that’s where there’s going to be some problems down the road. Some severe financial difficulties.”

Since all universities and athletic departments’ mission statements declare the importance of education, hopefully business managers will remember why the majority of students attend a university and direct their spending more toward academics.

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