Gifts of private plane time favor men's college sports

UI and ISU women's teams seldom benefit from the timesaver

Iowa Hawkeyes Head Basketball Coach Lisa Bluder walks up the stairs as the women's team arrives for a Dec. 29, 2018, cha
Iowa Hawkeyes Head Basketball Coach Lisa Bluder walks up the stairs as the women's team arrives for a Dec. 29, 2018, charter flight at Signature Flight Support at The Eastern Iowa Airport. Bluder recently asked for her recruiting budget to be increased so she could more often avail herself of charter flights instead of rely on commercial flights. Coaches for the women's programs at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University seldom benefit from booster donations of air charter time, which greatly favor men's sports. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Wealthy Iowans donated use of their private planes to fly University of Iowa and Iowa State University coaches to recruiting visits, news conferences and meetings nearly 70 times in a two-year period from Aug. 1, 2016, to July 30, 2018.

Charter flights can take coaches across state lines or across the country exactly when they need to fly, allowing them to see potential recruits play and still make it back to their own teams’ practices.

But the largesse of donors with private planes disproportionately has benefited men’s sports teams, according to a Gazette analysis. Athletics travel records from the two-year period show:

  • Of 54 donated charter flights worth a total $465,000 for UI coaches, all but one went to men’s sports, including football, men’s basketball and wrestling.
  • Nearly 80 percent of UI men’s basketball coaches’ 28 charter flights were paid for, at least in part, by donors.
  • UI football coaches took 44 charter flights, with 26, or 59 percent, with some portion donated.
  • UI women’s basketball and volleyball coaches took just eight charter flights total in the two years — only one on a donor’s private plane.
  • Of 13 donated charter flights at ISU during the period, two were for women’s teams. ISU flew another 72 charter flights in fiscal 2017 and fiscal 2018 for athletics on a university-owned plane, with just four of those for women’s teams.
The imbalance in donations has been felt by some women’s team coaches, who must pay for non-sponsored charter flights from their own budgets or fly commercial, which takes more time away from practices and their personal lives.

“I have felt that our men’s coaches receive more donated charter flights,” UI Head Women’s Basketball Coach Lisa Bluder said in an email when The Gazette asked her about donated flights. Bluder and her staff took seven charter flights from Aug. 1, 2016, through July 20, 2018, with half of a round-trip to Lawrence, Kan., in September 2016 paid for by a donor.

“It can be frustrating, but I understand that some donors want to support the men’s programs and others want to support women’s programs,” Bluder said.

How it works

When coaches need to fly somewhere on a tight schedule and can’t find a commercial flight that will work, they contact the UI Center for Advancement, the university’s fundraising arm, Bluder said.


Officials at the center, formerly known as the UI Foundation, then reach out to supporters with private planes to see if one would like to donate a flight as an in-kind gift. The value of the donated flight is tax deductible.

“They have a regular list of big supporters they call who have planes,” said Tom Timmons, president and chief operating officer for Wild Rose Casinos and Resorts, in a phone interview.

Interactive Map

Charter flights take college coaches across state lines or across the country exactly when they need to fly, allowing them to see recruits play and make it back to their own teams' practices. This interactive allows you to explore 84 charter flights taken by University of Iowa coaches from football, men's and women's basketball, volleyball, and wrestling from Aug. 1, 2016, through July 30, 2018.

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Timmons owns a Cessna Citation VII, nine-passenger, two-pilot jet with business partners Gary Kirke and Mike Richards, who is president of the Iowa Board of Regents. The men donated their plane and pilots, at a cost of $19,835, to fly ISU football coaches to and from Connecticut in July 2017, records show.

“We just respond to Athletic Department requests,” Timmons said, adding they have provided flights for Iowa and Iowa State in the past. “We help out the Athletic Department, whatever their cause is.”

Bruce Rastetter, a UI graduate and former regents president, flew UI Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz twice round trip from Iowa City to Hubbard, a north-central Iowa town near Rastetter’s Summit Agricultural Group in Alden. The donated flights on Rastetter’s plane were worth $9,423, the UI reported.

“I think highly of Coach Ferentz and the football program and want to support it when we can by donating airplane time,” Rastetter told The Gazette in a phone interview.


Steve Sukup, an ISU graduate and vice president and chief financial officer at Sukup Manufacturing in Sheffield, donated use of his eight-seat Beechjet to fly ISU men’s basketball and football representatives three times in fiscal 2017 and 2018 at a total cost of about $20,000, ISU records show.

“If an aircraft is available, a couple of times a year, if it fits the need, we help them out in their mission,” Sukup said. “They are pretty respectful and only call a few times. About half the time it works out with their schedule and our schedule to make it happen.”

