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COMMENTARY: A $32 Million Football Coach? Outrageous!

Posted by kinchendavid on January 6, 2007

By Rene A. Henry

Seattle, WA  — The University of Alabama just spent $32 million to hire a football coach! A college football coach. Yes, that’s correct. And at a public university supported by the taxpayers of Alabama.

This clearly sends the wrong message not only to the public in Alabama but to all taxpayers throughout the U.S. at a time when state supported colleges and universities are badly in need of and seeking more public funds. If I were a member of the Alabama legislature, I would tell the leadership of this university to either get its act together or look elsewhere for taxpayer support.

To say the president and governing board at the university acted irresponsibly would be an understatement. They must be held accountable for their actions and any repercussions that follow. The beneficiaries are a small minority of the Alabama alumni who love to dress in Crimson and join other fans a dozen times a year to wave ‘Bama pennants and pom poms and yell “Roll Tide” hoping their football team will win the game.

I can’t fault Nick Saban, the new coach, for accepting something like $4 million a year for the next eight years. This tops the $3.5 million a year Oklahoma pays Bob Stoops, $3 million a year Iowa pays Kirk Ferentz and $2 million a year Ohio State pays Jim Tressel. Additionally they all receive other benefits and perks. All are public universities. I do hope these coaches follow the leadership of their Penn State colleague, Joe Paterno, who has generously given much of his salary back for endowments, programs and scholarships.

You can’t logically compare any of these coaches’ salaries to a CEO or president of a Fortune 500 company who is charged with delivering bottom-line profits and dividends for stockholders and employees. CEOs are compensated on their performance. Saban is paid only to win football games and hopefully a national championship. Regardless of his success, he always will be in the shadow of Alabama’s legendary Bear Bryant.

Why not hold college coaches to a performance standard that includes graduation rates of athletes with salary deduction penalties if thugs are recruited who end being arrested and disgrace the institution?

Other college football and basketball coaches are the highest paid public employees in their respective states. Why? Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said he plans to look into what he considers to be excessive compensation for corporate executives. Congress now may also look into why college coaches are being paid so many millions and why athletic departments have budgets that exceed $100 million with tax exempt revenues.

Many public colleges and universities who once called themselves “state supported” now, because of decreasing funds, use the term “state assisted.” Some, who receive less than 15 percent public support from their legislature now even say they are just “state located.”

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the governing body of intercollegiate sports, is gutless when it comes to limiting spending on sports. Why does a college football team need to have two or three times more uniformed players than a professional team in the NFL? Or larger coaching staffs? Or coaches being paid more than their professional counterparts? There is no justifiable answer.

The NCAA and its leadership and members forget that intercollegiate sports exist for one reason only – because there is an academic institution. The institution of higher learning does not exist so there can be football, basketball and other sports teams. Some universities have made bad hiring decisions and had to honor multimillion dollar contracts when coaches don’t win and are fired, sometimes having to pay several coaches at the same time.

The NCAA doesn’t even use the millions of dollars of free network television time given it each year to win public support for higher education. Instead many of the commercials are completely self-serving, say nothing, or feature an egomaniacal university president who wants everyone to see him on TV.

In response to overpaid coaches, some presidents, chancellors and athletic directors will offer the excuse that the funds are paid by alumni and friends. If this is the case, let those so-called “philanthropists” endow scholarships to young people who otherwise might not be able to afford a college education and who might just be the next Nobel Prize laureate, breakthrough scientist, or even a governor or president of the U.S.

My experience in national and international sports spans five decades. Ten years of my career were in higher education at four different public universities. I began as a student assistant in sports information at The College of William & Mary and I have always been a strong supporter of intercollegiate sports, but not at the financial levels they are today. By the way, the graduation rate for football players at my alma mater is 100 percent.

There can be no justification whatsoever to pay $32 million to any coach at a nonprofit institution that is supported by taxpayer dollars. Knute Rockne, Amos Alonzo Stagg  and Pop Warner must be holding their heads in shame. It’s time for the American public to rebel, speak out and demand their elected representatives cut off public funding to institutions that favor athletics over academics.

* * *

Rene A. Henry is the author of six books and lives in Seattle. He has commentaries on other subjects and issues posted on his website at http://www.renehenry.com. He is a native of Charleston, WV, a graduate of The College of William & Mary and a “Lifetime Gold Alumnus” of West Virginia University where he was Sports Information Director for two years.


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