Earlier this week, USA Today carried a feature with the headline “College ADs’ Pay on the Rise,” with a subhead, “Major-college athletics directors averaging more than $500,000.”
Almost at the same time, Kansas University officials announced they had hired an outstanding individual to become the new dean of the KU School of Engineering. This man currently is a professor and department chairman at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, where he leads the university’s engineering and computer science department. He was a program director for the National Science Foundation and holds a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He will be taking over the helm at the beginning of an $80 million expansion at the KU school.
His salary will be $280,000.
It is wrong to make comparisons between individuals, their talents, their value to a school, their earning power, their schooling or any other measurements, but the fact is, the primary mission of a university is to teach, inspire and motivate students to be contributing members of our society. Teachers and academic administrators on these campuses are left in the dust when it comes to financial compensation.
Those in athletics make the big bucks. Granted, they coach, recruit and baby sit outstanding athletes, who, in turn, help sell tickets to football and basketball games. And some of those who buy these tickets at high prices also become generous private contributors to the universities. Nevertheless, only a small percentage of the major universities show a profit in their athletic operations.
In the USA Today listing of AD salaries, KU Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger is listed with a salary of $450,000 with the opportunity of a $50,000 bonus. Kansas State Athletic Director John Currie is listed with a salary of $537,500 with the possibility of earning a maximum of $247,500 in bonuses.
This is sure to trigger much debate within the KU Athletics family, although it should be pointed out that in recent years, Kansas State has a better record in various “all sports” compilations than KU.
It is known the difference between what the KSU AD was making when the KU AD was hired was a sore point, and the current listing is likely to result in an announcement that the Kansas AD has been given a raise to at least match what is being paid to the AD in Manhattan.
This “arms race” or “keeping up with the Joneses” is what has been going on within the AD fraternity for some years, but was kicked into high gear with the Lew Perkins salary and bonus situation at KU. This lit the fire throughout the country in terms of AD salaries.
Salaries of most coaches, assistants and ADs dwarf those of faculty members at the same schools.
There may be a few distinguished professors at KU who, with their salaries and other earnings from outside sources, may touch some of the athletic salaries — but not many.
Some deans in schools such as law, medicine, business and engineering earn substantially more than deans of other schools, but few match or exceed the salaries of coaches, ADs and assistant coaches.
When is this bubble going to break? And what may cause the bubble to break?
Unfortunately, regents and curators at these schools duck the responsibility. They are quick to say they have confidence that the chancellors and presidents under their supervision have things under control. So the regents and curators pass it off to the chancellors, who, unfortunately, do little if anything, claiming it is up to officials in the NCAA or some other body to address the issue. Chancellors acknowledge they are uncomfortable with the situation, but they, too, want to field winning teams.
One knowledgeable individual suggests it may be the students who eventually bring some reason to the escalating salaries in college athletics and spending on bigger and better athletic plants on campuses throughout the country. Consider the additional debt KU will be taking on to make major improvements at Memorial Stadium.
Even with the huge TV deals, athletic departments at many schools still are likely to face serious financial challenges and the need to raise ticket prices to help reduce their deficits. How will students react when they are faced with substantially increased prices for their tickets? As it is, most KU faculty members already have been priced out of decent seat locations at KU basketball games and, to a lesser degree, at football games. Most other sports at KU are financial losers, and ticket sales don’t make much difference.
College sports are great entertainment and, in today’s society, the public seems conditioned to pay whatever the freight may call for in entertainment.
Nevertheless, will there come a time when the public — students, faculty, alumni or fans of a particular school or sport — eventually say “no” to higher prices? Or is it a case of the public being willing to pay as long as their team is a “winner”? And, to be a consistent winner, does this require higher and higher salaries for coaches and ADs and fancier stadiums and arenas?
It’s a never-ending, costly circle, and the faculty is left in the dust.