Athletics officials get cars for tickets

Lora Pabst

Glimmering chrome on luxury vehicles is a common sight at the Bierman Field Athletic Building parking lot.

Head coaches, athletics administrators and other staff members receive cars from dealerships in exchange for football, volleyball, menís and womenís hockey and menís and womenís basketball season tickets as well as signage at athletics venues.

Because of the Wheel Club program, football coach Glen Mason drives a Cadillac Escalade, womenís basketball coach Pam Borton and menís hockey coach Don Lucia drive Volvo XC70s and Athletics Director Joel Maturi drives a Cadillac Seville.

The athletics department is the only division of the University that provides cars for employees, after officials abolished University-owned cars in 2003.

Wheel Club coordinator Bob Rohde said the program secures 66 cars from 54 car dealers.

Liz Eull, chief financial officer for athletics, said the athletics department is not losing out in ticket sales because the tickets given to car dealers would not be sold otherwise.

ìWe have an inventory of tickets ó particularly when it comes to football ó that we donít sell,” she said. ìIím not giving them tickets I could get cash for. Ultimately, itís a good use of tickets.”

Maturi said menís hockey is the only sport that sells out of season tickets.

ìUntil we sell out more games, itís an easy decision,” Maturi said.

Maturi said programs like this are common at other Division I schools.

ìItís the culture of intercollegiate athletics,” he said.

Coaches and administrators typically have cars or stipends for them, provided by their contracts, Maturi said.

Eull said all head coaches, assistant coaches for six sports and athletics administration managers receive vehicles.

ìThatís basically based on what our competition does,” she said. ìCars are a fairly standard part of employment contracts.”

The University of Wisconsin and the University of Iowa have similar programs with dealerships to provide cars for athletics department staff members, according to respective university officials.

ìItís one of those kind of expected things,” said Maturi, who use to work in athletics administration at the University of Wisconsin. ìIíve gotten a car each place Iíve been.”

Eull said there is good reason the University does not provide cars for employees anymore but the athletics department is still able to.

ìAs a university, weíve decided against that,” she said. ìAthletics can do it because it is worked into the coachesí contracts.”

Maturi said part of the reason athletics coaches and administrators need cars is that they do a lot of traveling for speaking, fundraising and recruiting.

Eull said the decision to use a program like the Wheel Club instead of leasing cars comes down to economics.

ìI donít want to pay cash for something I can trade for,” she said.

When coaches are hired, their package includes a salary and a courtesy car. If the cars were not included, salaries would have to be increased, Maturi said.

While many coaches and administrators drive luxury cars, not every coach can dictate their preference, Rohde said.

ìCertain coaches have in their contracts the type of cars they get,” he said, adding, ìfor certain coaches; a lot of the football coaches.”

Mostly, it depends on what dealerships are willing to give, Maturi said.

ìIíve always taken what the dealer has given me,” he said. ìSome of the cars Iíve liked better than others.”

Rohde said he works with members of the Universityís booster clubs to find dealerships to participate in the program.

The dealerships are located all over Minnesota and also Wisconsin.

ìWe have one dealer in Wisconsin, one in Fairmont, one in Fergus Falls, one in Hibbing,” Rohde said.

In exchange, the dealers are featured in sports programs and at the athletics buildings.