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Sports coaches’ salaries under scrutiny

Marketplace Staff Mar 5, 2009

Sports coaches’ salaries under scrutiny

Marketplace Staff Mar 5, 2009


Tess Vigeland: At this point Wall Street bankers are probably getting used to all the criticism of their giant paychecks. Same goes for corporate chieftains. In fact, late yesterday New York’s attorney general subpoenaed seven Merrill Lynch executives over those multimillion-dollar bonuses they got last year. Who is not used to these kinds of salary questions? College sports coaches. Here to discuss is our business and sports commentator Diana Nyad. Hey, Diana.

DIANA NYAD: How are you doing, Tess?

Vigeland: Doing all right. Great to see you again.

NYAD: Thank you.

VIGELAND: Let’s talk about a little video that made a pretty big splash a few days ago. The coach of the UConn basketball team was asked a question about his salary, which is quite high at a time when universities across the country are cutting budgets. What do you make of all this?

NYAD: The activist, we’ll call him too. That’s who shouted out this question at this press conference, of Jim Calhoun, who is the men’s basketball coach at UConn. You know, shouted out, “You’re making $1.6 million, how dare you? When, forget about universities cutting budgets, the state of Connecticut is in dire straits. Their deficits are enormous. How dare you take that money.”

And Jim Calhoun yelled back, “How dare you ask me that question. Do you have any idea what I and my program brings into these universities?”

So, you know, the crux of the issue that we’re talking about today is that there are 39 private universities around the country where the basketball coach, the football coach, the A.D., make much more than the president of the university. Is it fair? Is it right? I don’t know. But as a business model, it’s what comes down.

VIGELAND: Well, let me turn it around on you. Was this a fair question, especially in this economy?

NYAD: Well, fair or not, it was ignorant. Because as Jim Calhoun, said, he mis-said the basketball program at UConn brings in $12 million to the university. It actually brings in 7 [million].

VIGELAND: Still a pretty big figure.

Nyad: More than any other department, of course, at the university. There was an Auburn model of a couple of years ago where the coach and all his assistant coaches were making about $5 million. But they’re bringing in about 10 times that in revenue. So they’re only taking one-tenth of the revenue and nine-tenths of it goes back to the program which, by the way, pays for that head coach.

Like this activist who yelled out says, “The taxpayers are paying your salary. I don’t want to pay your salary.” Well, guess what. He’s not paying that salary. It’s the percentage of the ticket sales, its the sneaker deals, its all these coaches have their local radio and television programs every week. And so that’s the money that pays for their salaries. Taxpayer doesn’t pay a dime of it.

VIGELAND: And I wonder if there isn’t also a follow-up effect. These universities hire these coaches to create winning teams and winning teams in turn can bring in alumni donations. Whether you like that or not, it is a factor in people donating to their alma maters.

NYAD: That’s true, and its not just the alumni. Georgia Tech is a good example. In the state of Georgia, the names that you would know best are the people — the head coaches and the players at Georgia Tech, at the University of Georgia, and we could go state by state. Not the we don’t know some senators’ names and some political activists. But honestly, the public looks to those faces in the athletic departments as the main personalities of the entire state.

VIGELAND: So is this a false controversy?

NYAD: Yeah, I think it is. I think it is. I mean, I used to argue against the salaries that these head coaches make just on principle. You know, it’s like the crazy Groucho Marx quote with something to the effect of how is the university, how are we, going to support financially both the academics and the athletics. And Groucho Marx says, “We can’t. Burn down the library.” If we’re looking at a financial model, and unfortunately you have to, it works — and the coaches get what they should get, and it is a non-issue.

Vigeland: Diana, thanks so much. Good to see you again.

NYAD: You too, Tess.

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