When the University of Toledo men s basketball team traveled to the Virgin Islands for an early season tournament in November, the coaches wives, the athletic director s family, and a UT athletic donor accompanied the team on its chartered flight.
So did an associate athletic director s girlfriend, a team psychologist s wife, and a team spokesman s wife.
The girlfriend, the spokesman s wife, the psychologist's wife, and the donor were ultimately billed for the trip and paid the UT Foundation not the university itself from $1,051 to $3,046 for air travel and hotel costs.
The coaches and athletic director s families flew and stayed at the hotel for free.
When UT President Lloyd Jacobs on Wednesday ordered Athletic Director Mike O Brien to establish tighter controls within his department, one of the areas he cited was how team travel is handled.
Dr. Jacobs said an ongoing, internal investigation of the athletic department is focused on travel and other fiscal issues, and confirmed one of the issues being investigated is the concern raised over nonessential personnel on team trips.
What the president didn t say, but is apparent after a review of university records and after interviews with top UT officials, is that the rules are unclear regarding what the university calls nonessential travelers on such trips.
The university s official travel policy does not address the topic directly and only seems to deal with employees traveling on official business.
Tom Page, the university s financial controller, said in an interview with The Blade Tuesday that it was the university s past practice to treat trips for nonessential personnel as taxable income. But during the same interview, Mr. Page also said coaches wives were often not billed for such trips, even though spouses of employees in other departments were generally sent invoices.
As far as when I travel, and I take my child along or my wife along, they pay their own way, Mr. Page said.
After months of e-mails and discussions regarding the Virgin Islands trip, which lasted from Nov. 15 to 21, Daniel Morissette, the university s senior vice president for finance and strategy, advised a then-assistant athletic director in March to invoice all of the nonessential travelers on that trip, including the coaches wives.
Mr. O Brien was not pleased with that decision.
To anyone who cares, this is BS. I have indicated in an e-mail to Dan as to what I think of this. I wonder if Ohio State does this! Great for campus morale, the athletic director wrote on March 22 to Mr. Morissette, Mr. Page, and three other university officials.
Later that day, Mr. O Brien sent out another e-mail stating that the guests of the associate athletic director, team psychologist, and team spokesman, as well as the UT donor, were invoiced and paid for the trip.
He also wrote that he had instructed officials not to bill the coaches for their families because their spouses [are] very seldom home anyway.
Our coaches are gone a lot, Mr. O Brien told The Blade yesterday. I think it s very valuable that we have our coaches wives with our coaches at events, at pregame events, various functions.
I ll use [men s basketball coach Stan Joplin s wife] LaDonna Joplin as an example. She lives and dies with Stan and his team. I m glad she s there.
THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY Enlarge | Buy This Photo
Mr. Joplin, who said he has never received a bill for when his wife travels with the team in his 11 seasons as UT s head coach, said having his wife with him on road trips was essential for the job.
From a [public relations] standpoint, I think she represents the university, Mr. Joplin said.
The coach said his assistant coach, Nathan Tuori, pays when his wife accompanies the team on trips, unless the vehicle used for travel is a chartered plane.
At any time the university has to buy an individual ticket, if Nate would want his wife to go, I think they should foot the bill, Mr. Joplin said.
Anytime there s a charter, or the plane is already paid for or the bus is already paid for, I don t mind [Mr. Tuori not paying for his wife s travel.]
The trip to the Virgin Islands was just one of many in which nonessential people traveled with UT teams.
A Blade review of travel manifests for the football, and men s and women s basketball teams shows that spouses of coaches and other university officials, as well as UT donors and guests of the athletic department, are often aboard the university s chartered flights for away games.
In some cases, like a 2004 men s basketball game at Duke, more than 40 donors and supporters of UT sports paid for their plane seats.
Other times, like a 2003 game at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, businessmen like Tom Pounds, who at the time was vice president and general manager of The Blade, traveled with the team for free.
An athletic department spokesman said yesterday Mr. Pounds was not charged for his seat on the plane for that game and did not pay because the university considered him a guest.
That practice is routine at Ohio State, where Associate Athletic Director Peter Hagan said both coaches wives and donors are generally not billed for trips on chartered flights for football and basketball.
It s what we consider as part of doing business, Mr. Hagan said.
But at the University of Michigan, donors and coaches wives seldom travel with the football team during the regular season.
Bruce Madej, spokesman for the University of Michigan athletic department, said Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr s wife, Laurie, had only traveled with the team to two regular-season road games in the last 10 years.
Mr. Madej also said only a few donors have flown with the team during that time.
Some institutions that compete athletically along with UT in the Mid-American Conference either bill all nonessential travelers, or treat the travel of coaches wives as a taxable benefit and invite donors on chartered flights.
University officials at Akron and Buffalo said those institutions generally bill all nonessential personnel or pay for their travel with restricted funds [similar to the UT Foundation], while Western Michigan considers spouses travel a taxable benefit and invites donors on trips.
The Blade was unable to reach officials from Bowling Green, Ball State, Kent, Miami, Ohio, Northern Illinois, Eastern Michigan, and Central Michigan for comment.
These are supporters of our program, many of whom are donors, said Mike Karabin, UT s associate athletic director for marketing and promotions who paid the bill for his girlfriend to go with him and the basketball team to the Virgin Islands.
We probably invite more that can t make it than actually accept, he said.
While the university s internal investigation continues to examine this issue to determine what is appropriate, Mr. O Brien said his department will obey whatever the university s policy is.
It s never been brought to my attention, Mr. O Brien said.
An issue that was taken to Mr. O Brien and other university officials revolved around a trip football coach Tom Amstutz and some of his assistants took to Germany in the spring of 2005.
Mr. Amstutz and his assistants flew across the Atlantic to help a former UT player conduct a youth football camp and coaches clinic. Mr. Amstutz said that he and his assistants paid for their airfare, but they used their UT credit cards to pay for their hotels, rental cars, and to cover other expenses.
According to e-mails and documents obtained by The Blade, university officials declined to cover the charges or reimburse the coaches for the cash they spent.
Mr. O Brien said yesterday that he couldn t recall if he had given preapproval for the trip. He said the trip was a recruiting-goodwill trip, but when asked by a reporter if the trip was a violation of the NCAA s recruiting laws because of the time it was taken, he said: If I said recruiting, that was an error. It was not a recruiting trip.
Mr. O Brien also said yesterday that Brian Lutz, the athletic department s compliance director, determined prior to the trip that the coaches could go to Germany.
But in an e-mail dated Aug. 2, 2005, Mr. Lutz told an athletic department official that he was not certain from a university standpoint whether we could reimburse these travel costs because the clinic was not a UT clinic, despite the fact UT coaches were doing the teaching.
Mr. Amstutz was informed that day in an e-mail that there would be no reimbursement of charges incurred by the coaches while in Germany and all charges on their UT [credit cards] will need to be reimbursed.
After a year of disputing this ruling, the coaches were reimbursed with funds from an athletic account at the UT Foundation.
According to Foundation records, $1,257.58 went to assistant coach John Shannon, $864.66 went to Mr. Amstutz, and $603.75 went to assistant coach David Walkosky on Aug. 10, 2006.
Any expense that our coaches [incur] going to a camp, we pay for, Mr. O Brien said yesterday.
Tomorrow: The UT men s basketball team might not work for food. But extra basketball equipment? That s a different story.
Contact Joe Vardon at email@example.com or 419-410-5055.