U-M athletics review: the cost of doing business or monkey business?

 

President Kaler
President Kaler

 

Did former Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague run amok financially during his three-year tenure at the school? Who is on the hook to pay nearly $700,000 and counting to find out?

The MSR listened intently December 8 at McNamara Center when the 700-plus page external review and internal financial audit report was delivered in PowerPoint fashion to the school’s regents. Overall, it only provided half-answers. Later, after downloading the couple of reams, here are some of the crazy head-scratching findings:

  • Teague and eight athletic staff members were reimbursed over $386,000, and almost $104,000 was charged to the school’s credit cards
  • One staff member got a Sarah Palin makeover — almost $2,000 for two hair stylist sessions, and over $1,700 for one pair of shoes and clothes purchased at Mall of America, and gave their stylist a $50 tip for a $75 haircut
  • About $2,500 in hotel stays, including two nights at a “conference hotel” for $663 a night at a top-flight New York City hotel
  • Almost $37,000 for private planes
  • Moving expenses for a senior official — over $19,000
  • $51,725 spent on alcohol
  • Over $139,000 for a consultant hired by the AD to help in long range planning
  • $1,841 for football coaches’ wives meals at a bowl game
  • Purchase of ‘essential items’ — a snow shovel, two garment racks and hangers, a doormat, a step ladder and a watering can by the former AD “to host donor events” at his home — all totaled $151.

According to the audit report, Teague and others “exceeded spending limits” and the former AD approved spending that violated established regents’ policy. Some spending wasn’t deemed illegal but certainly seemed unethical or akin to playing with Monopoly money.

We also learned that at times Teague played Three-or Four-card Monte, and approved his meal expenses submitted by staff to avoid setting off red flags in the president’s office.  His lawyer last week told a local newspaper that it was “the culture surrounding big time athletics, a culture that existed long before Norwood came to the university and that will likely last long after.”

Really? Teague couldn’t buy his own snow shovel and clothes hangers — they sell them at the dollar store. He couldn’t order taxis rather than limos to away football games for him and his guests?

Authorizing a haircut and tip for $150 — that’s three years of haircuts for me.  Approving five-figure ‘side’ payments for senior staff for meaningless interviews on U-M football and basketball radio broadcasts.  Almost $20,000 moving expenses for one person — where were they coming from — China?  Instead of using his virtually all-White staff to help him plan, Teague instead hired someone he knew from his previous job and signed off on a six-figure no-bid contract without running it past his bosses.

AD Boss Teague acted more like a corporate CEO, courting donors like Mad Men and spending like he had an unlimited expense account.  As Regent Laura Brod said, “There is no training for common sense.”

Regent Board Chair Dean Johnson called the questionable spending “two-tenths of one percent” of a multi-million dollar athletics budget, simply saying that it’s the cost of doing business.

Or was this monkey business?

“It is not the worst audit we released,” stated Associate Vice President Gail Klatt, whose office conducted it, adding that she didn’t see “a pattern of egregiousness.”

But one only wonders if the former AD had been a non-White person, would that person have gotten more scrutiny of such high-hog spending than Teague?  If Teague hadn’t suddenly resigned several months ago, would his outrageous spending approval methods — including wining and dining potential donors — continue to fly below the auditor’s radar?

How could the athletic director, whose boss is the school president, spend or authorize spending without little checks — excuse the pun — or balances institutionally, often getting around his boss’ review?  He apparently gave himself the green light while the school’s red flags never got tripped.

“The actions taken to address the problem were swift and decisive,” said University President Eric Kaler. He hired Teague in 2012.

There is still the $6,668 in reimbursements that Teague must repay to the university.  Wonder if the U will go after him like they did former coach Clem Haskins when he had to pay back thousands of dollars received after he was fired? Will the public be made aware when restitution is made?

“The average Minnesotan would look at those expenditures and say ‘Really?” noted Brod.  Sadly no one at the U said that during Teague and others’ spending spree.

After the December 8 special regents meeting, a longtime athletics booster told me that she left with more questions than she had before hearing the report.

The next question is: will she ever get her questions or ours completely answered?

 

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.