The 5 Million Dollar Man

by James & Miel on December 20, 2009 · 0 comments

Earlier this year, the University of Texas at Austin saw its Languages Department’s budget cut by $1.8-million, starting in the 2010-11 academic year. The university recently asked the state legislature for more monetary assistance to help bolster an endowment hit hard by the recent recession. And as recently as the first of this month, an advisory committee at the university proposed a series of 3.95% tuition increases over each of the next two years across the board to help bridge a budget gap that could cause devastating program cuts. The university has also seen a series of pay freezes for both non-faulty and university officials.

One man who isn’t hurting for cash though is the head football coach at the University of Texas at Austin, Mack Brown. Brown recently lead his team to an undefeated regular season and a birth in the BCS Championship game in January. Deciding that his roughly $3-million salary wasn’t enough, UT-A decided to make a one-time $2-million payment Brown that was due at the end of this season an annual one, while keeping his lucrative bonus deal and contractually-obligated raise of at least $100,000. This raises his annual salary to at least $5-million, far higher than any other Division I head football coach – USC’s Pete Carroll comes in second at a paltry $4.4-million annually.

While it’s true that the coaches’ salaries are not paid out of money provided by the state government, and that major college football brings in millions of dollars to the university, this type of pay for a football coach in this economic climate is – in my opinion – unseemly. The average salary for a head coach at college football’s highest level is $1.36-million (information on coaches’ salaries can be found via USAToday here). Compare that to how much a university professor makes; starting salaries for professors are even less than Brown’s minimum annual raise.

I love sports. And I especially love college sports. But let’s be honest here, for major sports such as football and basketball, the term “student-athlete” is a complete farce (not in every case; when I was at Purdue I knew the starting center on our men’s basketball team and he was an honors student majoring in Chemical Engineering, considered by some to be Purdue’s toughest program). ESPN’s Outside the Lines did an excellent report this past weekend on academic eligibility and football at Florida State University (the video can be found here) – a school then-rival coach Steve Spurrier once referred to as “Free Shoes University”.

These athletic programs are little more than human meat markets, where talented athletes are paid in the form of scholarships in exchange for their physical gifts that will bring the university millions and millions of dollars every year, which they will pour back into those same athletic programs in the form of facilities, equipment and exorbitant salaries for coaches, with the leftover money being distributed to the non revenue-generating sports and to the university’s general fund. Meanwhile, the academic departments at those same universities are forced to make tough decisions about how they’re going to meet their increasingly tight budgets while still providing a high quality education for those not blessed with 4.4 speed.

I suppose Mack Brown deserves that money in a sense. Without a strong financial incentive, he could easily be hired away by another school, presumably take that school to BCS Championship games and bring in those tens of millions of dollars to them, leaving UT-A slightly more poor. And sports are an important part of the college experience; not only are some of my fondest memories of Purdue centered around different athletic events, but it is through the basketball and football teams that I am drawn back into my association with the university. I don’t dispute the fact that Mack Brown and his contemporaries in the head coaching business deserve compensation for all that they bring to the university, but that doesn’t make it any easier to stomach the fact the academic departments are being forced to cut back while the head ball coach gets an extra $2-million a year.

-Michael

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