Elite college programs are taking to the skies in their race to win top recruits.
Clemson University’s athletics program is asking a legislative bond panel Wednesday for permission to buy a jet costing from $3.5 million to $6 million.
The new jet will allow Clemson coaches to fly farther and faster than the turboprop airplane the Tigers already own.
“People say, ‘Look at the price of the plane,’ and I say, ‘Look at what we’re paying coaches,’ ” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brian White, an Anderson Republican who sits on the Joint Bond Review Committee, which will review the request. “It’s the times.”
No taxpayer dollars will be used to buy or operate the used Citation CJ2+ jet, according to data the school gave the bond committee.
The school’s booster club has set aside money for the purchase.
The air war is a new battleground for top colleges vying to attract coaches who, in turn, try to lure top athletes, said Brad Humphreys, a sports economics professor at West Virginia University.
“For coaches, it’s how well and how fast they can travel,” he said. “A lot of universities are soliciting funds for this. It’s just like having a better weight room.”
The University of South Carolina owns two turboprop planes – one used by administrators, the other used by its athletics department.
Clemson needs the jet because of increasing demand for its 1998 King C90-B turboprop plane and the “unpredictable nature of recruiting schedules,” the school said in its filing to the review committee.
The university has paid to charter private flights when its other school-owned plane is in use. The school spent $278,000 on charter flights last year.
Athletics department officials, including director Dan Radakovich and football coach Dabo Swinney, also use one of two state-owned airplanes for travel.
But that use has spawned controversy.
Last year, lawmakers passed a ban on the use of state planes for player recruiting. However, lawmakers are looking to reverse that ban this year.
Clemson had two planes until selling an older one in 2011.
The Tigers’ athletics booster club, IPTAY, has set aside $4.5 million to buy the new jet.
If the eight-passenger jet costs more, IPTAY could contribute more money or Clemson could use athletic department revenue, the school said in documents provided to the bond committee.
The additional $709,415 in annual costs for the jet’s pilots, insurance, fuel and maintenance costs would come from athletic revenues, the school said.
Clemson is looking for a used Citation jet that’s no more than nine years old. The average price for those jets has been $4.7 million in recent months.
The school did not want to comment ahead of Wednesday’s committee meeting.
Even though no taxpayer money will be used to buy Clemson’s jet, state law requires any state plane purchase go through the bond committee and S.C. State Budget and Control Board.
The jet is part of Clemson athletics program improvements designed to draw top players, win titles and gain publicity that results in more student applications, White said.
Clemson has undertaken a number of athletics projects over the past year, including a $64 million renovation of Littlejohn Coliseum and building a $62 million football operations facility.