Courtesy cars programs in college athletics: Does it create an advantage?
The university system and the balance between academics and athletics has become increasingly scrutinized over the years. And in the Mid-American Conference, the debate is no different.
Like many other institutions across the country, all 12 full-time members of the MAC have a courtesy cars program for its coaches and other department faculty, and every head coach in the conference receives a car excluding Western Michigan*. However, only half of these schools say that it provides a competitive advantage.
Despite some athletic departments either disputing or not commenting on the significance of a cars program, there are a total of 305 cars spread throughout MAC athletic departments excluding Western Michigan whose data was unavailable at time of publication.
Joel Nielsen, Athletic Director, Kent State University said having a car program provides a competitive advantage. “If we weren’t doing it, we’d be at a competitive disadvantage,” he said.
Kent State has no formal policy on who receives a vehicle, and each car is provided at the discretion of the athletic director.
The department has 33 cars, and in addition to the athletic director, all head coaches receive one car. The only assistant coaches that are assigned to a car are those from the basketball and football teams, which also happens to be the school’s top two revenue generating sports.
“We have to work with Congress on restricting the college athletic salaries because it’s so far out of control right now, especially when the rest of the campus is suffering economically,” David Ridpath said.
David Ridpath is an assistant professor of Sports Administration at Ohio University and co-editor of Journal of Issues in Intercollegiate Athletics.
He has been on both sides of the spectrum. As a former coach at Ohio University, he said he received a car from the athletic department.
Ridpath said working with the government could be essential for improving the balance of academics and athletics.
Nielsen said academics and athletics are not out of balance. “We have a good sense on how to spend money, how much money we need, how to fundraise and how to be responsible to the institution,” he said.
“I would challenge most people to say there is frivolous spending,” Nielsen said.
Welch Suggs is a sportswriter and Associate Director for the Knight Commission. He said education and students should be the highest priority.
“These coaches better walk around campus and say thank you for their cars to every student they see,” Suggs said.
Central Michigan is another school where its athletic department feels that cars create an advantage, but they cited a different reason. Associate Athletic Director Nick Williams said the entertainment value of sports is one of the reasons why it should get more resources.
Speaking of entertainment value, Central Michigan coaches are encouraged to develop a relationship with his or her car dealer.
As seen in the Chippewa Car Club Policy, which outlines steps for coaches to follow throughout his or her car lease, in reference to a car dealer: “When they do not feel that they are helping or being appreciated/recognized for their investment in the CMU Athletic program, we risk losing their vehicle(s).”
Central Michigan provides the largest number of courtesy cars of any MAC school with 38, and each head coach receives one vehicle. Only one other department at the school receives a courtesy vehicle.
The College of Medicine has one shared car for the entire department and is the only academic entity in the MAC that reported having a vehicle. Despite that fact, Williams doesn’t feel athletics and academics are out of balance.
Suggs said its not right that coaches receive so many added benefits. “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,” he said.
Assistant Athletic Director of Media Relations at Ohio University, Tom Symonds said offering automobiles to athletic department personnel is “essential in obtaining the top coaching and administrative staff to compete at the Division I level.”
At Ohio University, five coaches receive complimentary cars, and there are also three cars on hand for “recruiting purposes.”
In addition, 28 coaches receive a stipend for cars. The stipends range from ($250-$480) per month. Ohio University Athletic Director Jim Schaus was unavailable for comment.
Two university athletic departments, Toledo and Northern Illinois, declined to comment on the importance of having a departmental car allowance.
Toledo’s legal affairs department released records that show 22 courtesy cars within the athletic department and 13 stipends of $375 to employees. No staff member has more than one car or stipend, and no one has both.
According to Associate Athletic Director Debra Boughton, Northern Illinois has a nine car allocation with six of the vehicles going to members of the football staff. The other three go to volleyball, baseball and Athletic Director Jeff Compher.
Bowling Green State University Athletic Director Gregory Christoper doesn’t feel the university model is out of balance either.
“You’ve got 1500 schools that play athletics,” Christoper said. “If you want to single out 10 to 15 schools where perhaps some decisions weren’t made the right way or where things are perhaps in excess, you could find those.”
Ridpath said things are out of balance. “You are getting a very good salary so shouldn’t you be able to afford your own car?” he said.