The Plane Truth: the University of Minnesota needs to give Richard Pitino a bigger travel budget

It’s no real secret that the University of Minnesota’s men’s basketball program really hasn’t lifted off under the tutelage of Richard Pitino. It’s widely known that the players that have graced Dinkytown during Pitino’s reign haven’t exactly been the best characters in the world with PR nightmares ranging from sex tapes on social media to an arrest for sexual assault. All of those are big problems, Richard Pitino’s travel expenses, and apparent overages on them, are not a problem.

Pitino’s travel expenses were thrown into the spotlight via the Star Tribune when it was revealed that the young coach had gone past his budgeted $150,000 over the past two fiscal years and had actually spent $325,000 over that span.

First of all, this overspending was approved by then-current Athletic Director Norwood Teague. Can you really overspend your budget when it is approved by your superior? Sure, that superior is a creep and is gone from the University now, but you can’t change the game on Pitino after the game was played.

Second, there is no real reason the University needs to be looking at the books of the athletic department. Athletics are self-funded, they spend the money that they make, and, to the best of my knowledge, are not taking money from the rest of the school. They are basically a standalone entity using the name of the school and its students to run itself. As long as the department isn’t stealing money from academic departments and is still operating at a sustainable level, President Eric Kaler and the Board of Regents should get their nosy noses out of athletics’ business. The nosy-ness probably comes from the hire of Teague and his later dismissal, but this is what happens when you hire an AD that had never overseen a football team before. That hire wasn’t a smart big boy move in a school that should be with the big boys.

Speaking of which, this paragraph is integral in the Star Tribune story:

“Elsewhere, other coaches have bigger private jet budgets. Rick Pitino, Richard’s father and the coach at Louisville, has a reported annual budget of $250,000 for private jet travel. At Kentucky, John Calipari spent more than $342,000 in 2013-14. In the Big Ten, Indiana spent $569,000 on chartered planes for all of its coaches to recruit that year. At Ohio State, Thad Matta is given a budget of $65,000 or roughly 11 hours, for recruiting, as well as an additional 15 hours of jet time for private use.”

His father has four times the budget at Louisville. Conference rival Indiana has over 11 times the budget. Thad Matta at Ohio State has well over double the budget if you factor in the private use hours. If you want to play with the big boys, the $50,000 budget that Pitino has isn’t going to get you anywhere close to the best schools in the country or, more importantly, close to the recruits you need to be successful. Hell, these other schools probably hire someone to fill up their head coaches’ rental car gas tanks, too. Pitino was flagged in the audit for returning rental cars without a full gas tank.

Pitino has this team in a mess, but his overuse of private plans isn’t a problem. The real plain plane problem is the lack of a reasonable travel budget for the head coach of a profitable sport at a Division One school.

Mark Coyle has more than enough on his plate as the new AD of the Gophers, but he should be adjusting the private plane budget before his new business cards are even made. The next basketball coach will greatly enjoy the added privilege if Pitino leads the Gophers to 8-23 again.

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