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Steinberg: Massive coaching salaries are justified

December 08, 2012|By Leigh Steinberg

The move by University of Wisconsin football Coach Brett Bielema to accept a higher paying job for himself and his assistants at the University of Arkansas weeks before his old team is slated to play in the Rose Bowl raises the perpetual question: Are massive football and basketball salaries for coaches at institutions of higher learning justified?

Bielema will be paid a base salary of $3.2 million dollars a year for a guaranteed six years, with incentives that can push his revenue to roughly $4 million per year. If Arkansas were to fire Bielema in the first three years, they would owe him $12.8 million dollars. His assistants also received hefty raises.

When Tennessee fired Derek Dooley last month, they still have to pay him the $5 million remaining on his contract.

Six years ago, 42 major college football coaches made at least $1 million per year. Today 42 coaches make at least $2 million. The average annual salary for head coaches in baseball and basketball is $1.64 million, up nearly 12% over last season, and more than 70% since 2006. Head football coaches such as Nick Saban of Alabama and Mack Brown of Texas make $5.5 million and $5.3 million, respectively. The assistant football coaches at Clemson University share a compensation pool of $4.2 million — do the math.

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According to Equilar, an executive compensation data firm, between 2007 and 2011 CEO pay — including salary, stock options, bonuses and other compensation — rose 23%. In that same period, coaches' pay increased 44%.

This massive explosion of spending on coaches' compensation is occurring against the backdrop of funding crises at universities across the nation. The economic recession has dropped alumni giving levels and public universities have had tax funding reduced. This has caused a decline in instructional spending and dramatic increases in tuition.

University presidents' compensation is under attack — they average $421,000. Athletic Director salaries average about $450,000. These figures are dwarfed by the revenue generating athletic coaches. So under what rationale are these coaches compensated?

There is no figure with as dynamic an impact on the success or failure of a college athletic program than the coaching staff. Unlike professional sports and high schools, they have to recruit every athlete who plays for them. This is a Social Darwinian cut-throat competition.

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