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Minnesota Basketball: Pitino Spent Money On Jets, Local Headlines Miss Key Detail

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Let's quickly talk about this (mostly) non-story.

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Richard Pitino is a profligate spender. That's the message you'd take away from the headlines written by the local newspapers.

From the STrib:

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From the PiPress:

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What exactly are the details of this abuse of athletics department money for Pitino's jet-set lifestyle according to the STrib?

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.

Emphasis on the last paragraph is mine. Sounds bad right? Pitino making it rain on his private jets doesn't sound great. One more black eye for the program. Except...

The spending on jets was approved

That's the key detail both stories fail to include in the headline...the spending was approved by Norwood Teague. Should it have been approved? Not according to U policies or the audit. Did Teague mess up there? Yep, seems like it. Did Pitino do something wrong? I'd have to argue no.

Let's step back and think about the "real world" for a minute. If you have a work trip that is going to exceed the company's expense reimbursement guidelines but that you think is needed, who would you talk to? Whatever manager or supervisor you see who approves your expenses or perhaps a director for your department. If they gave you permission to exceed your normal spending limits you would rightly consider the matter dealt with and you'd charge the new expenses per the revised approval you were granted. What Pitino did was no different in my opinion.

So everything is actually ok?

Well, not really either. Clearly there were spending limits that were broken. I understand why the Board of Regents would be bothered by this. And the audit notes some other issues in spending by both the men's and women's basketball programs (quote again from the STrib's story):

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.

NOTE: It's not clear if that spending was poorly overseen or if it was directly approved by Teague like the jets.

Based on how the U wants the department to run, changes in how the spending is done/approved appear to be in the works. However, the fault for that doesn't lie with the coaches.

This is on the AD

Seriously, this is the point that I think got buried in the STrib's report:

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."

Again, emphasis is mine. The U is responding saying the problems here are something that should be addressed by the AD in the system the U wants to run. They weren't handled the right way before and the U is committed to fixing that in the future.