Football coaches continue to rake it in as college finances suffer

With endowments in the toilet, state aid on the decline, and families scrounging for cash to cover tuition increases, it's nice to know that one group of college constituents aren't suffering: top flight, 7-figure football coaches.

An extensive study conducted by USA Today found that at least 25 college football coaches are making more than $2 million this season -- up 100% from two years ago. The average pay for a head coach in the 120-school Football Bowl Subdivision is up 28% in two years and 46% in three years. The average coach in that elite conference earns $1.36 million.

A survey of bowl-division college presidents conducted by Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics found that 85% of respondents considered the pay packages football and basketball coaches are taking to be "excessive."

Defenders of the sports programs say that the notion that coaches' salaries come out of money that could be used to fund goals more central to universities' core missions is misguided: elite basketball coaches create elite basketball teams that drive sponsorship opportunities, ticket sales, and revenue growth.

The problem with that argument, according to the USA Today's analysis, is that it's very rare that those revenue streams come close to recouping all of the expenses of building an elite team: Only 25 of the 120 programs in the NCAA's Bowl Subdivision made more than they spent during the 2007-08 school year/season, and that number might be artificially high because it doesn't include certain capital expenditures.

It's easy to say that the money being used to fund money-losing basketball teams should instead be spent on professors and, perhaps, avoiding tuition increases for students.

But Dr. Michael McPherson, the former President of Macalester College and the author of Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America's Public Universities, says that it isn't always up to the colleges. "There is pretty good evidence, I think, that legislators like successful teams and will cough up for sports money they won't give for stuff that is more central to education," he said.

"I'd be happy to live in a world where sports for entertainment in universities was de-emphasized and the money was sent elsewhere within the university, but I'd be careful about assuming the money that goes to sports capital projects would be there for educational capital projects instead," he added.
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