Critics of unrestrained and outlandish spending in collegiate sports have a new target.
Bernie Machen, President of the University of Florida, told the Orlando Sentinel that he intends to make Gators' coach Urban Meyer the highest paid football coach in the SEC. For those of you who may not be keeping score, at $3.49 million a year Meyer isn't exactly in need of a government bailout. Nor is he asking the university for a raise. But Meyer's salary apparently doesn't please Machen, who says he feels Meyer deserves a bigger paycheck.
There's no denying Meyer's on-field success in Gainesville. The Gators have won two mythical (without a playoff, what else can you call it?) national championships in the past three years. And the school's athletic program runs in the black, contributing approximately $6 million last year to the university, most of it from the football program.
On the other hand, it's hard to argue that Meyer isn't well paid for his success. The issue, according to Machen, is that there are at least two coaches in the SEC - Les Miles at LSU and Nick Saban at Alabama - who make more than Meyer. And neither has been as successful as Machen's man, Urban.
All well and good. But at the same time that Machen is championing a raise for Meyer, the university is cutting faculty, entire programs, and that rarity in academia, administration. As a result of declining state revenues, university trustees voted on May 26 to slash next year's budget by $42.2 million. That's in addition to the $69 million in cuts over the past two years. Despite the decreased expenses, students may see a 15 percent tuition increase, meaning they're effectively paying more for less - fewer teachers, fewer courses and fewer programs.
Florida isn't alone in throwing outlandish sums of money at coaches. The University of Kentucky recently lured basketball coach John Calipari away from the University of Memphis with an eight-year $31.6 million contract. Ohio State - with a $115 million annual sports juggernaut - pays its football coach, Jim Tressel, $3.5 million a year, almost quadruple what he made when he first arrived on the Columbus campus in 2001.
According to a report in the Columbus Dispatch, Ohio State's athletic payroll has grown two-and-one-half fold in a decade, from $10.6 million in 1998 to $25.4 million last year. During that same period, the total number of employees in the athletic department has grown 43 percent, to 317. But OSU was ever-so-proud to tout a recent cost-saving measure by the department. In a joint press release with the University of Michigan, the Buckeyes announced that the Big Ten rivals would stop printing media guides, saving each school approximately $250,000 a year. Honk if you think that money won't be spent elsewhere on athletics.
If you get the idea that athletics trumps academics at many BCS schools, you may be on to something. And the NCAA does its best to validate such action. The SEC recently announced its revenue sharing plan for the fiscal year ending Aug. 31. Included in the $132.5 million to be distributed to the 12 league institutions is $23.1 million from NCAA championships. The NCAA threw in another $744,000, or roughly an additional 3 percent, to be divided equally for "academic enhancement."
The reason Machen is determined to raise Meyer's salary in the face of staggering academic cutbacks may have more to do with Machen than it does Meyer. Such action is guaranteed to curry favor with Florida alums and boosters, most of who are more concerned about losing Meyer than they are about the quality of academics at the university. The loss of Meyer would be a bigger blow to Machen's popularity than his inept handling of the budget crisis and may seal his fate as the leader of Florida's flagship campus.
If Machen succeeds in lavishing Meyer with additional millions - and don't bet against him - it's unlikely the coaching salary race in the SEC will end there. LSU's Miles is reported to have a clause in his contract that guarantees he will be the highest paid coach in the conference. See you one and raise you one. Anyone want to bet what Machen's next move will be?
(Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Eastern New Mexico University, teaches the Business of Sports at the University of Wyoming, and is a contributing author to the Business of Sports Network. Jordan can be reached at email@example.com.)
Posted: Saturday, June 20, 2009
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I understand the point you are trying to make but the University of Florida may not be the best example. The University Athletic Association (UAA) is a not-for-profit corporation separate from the University of Florida. UAA is fully funded by ticket sales, sponsorship deals, and boosters; the Athletic Association receives no public dollars or money from UF. UAA pays for all the athletic programs, facilities, and coaches and is one of the few university athletic programs in the country to consistently turn a profit (which the UAA then can donate back to UF). Retaining a coach like Urban Meyer is an investment in the program, ensuring it's continued success. You can argue that coaches are overpaid but it is erroneous to state that a salary increase for Meyer would come at the cost of academic programs at UF.
Posted: Friday, June 19, 2009
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First I want to say that I believe that Meyer and many others make enough money now. What I WILL take issue with is the common belief that spending more on education improves the outcome. I cannot think of entity that has a worse return on investment than the public education system does in America. So, I don't have a problem with you saying that coaches make too much, but I do have a problem with wasting any more money funding the education black-holes as they exist today.