The University of Nebraska-Lincoln athletic department has dropped country clubs and health clubs as benefits for administrators, coaches and staffers, and cut back on the number of cars it provides.
The Husker athletic department awarded club memberships to 37 staffers and administrators in 2013 and this year gave out none, according to a list provided by the University of Nebraska’s central administration in Lincoln.
UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green has no club membership, either, whereas in 2013, then-UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman had a membership to the Country Club of Lincoln.
At the University of Nebraska at Omaha, the number of administrators and staffers receiving those perks are somewhat similar to those given in 2013.
Jack Gould of Common Cause, a watchdog organization, called it “a rather remarkable reduction in the number of cars and country club memberships” under UNL Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst. Gould made the records requests this year and in 2013 that led to disclosure of those benefits in the NU system of campuses. The World-Herald covered the 2013 disclosure and published a list of those receiving the benefits.
The money for country clubs and cars typically comes from private sources, such as the NU Foundation and booster clubs.
John Jentz, chief financial officer for the UNL athletic department, said doing away with club memberships and decreasing the number of cars make for a compensation system that is more clear and straightforward. “Everything’s within the contract,” he said.
When people donate to the athletic program, they generally want the money to fund scholarships, academic support, team travel, equipment and medical services, he said. Those items enhance athletes’ experiences as students and competitors, and the donors want to “touch the lives of the student-athletes,” he said.
Further, donors, vendors and others are less likely to talk business these days on country club golf courses, Jentz said. Golf can be too time-consuming, and the discussions can be accomplished over coffee, lunch or breakfast, he said.
Perlman also credited Eichorst with the change. “It was clearly a Shawn initiative, yes,” Perlman said Tuesday evening. “I think Shawn wanted to move to a more transparent system, so we got rid of most of that kind of stuff.”
Twenty-two administrators and staffers have cars or car allowances at UNL, compared to 47 in 2013. Husker football coach Mike Riley doesn’t have a car or a club membership.
Husker coach Bo Pelini in 2013 had a membership at the Country Club of Lincoln. Three years ago, Pelini had a 2012 Nissan Armada, and his wife, Mary Pat, had a 2011 Nissan Quest through the athletic program.
Jentz said the Wheel Club still provides some cars to UNL staffers, but the program isn’t nearly as big as it used to be.
At UNO, Chancellor John Christensen has a “complimentary social membership” provided by Champions Run, just as he did three years ago. Seven people in the UNO athletic department have memberships to various clubs, similar to the situation three years ago.
Christensen has an $800 monthly vehicle allowance. Twenty-three others, all in the UNO athletic department, have cars or monthly car allowances. Three years ago, 27 people at UNO had cars, including the $800 monthly car allowance for Christensen.
Trev Alberts, vice chancellor for athletics at UNO, said in a statement that maintaining those benefits is important to UNO.
“One of the chief missions for UNO is community engagement, and because of the outstanding support of this community, we have been able to stay competitive on a national scale,” he said. “In order to be successful and win championships, we need to hire and keep the best coaches and staff in the country, and we are incredibly grateful to the Omaha community for their support toward that goal.”
A UNO spokesman said club memberships help coaches host events to support their teams and the athletic department, which generates private support for scholarships and other items.
Dorothy Endacott, vice president of the NU Foundation, said vehicles can be a vital element to the university.
“The senior leaders at the university are a critical part of the foundation’s efforts to engage donors,” she said in a written statement. “They travel across the state with our staff and expose alumni and donors to university priorities.
“Donors often want to hear directly from an academic leader if they are going to make a significant gift. The few vehicles and clubs that we do fund for the academic leaders are part of the foundation’s budget, and our budget is funded from unrestricted gifts.”
NU Regent Hal Daub of Omaha said he was satisfied with the way the benefits are being handled. “It’s a lot tighter than it used to be,” he said.
Daub said the regents don’t want to micromanage, but he’s interested in such perks as chairman of the audit, risk and compliance committee. “I watch the beans,” he said.
He said the 2013 report of cars and country club memberships led to the regents to more closely scrutinize those benefits. Nevertheless, he said, Nebraska is a big state for administrators and coaches to travel, and it’s reasonable that the university furnish some cars or allowances.
Country club memberships are beneficial to administrators who are responsible for raising money for their campuses, Daub said. “We want to be very transparent about this.”
UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey Gold “personally paid the initiation fees for social-only memberships” to the Omaha Country Club and Happy Hollow Country Club, the NU information says. “UNMC business events held there are paid for using private funds,” the report states.
Former UNMC Chancellor Harold Maurer had memberships to both clubs, the report says. Maurer also had a 2009 Porsche Cayenne three years ago, while Gold has no vehicle provided by the university.
UNK Chancellor Douglas Kristensen had a Kearney Country Club membership in 2013 but not this year. UNK has five people with cars or $500 vehicle allowances, up from two people in 2013.