Suddenly, March Madness has a whole new meaning. Outrage has exploded following a report in the Detroit News that Michigan State University revoked charter plane privileges for its cheer squad and band – forcing them to take a 10-hour bus ride to Final Four, while giving those seats to spouses, children and other relatives of basketball coaches and university personnel.
The "Spartan Brass" band and its cheer team — 43 people in all — traveled to the Final Four by chartered bus, although they had traveled on the team charter plane for the first two weekends of the NCAA Tournament.
That meant a 10-hour road trip, as opposed to a two-hour flight, while the band and cheer teams for the other three Final Four participants — eventual-national champion Virginia, Texas Tech and Auburn — all traveled on their team planes to the Final Four.
The NCAA calls for 43 band and cheer members to be part of the team's official travel party to the Final Four in order to receive full per-diem reimbursement.
MSU, which paid for the bus, defended itself at the time, stating, "The further a team goes in NCAA Tournament play, the greater the personnel needs are to staff and support the team’s appearance, especially during the Final Four."
MSU did not explain how the children and spouses of coaches and university personnel provided support. And while the university's director of bands issued a statement deflecting criticism of the university, saying, "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these students. And they are thrilled to be able to participate,” the head of the cheer team didn't comment publicly.
In addition to the list of personnel (available in the article), the passenger list included some wealthy donors, such as one couple who endowed a scholarship for Michigan State men's basketball managers, and a member of the Board of Trustees, who is a millionaire and a prominent real estate developer in Michigan.
Only one current member of the eight-person Board of Trustees, Joel Ferguson, was listed as being on the chartered plane, and he brought at least one guest. Trustees are permitted to bring guests. Other trustees, such as Brian Mosallam, previously made public their intent to make private travel arrangements. One former trustee, David Porteous, who's now a trustee of Michigan State's law college board, was on the plane.
Ferguson, when reached by The News, called the travel manifest "a non-issue," adding, "it must be a slow news day," before he went on to say he didn't want to be quoted. Ferguson, a millionaire mid-Michigan developer who earlier this month was part of a group that purchased 16 acres of the State Fairgrounds, said he stands by the university's statement from earlier this month.
The timing for the revelations couldn’t be worse. With a number of schools already getting a virtual black eye from the Varsity Blues scandal that broke in March, the treatment of wealthy individuals has come under increased scrutiny. And despite the fact that the university appears to be laying low and hoping this blows over after the school year comes to a close, other schools are likely to be scrutinizing their passenger manifestos for potential blunders next March – and at other championship events.