Bill Self is a good man, a good coach. He reflects credit on Kansas University, its basketball program and the game of basketball. To show the university's appreciation for the job he is doing and to prevent him from considering more financially attractive positions at other schools, KU officials - Athletic Director Lew Perkins and Chancellor Robert Hemenway - earlier this week raised Self's annual paycheck from $1.3 million to $1.6 million. And there are incentives that could mean additional dollars.
Faculty members, players, alumni and others associated with schools where Self coached prior to coming to Mount Oread may have knowledge of some weakness or behavior that, in their eyes, was not correct but, overall, Self is a top-flight individual. He behaves in a proper manner, and it is believed he plays by the rules. The three most recent KU basketball coaches - Larry Brown, Roy Williams and now Bill Self - all were winners and did a great job for KU, its basketball program and the state.
All this noted, there is something terribly out of balance relative to college basketball and intercollegiate sports in general. In fact, this is true in all phases of sports, collegiate or professional, and the many business alliances with sports.
At the college level, it may be called "intercollegiate amateur sports," but it is BIG business in every sense. The dollars are huge, and the bigger the dollars, the more clout individuals involved in sports have in the game.
Chancellors and college presidents can claim they are keeping tight control of the embarrassing money arms race in NCAA Division I collegiate sports, but that's a joke. What chancellor or president has exhibited the backbone to call a stop to the ever-escalating salaries and fringe benefits being given to college coaches and some of the ego-driven athletic directors? Talk is cheap. Where is the action?
In a way, the coaches shouldn't be faulted if the market and competition for good coaches is so great that their price tags continue to rise year by year. Are they supposed to say, "No, thanks, I've already got a good enough compensation package. I don't need any more"?
Sports nuts among university alumni want a winning program. Chancellors want a winning program because they claim, sometimes correctly, that winning programs help raise private fiscal support for their schools. Most everyone likes to brag about a winning program.
However, too many chancellors talk out of both sides of their mouths, stressing the "student-athlete" label, pointing out that athletes graduate at higher rates than non-athlete students. Why shouldn't these athletes have better grade point averages or graduate at a higher rate when millions of dollars and hundreds of hours are spent tutoring them to keep them eligible to perform on the basketball court or football field? Ordinary students don't receive such help.
Is there any way to stop the totally out-of-control, money-driven intercollegiate sports situation? There are bigger stadiums, more luxury suites, bigger weight rooms, fancier locker rooms and various pressure tactics to force ticket holders to pay more for their stadium or arena seats.
Chancellors acknowledge there is a problem, but no one steps up to place a brake on this runaway, hungry and uncontrolled money train. The NCAA, the governing body for intercollegiate sports, talks a good game, but its bark is far bigger than its bite. They can pass out penalties, as they did against KU, for a lack of "institutional control," and take away a few scholarships, but that's about it. It is interesting KU received this slap on the wrist just after Chancellor Hemenway stepped down as chairman of the Division I NCAA schools.
Sports are great, and they can and do add a great deal to the overall college scene. They help generate enthusiasm among alumni and stimulate interest in the school. Some alumni and friends show their appreciation for a good sports program by making generous contributions to the school, and sports provide a means for many young, athletically talented men and women to be exposed to a college education.
But anything can be carried to an extreme, and this seems to be the case today with the money side of college sports.
As former KU Chancellor Gene Budig said in a recent column in the Journal-World, "NCAA president Miles Brand faces a very real arms race, one fueled by an insatiable appetite for college athletics among students, alumni and the general public. Fiscal restraint is infrequently in evidence." He said Brand has been asked to "hold off an unruly mob with a switch."
Budig quoted what former University of Michigan President James Duderstadt said: "The simplest way to characterize the problem with college sports is to recognize that it is a very profitable commercial entertainment business that is moving farther and farther away from its original academic purposes of the university."
Again, Bill Self is a top-flight individual. In his line of work, he is recognized as one of the best. It is hoped he will run the KU basketball program in a manner than can and should be used as a model for other college basketball teams.
Chancellor Hemenway and a number of alumni made the decision some years ago to raise much more money to elevate the KU intercollegiate program. KU's budget for sports did not stack up well with other Big 12 schools such as the Texas schools, Oklahoma and Nebraska. A new athletic director was hired with one of the highest salaries of any U.S. college athletic director and was given the green light to raise the bucks to improve facilities and pay coaches competitive salaries. He has done a good job in this department, but he has made poor marks in public relations. Time will tell whether this will have a lasting good or negative impact on the school and in the eyes of alumni and faculty. Hemenway has given his full support to Perkins' plans, although many in the faculty are highly critical. Again, time will tell.
Faculty members are bothered by the emphasis school administrators are placing on sports and are quick to suggest the athletic department is the tail wagging the dog. They wish there could be a better balance in the administration's efforts to build the excellence of the athletic program and the efforts to build excellence in teaching and research at the school. To which the chancellor is likely to respond by pointing to his goal of raising $300 million or more for the KU School of Medicine and other academic programs at KU. Even so, the interest and support of athletics is out of balance.
Few teachers, researchers or chancellors come anywhere close to making the $1 million-plus contract package enjoyed by those on the athletic side of the university, and there are few fiscal incentive packages for teachers and researches that match the incentive packages for coaches and ADs, along with free cars, club memberships, insurance policies, deferred compensation and other goodies.
Congratulations to Bill Self for his new contract. He is an excellent asset for the university. However, some way needs to be devised to get a handle on the monetary arms race between the athletic departments of many NCAA Division I schools. As it is today, it is out of control.