Some of UTC's head athletics coaches are entering into clothing and equipment contracts for their teams and getting personal merchandise allowances in those deals, a practice an internal audit calls a violation of university policy.
"(Policy) forbids university personnel who ... procure equipment, supplies or services used by the University of Tennessee to accept personal gifts, gratuities or kickbacks that might influence the selection or purchase of such materials," an audit done by the University of Tennessee system reads.
UTC head football coach Russ Huesman, who signed a sponsorship agreement with Russell Athletics for his team, was given a $1,000 personal allowance in the contract to buy company goods. Nike's offer to UTC men's basketball coach John Shulman provided for a $2,000 personal allowance for merchandise.
Huesman said he never has encouraged the athletics administration to align with a company for his personal gain. The school always has bought products from Russell and formalized an agreement last year after Nike made an offer to supply the football team, he said. Coaches never have made decisions about team contracts without the approval of the athletic department, he said.
"I didn't say I want this, this and this. Russell had the best deal, and that's why we signed the contract with them," Huesman said. "We don't sign a contract based on what they give me. We sign a contract based on what they do for our student athletes and what it's going to cost us."
Coaches at UT also receive personal allowances for goods through the school's Adidas contract, but coaches don't have the ability to select and negotiate with vendors as the coaches at UTC do, officials said.
Combined, the UT athletic department staff gets $600,000 in product allowances each year, said Chris Fuller, senior associate athletic director at UT.
UTC FOOTBALL CONTRACT
* Russell Athletics
* Head coach personal allowance, $1,000
* Two coordinators' personal allowances, $750 each
* Eight assistant coaches' personal allowances, $250 each
MEN'S BASKETBALL CONTRACT
* Head coach personal allowance, $2,000
* Three assistant coaches' personal allowances, $750 each
WOMEN'S BASKETBALL CONTRACT
* All staff share a $2,500 allowance
Source: University of Tennessee system
Paid sponsorships for high-profile coaches, such as the one UT men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl has with Adidas, which pays him anywhere between $525,000 and $675,000 each year, are separate contract and different from the merchandise credits built into team apparel and equipment contracts at UT and UTC.
To distance coaches from the process of selecting which vendors will clothe and equip players, the UTC athletic department should follow UT's lead and enter into a single contract for all sports at the school, the audit said.
"Pooling the purchasing power from all sports may result in more favorable terms for the entire department," the audit reads.
But UTC athletic officials said it will be hard, if not impossible, to find one vendor willing to contract with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga for every sport.
Schools such as UT, with multi-sport contracts, get those because of the enormity of their name brand, said Rick Hart, UTC athletic director. They leverage sports with the most exposure, i.e. football.
"For us, we haven't been able to attract a manufacturer that wanted to provide equipment across all 17 sports at a rate that was equal or better than doing it sport by sport," he said. "That is market driven."
It has been more effective to give coaches the freedom to line up contracts with approval from the department, but Hart said he and the school's coaches won't fight the audit's findings.
"We agree and accept them and have made a commitment to follow the recommendations," said Hart.