COLUMBIA, S.C. — Clemson University received legislators’ initial permission Wednesday to buy a private jet for athletics, expected to cost that department an additional $400,000 yearly in operations.
The Joint Bond Review Committee approved the university’s plans to buy an eight-passenger aircraft to be used primarily for athletic recruiting and fundraising. The college’s athletic booster group, IPTAY, has committed to pay $4.5 million toward a used Citation CJ2 that’s a 2006 or newer model.
No taxpayer money is involved. But state law requires any agency to get approval to buy or long-term lease a plane. Final approval is needed from the Budget and Control Board, which meets next week.
“I think it’s a wise decision,” as long as it doesn’t increase student fees, said Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, the committee’s chairman, who also sits on the budget board.
Athletics Director Dan Radakovich repeatedly assured the 10-member panel of senators and House members that the jet would not result in any increase to students. IPTAY will buy the jet, while athletics revenue — primarily ticket sales — will pay for operation and maintenance costs, he said.
The athletic department expects to spend $710,000 yearly on costs including an additional pilot’s salary, insurance, fuel and engine maintenance, assuming the jet flies 365 hours annually.
That compares to the roughly $300,000 yearly that Radakovich said the department has spent on private charters since 2013.
The increase is largely due to significantly more flying time for the Citation. Last fiscal year, the university chartered 93 hours, said university spokeswoman Angie Leidinger.
Impressing recruits is not a factor, as no recruits would fly on the plane, only coaches and other university officials, Radakovich said.
It’s about “getting our coaches effectively to other parts of the country” and returning to pre-2012 efficiencies, he said.
With the purchase, Clemson would once again own two planes. In 2011, it sold a 1977 twin-turboprop aircraft that needed a major overhaul and has since used charter services and a state plane.
It still owns a 1998 King Air C90 twin-turboprop, also primarily used by the athletics department. The Citation jet would be significantly faster and more efficient for long-distance travel, while nearly eliminating the need for private charters, the college’s associate athletics director, Graham Neff, wrote in a letter to the committee.
“Sudden flight changes and the unpredictable nature of coaches’ recruiting schedules support the need for an additional university-owned aircraft,” he said.
In 2013, the Legislature put a clause in the state budget barring colleges from using state planes for recruiting athletes. Clemson had been the biggest user of state-owned aircraft in the previous year. State law allows agencies and public colleges to use the state’s two planes for official business if they pay by the hour.
But Clemson’s use drew criticism after officials on a recruiting trip posted comments and photos on social media.
The House budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year would remove that ban. The Senate Finance Committee resumes working on its budget plan Wednesday.
But Radakovich said neither the criticism nor the ban played any role in Clemson seeking a second aircraft. Using the state plane was not ideal anyway, due to the inefficiencies of arranging for the aircraft to come from Columbia to Clemson, he said.
The University of South Carolina already owns two planes.
Clemson’s IPTAY, which stood for “I Pay Ten A Year” when it was founded 81 years ago, raises money through donations and annual memberships of between $160 and $25,000 that determine distribution of tickets, seats and parking.