Sukup said he would be willing to donate use of his plane to women’s coaches.

“If Coach Fennelly ever had a need for it, we’d definitely help out the women’s team,” Sukup said of Bill Fennelly, ISU head women’s basketball coach.

ISU women’s basketball coaches took two charter flights in fiscal 2017 and 2018, one paid for by a donor. The other was a trip to North Dakota on ISU’s own twin-engine Beechcraft King Air 350, which the university uses primarily for student-athlete recruitment, the ISU reported online.

ISU purchased the plane for $2.87 million in 2014. ISU owned a second plane, but sold it in 2017 after concerns about former ISU President Steven Leath using it for personal trips.

Is it fair?

The data from ISU and the UI don’t indicate why there are more donated charter flights for men’s teams than women’s teams. It could be a reflection of men’s sports drawing larger fan bases and generating more revenue overall. In 2017, UI football generated 84 percent of overall ticket sale revenue for the Athletics Department and men’s basketball contributed another 12 percent, according to a 2017 NCAA report.

When asked whether the UI Center for Advancement presents men’s and women’s team needs the same way to donors, Executive Director Dana Larson said:

“Our athletics fundraising staff is committed to raising funds for all of Iowa’s 24 sports. For example, through our annual fund, donors gave over $12 million last year, which contributes to scholarships for all of our 650 student athletes. Donors let our fundraisers and coaches know the areas they want to support, and we follow donor intent.”


Erin Buzuvis, a law professor and director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Studies at Western New England University, in Springfield, Mass., said Title IX, the federal gender equity law, requires universities distribute resources in an equitable manner.

“Receiving donated amenities generally means it has to use other institutional money to purchase an equivalent benefit for teams of the other sex,” Buzuvis, who taught at the UI law school in 2005-2006, wrote in an email.

Athletic departments often have policies saying charter flights are allowed for teams of a certain size for trips a certain distance away to standardize when teams or coaches are allowed to use them, Buzuvis said.

“In Iowa’s case, it is hard to see how that criteria or any neutral criteria could explain the disparity in charter flights between two teams — men’s basketball and women’s basketball — that are of similar size and who play opponents in the same region. In an equitable world, these similarly-situated teams should have a similar or maybe even identical number of charter flights (with no regard as to whether they were donated or not).

Buzuvis said it’s more difficult to see why men’s coaches would get more chartered flights for recruiting

“It’s hard to imagine how neutral criteria like size of travel party and distance traveled just happens to result in more men’s teams coaches traveling by chartered plane,” she said.

Federal probe

Disparities in recruiting travel are a part of the ongoing U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights investigation of the UI Athletics Department.

During an April 2016 site visit by federal investigators, several coaches of UI women’s teams said they didn’t have enough money in their recruiting budgets.


“The field hockey coach noted that the team needed more funds to recruit internationally, the softball coach said her team was not allowed to use private charter flights for recruiting trips, and the women’s basketball coach indicated that when she wants to fly a private charter to compete for a recruit, she has to use her budget while the men’s basketball coach uses booster funds for such expenses,” the federal office wrote in a July 13 letter to the UI.

In 2016, Bluder went to UI Athletic Director Gary Barta and asked for more money for recruiting, and he upped her budget by about $12,000, she said. That helped, Bluder said, but still the women’s basketball coaches took just seven charter flights in fiscal 2017 and 2018.

Barta also boosted the budget of the UI Field Hockey team, which allowed Head Coach Lisa Cellucci and her staff more international recruiting trips, she said.

“All of the top Division 1 field hockey teams in the country have some international athletes and coaches on their roster,” Cellucci said in an email. “It is especially important for our program as field hockey is not played in the state of Iowa so we are drawing all of our players from around the country and the world.”

The total recruiting budget for UI women’s sports in 2016-2017 was $725,558, 17 percent less than the men’s recruiting budget of $875,571, according to the Office of Civil Rights letter. Actual recruiting expenses reported to the federal Equity in Athletics Data Analysis showed UI women’s sports underspent their recruiting budget, using only $539,110, while men’s sports exceeded their recruiting budget by spending $1.05 million.

That extra money was from non-budgeted in-kind gifts, including donated charter flights, Athletics Chief Financial Officer Greg Davies said.

The athletic budgets, including for recruiting, do not use money from student tuition or state appropriations.

The federal office told the UI in July investigators would return to campus in the fall to monitor recruiting, equipment and supplies, and housing and dining, but never set a visit.


A Nov. 27 letter from the office asked the UI for more information about the condition of locker rooms, and practice and competition facilities, saying officers will contact the UI “to arrange follow-up in spring 2019.” When The Gazette emailed the office for more details, a spokesman said the agency does not comment on specific investigations.

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