STILLWATER — Three months after a plane crash that killed two coaches, a former state senator and his wife, Oklahoma State University officials say they are planning to review the university's travel policy.
The university plans to assemble a committee to look at the policy and recommend changes, OSU spokesman Gary Shutt said Wednesday.
A single-engine Piper PA-28-180 Cherokee crashed Nov. 17 over mountainous terrain in the Ouachita National Forest in central Arkansas. The crash killed OSU women's basketball coach Kurt Budke, assistant coach Miranda Serna and former state Sen. Olin Branstetter, who was piloting the plane. Branstetter's wife, Paula, was also killed.
The two coaches were headed to Little Rock for a recruiting trip.
OSU officials began looking at the possibility of forming the review committee in early January, Shutt said. Although committee members haven't been selected, Shutt said it would include OSU faculty and administrators, and others. A membership list is to be finalized in the next few weeks.
The committee will look at the portions of the university's travel policy that cover coaches, he said. The committee will also look at the policies of other universities. Any recommended policy changes would require approval by the OSU/A&M Board of Regents.
In the months since the crash, university officials have said no policy changes were in the offing but that all university policies are constantly under review. Shutt said no changes to the policy have yet been made.
Three days after the crash, OSU President Burns Hargis said in an email to former Phillips Petroleum Chairman Wayne Allen, an OSU alumnus, that the university would be looking at the possibility of tightening travel policies that cover coaches.
“When I was chairman, the Board would not allow me to fly in single engine airplanes,” Allen said in an email to Hargis. “When they get the cause sorted out you might consider if it makes sense to have tighter rules. We have had more than our share of airplane accidents.”
In his response, Hargis said a similar rule applies to him.
“We will look at the possibility of extending it to coaches although I already know the push back we will get ... from the coaches,” Hargis said in the email obtained under an open records request. “We'll review it nonetheless.”
Shutt said university officials understand coaches' need for flexibility in their travel arrangements. The athletics department will be represented on the committee, Shutt said, and the coaches' concerns will be considered.
Questions have surfaced since the crash about how the university's travel policy applies to coaches. The single-engine Piper did not meet the policy's requirement that aircraft used in university-related travel be “powered by two or more turbine engines.”
OSU officials have said that policy doesn't apply to coaches when they travel without student athletes.
However, a section of the policy deals specifically with coaches and athletic department staff traveling without students. It outlines what types of aircraft are acceptable for such trips. The section states that coaches traveling alone may use other aircraft that would be prohibited for team travel.
The policy then lists what appear to be minimum requirements for such other aircraft. Included in the list is a requirement that aircraft be “powered by two or more turbine engines.”
OSU football recruiting director Johnny Barr said the football team rarely uses private aircraft on recruiting trips. Football coaches typically drive or take commercial flights, Barr said.
For example, he said, coaches who are traveling in Oklahoma or to Dallas-Fort Worth area for recruiting purposes typically drive. Others who go to more far-flung cities in Texas, such as Houston and San Antonio, may take commercial flights, he said.
All 10 of the team's coaches make recruiting trips, Barr said. The nine assistant coaches have designated areas in Oklahoma and Texas where they recruit, he said, while head coach Mike Gundy could travel anywhere.
NCAA rules govern how many recruiting trips a team's coaches can make per year and when those trips may be scheduled. But it's up to the team to decide where those trips will be made, Barr said, and it's largely left to the coaches to decide how to get there.
Occasionally, coaches may need to take small, private aircraft, Barr said. For those flights, Barr keeps a list of about six private pilots he knows are reliable and keep their planes well maintained, he said.
Although the November crash hasn't caused the team to make any drastic changes in the way its coaches travel, Barr said the memory of it has had an impact on the staff.
“It's got all of our attention,” he said.
OSU's athletic travel policy was enacted in 2002, the year after an airplane crash near Strasburg, Colo., killed 10 men associated with OSU men's basketball program. The policy has been revised twice since then.