Generous automobile benefits for MAC athletic departments
A total of 197 university-funded cars are given to Mid-American Conference athletic department employees researched for this study. Perks such as these associated with MAC athletic programs have increasingly caused a divide between university academics and sports.
According to Kent Athletic Director Joel Nielsen, automobile use for athletic recruiting has become an essential tool at most major university athletic departments, including those in the MAC.
“It’s one of those competitive advantage situations,” said Nielsen. “If we weren’t doing it, we’d be at a competitive disadvantage.”
Kent State’s athletic department policy on cars is not specified. Despite this, head and assistant coaches from the football and basketball programs are provided a car.
A percentage of student tuition goes towards these car allowances regardless of how involved or interested they are in the athletic program. Athletic and academic branches at many schools see this as a growing issue.
“A universities mission (should be) education first. Athletics is part of the educational mission,” said Amy Perko, Executive Director of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. “The priority should be the finances of the University, with athletics included.”
Many athletic directors at MAC schools do not notice a divide.
“We have not yet encountered that phenomenon between departments,” said Associate Athletic Director at Eastern Michigan University Mike Malach.
Tom Collins, the Athletic Director at Ball State University feels the same way.
“There is no problem with the growing divide between academics and athletics,” he said. “Athletics is different; our coaches need cars to recruit student-athletes.”
MAC athletic departments view automobiles as a crucial piece to recruiting high profile coaches. The importance of perks to contract negotiation is a universal, reoccurring theme.
The NCAA does not regulate automobile policy. Therefore many schools, including Kent State and Eastern Michigan, deal with car use on an individual basis. This open policy from the NCAA leads to inconsistencies across the MAC.
Central Michigan University’s Athletic Department provides coaches and administrators 38 cars. According to Athletic Director Nick Williams athletics brings in more money than any other department and therefore needs more resources.
“[The] sports section takes up about 40 percent of the newspaper,” said Central Michigan Associate Athletic Director Nick Williams.
The only other department that provides automobile use for its employees is the College of Medicine. Every employee in that department, when needed, uses one car.
Welch Suggs, associate director for the Knight Commission, says that college priorities are out of focus.
“On a global and national scale it is not right that these coaches receive the highest payments. Education and students should be the highest priority,” Suggs said. “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.”
The majority of MAC athletic departments only provide cars to revenue sports. On the high end, many universities offer car stipends upward of $800. For example, Athletic Director John Parry at Cleveland state receives a car stipend of $700 per month.
“[Coaches] are going to evaluate whether they want to be here on a number of issues, and whether we give them a car allowance is a part of that package,” said Associate Athletic Director Tom Tontimonia of Cleveland State University.
Regardless of the importance of automobiles in the recruiting process, using them as a negotiating tactic highlights a discrepancy between the priorities of many universities.
“One of the biggest reasons we give coaches cars is so they can do their jobs,” said Tom Symonds, Assistant Athletic Director of Media Relations at Ohio University.
Other university departments conduct business without car stipends. Collegiate athletic departments enjoy the luxury of expensive bargaining tools to lure employees.
“These coaches better walk around campus and say thank you for their cars to every student they see,” said Welch Suggs, sportswriter and Associate Director for the Knight Commission.