CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) – An open records request has found that 57 University of Illinois athletics employees, including coaches, administrators and wives, are part of a program in which car dealers provide them use of $1.5 million worth of vehicles.
Thirty-three dealers are part of the Fighting Illini Wheels program, The (Champaign) News-Gazette reported. Athletics officials can drive the cars for personal and business use but have to pay for gas and maintenance. The athletics department pays for insurance and registration and the benefit is taxable.
Men’s basketball coach John Groce drives a 2015 BMW X5 worth more than $68,000. Athletic Director Mike Thomas has a 2014 Hyundai Equus worth $55,000. Interim football coach Bill Cubit has a 2014 Chevrolet Traverse worth about $22,600.
“It’s a perk of the position,” athletics department spokesman Kent Brown said. “It’s a benefit for staff members who do a lot of driving. It gives dealers the ability to support the program in a unique way.”
Six other officials at the University of Illinois campus have take-home privileges for vehicles, which can only be used for business purposes. University spokesman Tom Hardy said those six officials are senior administrators who “travel occasionally, if not frequently, between all three of the campuses and other parts of the state.” President Timothy Killeen doesn’t get a vehicle but he can request one from the university motor pool.
The Fighting Illini Wheels program considers the vehicles donations, and in return give dealerships Illini sporting event tickets and advertising through the athletic department, Brown said. Most dealers donate new vehicles and either put a mileage or months used limit on the cars, letting dealers resell them when they’re turned in.
Groce’s BMW came from Honda/BMW of Champaign manager Ben Quattrone in Champaign.
“It’s a benefit to me because he’s an ambassador of the product,” Quattrone said. “He wouldn’t drive the car if it’s not what he liked.”
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