When the call from Vanderbilt University came to the University of Toledo's athletic department, it was referred to Suzette Fronk.
The person on the line had a simple question: What was the address of a Toledo-area sporting goods store that was to receive a $6,000 check for a men's basketball game played between Vanderbilt and UT on Dec. 2, 2006?
Ms. Fronk, then-assistant athletic director for business affairs, knew something was wrong. She told Vanderbilt to make the check out to UT.
She later learned, and records show, that the contract signed by officials from the schools called for Vanderbilt to pay $6,000 to Team Sports, Inc., of Holland, Ohio.
It is common practice for Mid-American Conference programs like the University of Toledo to be paid for road games against more prestigious teams, but it is not common for the money to be paid to a third party.
UT's president, Lloyd Jacobs, earlier this week ordered Athletic Director Mike O'Brien to create tighter controls governing the athletic department.
Dr. Jacobs said UT was investigating the department and that he had ordered athletic accounting and bookkeeping functions to be taken over by the university's finance department.
One day before Dr. Jacobs' announcement, UT financial controller Tom Page said the incident involving the Vanderbilt contract was evidence there were controls in place because Ms. Fronk caught the problem before public money was sent to Team Sports.
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Daniel Morissette, senior vice president for finance and strategy at UT, agreed with Mr. Page, but also said, "sometimes you're concerned of course about what you don't learn about."
Records show UT was paid $40,000 to play at Michigan State in 2002, $50,000 for a game at Louisville in 2003, $40,000 from Duke in 2004, $45,000 from South Carolina in 2005, and $65,000 to play Kansas last season.
But a review of those contracts shows that UT was paid directly for each game.
The Vanderbilt contract was signed by David Williams, Vanderbilt's vice chancellor and general counsel, and Mr. O'Brien. Two other Vanderbilt officials signed, as well as Rockets head coach Stan Joplin.
When asked last week about the original contract, Mr. Williams said the deal with UT was a mistake.
"[The contract] was unusual, and I will be instructing my staff to only enter into agreements where we pay directly to the school," Mr. Williams said.
The contract also called for Vanderbilt to play a road game at UT this season, which officials at both universities say is the reason for the relatively smallmonetary payment.
Mr. Williams said the only way Vanderbilt could get the Rockets to go to Nashville for a game last season was to agree to a return game and to the $6,000 payment to Team Sports. He said that UT officials explained the money was for uniforms.
"We're taking it on face value that the money was for uniforms, but how could we know?" Mr. Williams said. "The way we make sure that isn't an issue is by dealing directly with the university."
Mr. Joplin said in an interview with The Blade on Thursday that the money was not for uniforms, but for extra equipment in general.
Mr. Joplin said he negotiated for Vanderbilt's return trip to Toledo, and also asked for $10,000 "to buy equipment because my contract with Adidas wasn't very good."
"I was just trying to play politics with them," Mr. Joplin said. "They came back and said, 'We can do it for $6,000,' and I said 'OK, I was going to do it for nothing.' "
Mr. Joplin said it was Vanderbilt officials who asked him if there was a local sporting goods store he could buy Adidas equipment from, and Mr. Joplin mentioned Team Sports.
"When you're trying to get a team like Vanderbilt to come here, you say a lot of things. But what difference does it make?" Mr. Joplin said. "The bottom line is [Vanderbilt is coming] here, and the check never got [to Team Sports]."
Mr. Joplin said this week that he never received the $6,000 to spend on equipment after the check was deposited by the university.
The reason Mr. Joplin didn't get the money might best be explained by an e-mail sent on Feb. 20 of this year from Ms. Fronk to Mr. O'Brien.
"The guarantee money must stay in the revenue line that it is [in]," Ms. Fronk began. " Stan has overspent the supply line to date by $3,300; he has also overspent travel by $145,000."
Mr. O'Brien said that at the time he signed the contract, on Sept. 5, 2006, he was unaware Vanderbilt couldn't just pay Team Sports the money.
UT finance officials didn't learn until recently that another game between the Rockets and Vanderbilt in 2004 resulted in a direct payment from Vanderbilt to Team Sports.
That contract called for UT to receive $35,000 in guarantee money and $10,000 in Nike merchandise. UT spokesman Tobin Klinger said yesterday that UT received a check for $35,000 and the $10,000 went directly to Team Sports.
Bob Eberly, owner of Team Sports, said he understood why Mr. Joplin would attempt to steer money toward his company to be used as credit to buy more equipment.
"This is midmajor [college athletics] at its best," Mr. Eberly said. "Schools like Toledo - they struggle with tight budgets. They're trying to recruit players who are going to go to schools like Michigan and Vanderbilt."
Records show that UT spent about $13,000 at Team Sports on uniforms, practice gear, and other equipment and apparel on July 5, 2006, two months before the contract with Vanderbilt was signed.
"Well, [$13,000] doesn't buy a lot for a major university program," Mr. Eberly said.
TOMORROW: The battle to balance UT's athletic budget was a losing one for a woman who was ultimately shown the door.
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