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SAUL SHAPIRO: The real wasteful spending at universities goes to athletics

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A taxpayer funded school teacher from the future.

While Iowa Legislature Republicans try to solve a worker shortage they helped create — maintaining the lowest minimum wage, attacking public education, ignoring high water-related carcinogen rates (lead, too) and eviscerating gun laws — there’s other nonsense afoot in the land.

As colleges struggle to keep tuition affordable and improve our economic future, the brainiacs running athletics programs have contrived ways to blow millions.

According to ESPN, the $18.9 billion college sports industry blew an obscene $533.6 million in “dead money” for fired coaches from 2011 to 2021 — with only 86 of 130 schools reporting.

When I was sports editor at the UCLA college newspaper, John Wooden was in the midst of winning 10 national basketball titles, topping out with a $35,000 salary. University policy dictated he couldn’t make more than the highest salaried professor.

Times have changed. In 2013, UCLA hired former Iowa coach Steve Alford — with a $10.4 million buyout (97 times Wooden’s annual pay). He got $3.6 million when fired in 2018.

Ed Orgeron won a national football championship at Louisiana State in 2019. He was rewarded with a pact paying him $9.012 million in 2021. (LSU’s highest paid professor made $271,000 in 2018; the average was $85,000.)

Orgeron promptly divorced his wife of 23 years. He unknowingly propositioned the wife of a “high-ranking” LSU official, according to The Athletic.

But that’s not why he was canned last fall — nor were allegations he played dumb when a former star player supposedly raped coeds and sexually harassed a 74-year-old woman. No, he lost games, even to my alma mater, which hadn’t won a nonconference contest in three years.

LSU is paying him $16.9 million through 2025 to go away. Brian Kelly left Notre Dame for $95 million over 10 years to succeed Orgeron, developing a Southern accent en route.

Iowa State savior Matt Campbell would be the fifth most expensive coach to fire at $28.333 million. He makes $4 million annually, about half as much as former Oklahoma Coach Lincoln Riley got before bolting to Southern Cal for $10 million.

Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz recently had his contract extended through 2029. He’ll be paid $7 million a year, which includes a $500,000 base plus $5.5 million in supplemental compensation and a $1 million “longevity bonus.” (No penalty exists for two or fewer offensive TDs in eight Big Ten games.)

Ferentz makes about half as much as Michigan State’s Mel Tucker ($95 million over 10 years) for beating Michigan, while losing to Ohio State, 56-7, and Penn State’s James Franklin ($85 million over 10 years) for not beating Iowa, MSU, Michigan or OSU.

Cedar Falls native and new Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts kept coach Scott Frost ($5 million) perhaps because NU is paying $25.8 million annually to 31 former coaches.

Coaches need players, which means recruiting money.

The Louisville Courier Journal reported the 52 “power conference” public universities collectively spent more than $50 million to recruit football players in 2018 — up from $35.5 million in 2016.

Coincidentally, the leaders were Alabama, $2.6 million, and Georgia, $2.3 million.

Saul Shapiro is the retired editor of The Courier, living in Cedar Falls.


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