Speed is often the winning edge in football. And in the big business that is big-time college sports, schools increasingly seek not just faster players but more rapid transportation for coaches on the high-flying recruiting trail.
But does that justify Clemson University acquiring a pricey jet for athletic department use?
The S.C. Legislature’s Joint Bond Review Committee evidently thinks it does. The panel granted initial permission Wednesday for Clemson to move forward on buying a used Cessna Citation CJ2 for that purpose.
As reported by The Associated Press on our front page Thursday, Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, is a fan of the upgrade, calling it “a wise decision.” He not only backed the request as chairman of the bond review committee, he seems sure to vote for its final approval as a member of the state Budget and Control Board.
Clemson director of athletics Dan Radakovich assured the legislative panel that taxpayers wouldn’t pay for the eight-passenger jet. Instead, IPTAY, the booster club that supports the school’s teams, has committed $4.5 million to its purchase.
Mr. Radakovich, who stressed the importance of “getting our coaches effectively to other parts of the country,” added that athletics revenue would cover the aircraft’s operation and maintenance.
Another selling point from Clemson to the committee: The jet would nearly eliminate the need for athletics officials to use private charter planes.
Clemson already has a twin turboprop used mostly by the department of athletics, and the estimated annual additional expense for the jet is $400,000.
Why are Clemson and so many other U.S. universities spending so much (and the tab keeps rising) on athletics?
Because, school leaders warn, unilaterally dropping out of this ongoing arms race would put them at a competitive disadvantage.
And though the University of South Carolina has two turboprop planes (one for administrators, one for athletics), don’t expect the Gamecock powers that be to wait much longer before also pushing to join the athletics jet age.
Meanwhile, Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney on Wednesday reiterated reservations about how schools will implement the oncoming trend of providing “full cost of attendance” to scholarship student-athletes. He said that while he’s all for “modernizing the scholarship,” he opposes “professionalizing college athletics.”
Mr. Swinney’s defense of the amateur-athletics ideal would sound more convincing if he weren’t making $3.3 million this year to coach Clemson on a contract that runs through the 2021 season.
And “the old college try” would sound more inspiring if sports inflation wasn’t soaring in the campus costs for winning coaches, impressive facilities and, yes, faster planes.