Gophers men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino has spent twice as much on private jet travel as his contract allows since arriving at Minnesota — doubling his budget in his first season, and tripling it his second season — according to an internal university audit obtained Tuesday by the Star Tribune.
In fiscal years 2014 and 2015, Pitino topped $100,000 and $150,000 in jet travel, far exceeding the annual $50,000 budget for recruiting trips and “university business” in his contract. The audit found Pitino to have spent $325,000 in three years as of February, compared to a budgeted $150,000 for that time. “Contract limitations are not appropriately monitored,” the report concluded.
The overspending occurred with permission from then-Athletic Director Norwood Teague, Chris Werle, senior associate athletic director, said Tuesday. Teague told Pitino there was money to fund the extra spending, Werle said.
Pitino’s private jet usage was flagged as one of seven “essential” findings in the audit of the men’s and women’s basketball teams, which was presented last Friday to the Board of Regents, U President Eric Kaler and interim AD Beth Goetz.
The report, prepared by the university’s Office of Internal Audit, came as the regents prepared for this week’s board meeting, where they are planning to discuss increased oversight of the Athletics Department. Goetz and Pitino were not made available for interviews.
The report found the Athletics Department to be addressing “most major business and compliance risks,” but Pitino’s private plane use and general overspending by the two programs received extra attention.
In addition to the private jet spending, both basketball programs spent more than allowed on hotels, private cars, birthday or holiday parties, meals and valet parking. The audit even flagged “unreasonable” spending by Pitino involving “multiple” rental cars returned without full gas tanks and instances of parking at the airport even though the team had rented a bus.
As a result, the office’s report is recommending the U Athletics Department seek reimbursement for the itemized overspending from Pitino and women’s coach Marlene Stollings. Pitino and Stollings both signed the office’s audit in mid-April.
The U is close to hiring a permanent athletic director, nine months after Teague resigned over accusations of sexual harassment. Regents Chair Dean Johnson said Tuesday that change needs to come in many forms.
“We have policies and procedures in place, and in some cases those policies or procedures have become sloppy,” he said. “Whoever the next athletic director is, that person needs to very much pay attention to the revenue from whatever source into athletics, how that revenue is expended according to policy and good accounting methods. A good athletic director, as a CFO, is going to watch those issues very carefully before checks are issued. That is very much the desire of the Board of Regents and President Kaler.”
Following Teague’s resignation, the Office of Internal Audit launched a broader audit into the athletics administration, which was released in December and found serious violations of university policy on spending, including tens of thousands of dollars on alcohol, parties and expensive hotels, during Teague’s three-year tenure as AD.
In this audit, Goetz gave a similar printed response to the one she gave in December, writing, “Our department strongly believes that the ‘tone at the top’ of our Department changed in early August with our change in leadership.”
Pitino spent $116,041 on private jet usage in fiscal year 2014 (spanning June 2013 to June 2014) and $156,440 for fiscal 2015.
“As the head of the Athletic Department, [Teague] has the discretion to provide additional funds for recruitment expenses as he sees fit,” Werle said. “Norwood would have approved additional private jet travel expenses for recruiting.”
According to the report, as of February, Pitino had already spent $53,388 on private jet usage for fiscal year 2016. During the three-year period, Pitino also took two private jet flights that were “unallowable” because they were less than 200 miles from campus.
“…We will review it [the audit],” Werle said, “and we will take corrective actions moving forward.”
He said the Gophers work with a local charter company. Pitino books his reservation, and the department receives an invoice, which is factored into the men’s basketball budget. Each team is given regular budget updates, at least monthly, Werle said.
Gophers football coach Tracy Claeys has a clause in his contract allowing for up to 60 hours of private jet use per year.
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.
Regent Michael Hsu said the basketball coaches themselves may not be the most culpable in the overspending.
“Overall, it just looks like we need to tighten up operations in basketball, and perhaps overall athletics,” he said. “The accountability just doesn’t seem to be there.”