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Profiles in rent-seeking: College athletics edition

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The athletic directors and the commissioner of the Big 10 conference are very, very, very concerned about putting the education of their unpaid quasi-professional athletes students who participate in extra-curricular activities first. Very concerned. How concerned? This much:

“While we are comfortable generating multiple ideas about an ‘education first’ approach to intercollegiate athletics in the twenty-first century, we won’t go it alone on any of these matters,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said in the statement. “We look forward to working with our colleagues in the NCAA Division I governance structure, and to exploring a broad exchange of ideas from both inside and outside of intercollegiate athletics.”

ESPN.com had previously reported that the Big Ten had begun internal discussions about making all or some freshman athletes ineligible, a measure that would have the greatest effect on the current one-and-done climate in college basketball.

Delany, who was getting paid just $1.8 million by the conference two years ago, and who is strongly opposed to college football and basketball players having their salaries raised from their current level of $0.00, was walking back those reports, since even the rumor that the conference was considering such a proposal was already being used against the conference’s football and men’s basketball teams (the two sports that make all the money) by coaches from other, less educationally-serious conferences.

But the conference is very serious about education. How serious? This serious:

Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke said he believes in the NCAA policy that prohibited freshmen participation before a 1972 reversal.

“I, for one ,as a Big Ten AD, am tired of being used as a minor league for professional sports,” Burke said. “What was right for the NCAA in the first 70 years of its history, maybe we ought to go back and say, ‘What’s changed?'”

Among Big Ten leaders, he said, a consensus exists to “get education back on the proper platform.”

What’s changed? Oh it is a deep and abiding mystery. Or is it?

Gaze upon my balance sheets, ye mighty, and despair:

Salary of Michigan athletic director Don Canham in 1980 (Canham at this point was the most successful AD in the country, having transformed Michigan’s athletic department into the most profitable revenue-enhancing in all of college sports): $54,000

Salary of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler in 1980 (Schembechler had the highest winning percentage of any college football coach during the 1970s): $105,000

You can multiply these numbers by 2.87 to account for inflation.

Salary of Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon in 2014-15: $900,000 base, $175,000 in deferred comp, up to $200,000 in performance bonuses.

Salary of new Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh: $7,000,000.

Brandon won’t be collecting any performance bonuses this year, as he pulled off the astonishing feat of doing such an atrocious job that he got several hundred students to march on the university president’s house demanding he be fired, which he subsequently was. He will collect several million dollars in severance pay, however, because The Market. (An amusing account of some of his follies can be found here). My favorite detail of Brandon’s contract is that he and his wife got the free use of dealer-provided cars, with the dealers paying not only for the cars, but for registration and license plates, while the university was left on the hook for insuring the vehicles, as well as for the cost of “routine oil changes.” (BTW Brandon is the ex-CEO of Domino’s Pizza, and had, conservatively speaking, a net worth well into the tens of millions of dollars, before he took a job with a seven-figure salary that also covers the cost of routine oil changes for his free cars).

And Brandon wasn’t even in the top quarter of Big 10 AD pay last year, as the athletic directors at Ohio State, Nebraska, and Wisconsin were all pulling down more than one million dollars in base pay alone.

Those salaries in turn pale in comparison to the $3.24 million being paid two years ago to what might — might — be the highest-paid law professor in the land, Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams (Williams also has an appointment on the Vanderbilt law faculty, which should provide a soft landing if the Commodores’ football team’s current streak of five four three two one zero good football seasons in a row should ever be broken. Williams’ salary is largely a product of the sweetheart deals administrative grifter extraordinaire Gordon Gee put in place before he high-tailed it out of Nashville).

Williams was in the news yesterday when he announced that Vanderbilt’s basketball coach Kevin Stallings wouldn’t be suspended, after he was caught advising one of his student-athletes that he would “fucking kill you” if his on-court deportment did not improve posthaste. (To be fair, Stallings explained to ESPN afterwards that his stated intention to kill his own player was merely a figure of speech, and should not have been taken literally.)

In the light of all this, Burke can perhaps be forgiven if he feels that the half million dollars he’s getting paid to be Purdue’s AD this year, not counting up to another $120,000 in “performance bonuses,” is practically a vow of poverty. On the third hand a cynic might point out that Burke has suckled unmolested at the increasingly engorged teat of big time college athletics for the 22 years he’s held his current position, and that he’s seen his own stupendous salary go up by 50% over the past six years alone.

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