August 24, 2011
The most expensive part of Duke's 13-day tour of China and Dubai this month isn't the five-star hotels, the multi-course meals or the exotic sightseeing trips.
None of those even compare to the eye-popping price of the Boeing-767 jet the Blue Devils chartered from Anthony Travel to shuttle their traveling party of players, staff and dozens of alumni between Durham, Beijing, Shanghai and Dubai.
A Duke spokesman said Wednesday he could not reveal the total cost of the charter flights, but the president of a flight chartering company unaffiliated with the Blue Devils agreed to give an estimate. Air Charter Team president Jonathan Tasler calculated that the total cost of the charter flights was about $1.1 million, a figure that jibes with a $1.3 million estimate an airline executive provided CNBC's Darren Rovell on Tuesday.
Duke can thank its deep-pocketed alumni for its ability to fund the trip. Much of the money came from the dozens of Blue Devils fans who shelled out as much as $13,465 apiece to travel with the team on the entire trip or between $2,000 and $5,300 to enjoy a single leg of the journey. The remainder of the money consisted of private donations.
Only the nation's wealthiest, most successful college basketball programs can afford to take charter flights on summer exhibition tours to the farthest corners of the globe, but charter flights certainly aren't rare during the regular season. Most major-conference programs and some mid-majors take them to and from road games to ensure players miss as little class as possible and aren't travel-weary at tipoff.
It's certainly possible to make the argument that Duke flying charter for this trip was too extravagant since commercial flights for just the players and coaches would have cost a more reasonable $3,000 a person round trip. Furthermore, the Blue Devils could have chosen an exhibition tour that didn't span three continents and 16,000 miles.
On the other hand, Duke is a private school and the trip doesn't cost regular students or tax payers a dime. With the amount of money and publicity the Duke basketball program provides the school, perhaps it should be able to splurge once in a while.
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