Archive for Saturday, August 4, 2001

Colleges work to balance athletic and academic priorities

August 4, 2001


What's the proper balance between the academic pursuits of a major comprehensive research university such as Kansas University and the school's intercollegiate athletic goals?

Year after year, members of the Kansas Board of Regents, as well as alumni and friends of KU, urge state lawmakers to fund faculty salaries at a level of KU's peer institutions. Year after year, the results are the same modest increases most years, but far short of what faculty members are receiving at most of the peers.

As a result, it is becoming increasingly difficult for KU to hold on to its most distinguished teachers and researchers. The situation is even more challenging in regard to younger faculty members who are seen as the real comers, individuals who are sure to shine in the classroom or in research. Other schools know of the tight fiscal situation at KU and are quick to go after these future all-stars.

Many distinguished older faculty members have been in Lawrence for some time. They appreciate the quality of life in Lawrence and must balance that against higher pay offers elsewhere. If teachers are near retirement, a move may not mean that many more dollars in their pockets. It is the younger faculty members, with many productive years ahead of them, who have the most to gain and represent the primary target for other schools. This is the situation facing KU and many other universities.

It is difficult to balance this situation with what is going on in intercollegiate athletics.

A feature in Friday's USA Today focused on the growing number of college coaches who have the potential to earn more than $1 million a year. According to the USA Today article, 39 intercollegiate coaches either are guaranteed at least $1 million a year or have contracts with incentives that could produce that amount.

The article notes that Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops has a contract that guarantees him $2 million a year, roughly 25 times what the average college professor will earn in the coming school year. The story points out it has taken less than six years for the number of $1 million coaches to soar from zero to more than three dozen.

Granted, there are various schemes offered for these coaches to reach or exceed the $1 million mark. The Oklahoma coach is guaranteed $2 million, regardless of his win-loss record this coming season, but in other situations, the total pay package may be governed by conference or national championship titles, the number of players above a certain grade-point average, appearance in bowl games or winning a bid in the NCAA basketball post-season playoffs. In some cases, the bonuses or extra pay is increased the further a team advances in the NCAA tourney.

Twenty-two college football coaches have annual compensation packages of more than $1 million; 17 basketball coaches are in this same club.

Five Big 12 Conference football coaches will receive at least $1 million this year Stoops of Oklahoma, Mack Brown of Texas, Bill Snyder of Kansas State, Frank Solich of Nebraska and R.C. Slocum of Texas A&M.; As an aside, former KU football coach Glen Mason is set to make $1.3 million in Minnesota this year.

Oklahoma not only guarantees its football coach $2 million, it also provides the incentives for its basketball coach, Kelvin Sampson, to reach or exceed the $1 million mark. Other Big 12 basketball coaches who will or can make $1 million or more are KU's Roy Williams, Larry Eustachy at Iowa State, Quin Snyder at Missouri and Rick Barnes at Texas.

How many college or university presidents are guaranteed an annual salary of $1 million or more? How many enjoy built-in incentives that could result in an annual paycheck of $1 million? Do any chancellors have contracts based on the number of students graduating with a grade-point average of 3.0 or higher? How about a certain number or percentage of students graduating within five years of admission? Or do any schools have arrangements whereby a chancellor would receive an extra spiff if his or her football or basketball or maybe even a softball or soccer team advances to a conference or national title?

Many faculty members do receive additional income from research grants or consulting fees. Top-flight teachers and researchers can and do receive money in addition to their state paychecks, and many of those receive higher total pay than assistant athletic coaches.

There is no question that a winning athletic program can pay many dividends for a university. Right or wrong, alumni and friends, at least at state-aided schools, often are more likely to be generous in their private fiscal support if a university has a winning athletic program. Winning programs help attract students, generate school spirit and provide additional scholarships for students in "olympic" or nonrevenue sports. There are many positive spin-offs.

One has to wonder, however, what happens when a coach is rewarded for winning records, the number of victories, conference or national titles. Would this bait be enough to encourage coaches to resort to questionable means to achieve winning records?

Winning football and basketball programs bring in millions of dollars to universities. They help fill stadiums and fieldhouses. And, hopefully, if the school operates its athletic program in a proper manner, a winning athletic program can, indeed, help the academic side of the school. One trouble, however, that as yet is unsolved, is how to get all athletics departments to play by the same rules and the same academic standards and requirements.

How long will the public , i.e., taxpayers, allow college athletic salaries to go sky high while those charged with the education and encouragement of students in the classroom receive only a fraction of those salaries? Coaches are not to be criticized for their success and what they do for their schools, but what is going to happen to the salaries of professors and deans?

What kinds of incentives can be offered to faculty members and will the time come when USA Today might run a front-page feature on faculty members who are making $1 million or more a year?

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