Editorial: The huge business of college athletics

Editorial: The huge business of college athletics

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Monday’s national championship football game between two public universities — Louisiana State and Clemson (S.C.) — helps highlight priorities on state spending.

Forbes reported the 25 most valuable programs in the Football Bowl Subdivision combined to earn an average of $1.5 billion in profits on annual revenues of $2.7 billion between 2016-18. (Football also helps fund less lucrative intercollegiate athletics).

The University of Iowa football program was No. 21 at $44 million in average annual profit.

According to ESPN, the highest paid state employee in 28 states is a football coach, while basketball rules in 12 others.

USA Today’s annual coaches salary survey found the average Football Bowl Subdivision coach made $2.67 million this year — a 9% increase over 2018.

The leader of the pack was defending champion Clemson’s football coach Dabo Swinney, $9,315,600. In case you thought failed corporate executives had the heftiest “golden parachutes,” Swinney would get $50 million if fired without cause (e.g. a losing record).

His assistants share $7,410,000. Clemson football’s annual profit was $27 million.

His opponent will be LSU’s Ed Orgeron, a former assistant, who was fired in his prior stint as head coach at Mississippi (10-25 from 2005-7).

He now must scrape by in his second year at LSU with a mere $4 million — No. 30 on the Football Bowl Subdivision pay ladder. Should he revert to his Ole Miss ways, he would get exit pay of $7.75 million. It’s a safe bet he’ll get a raise instead.

His assistants currently share $6,645,000.

LSU’s annual football profit was $73 million.

In Iowa, the highest paid state employee is University of Iowa football’s Kirk Ferentz, $4.8 million plus $800,000 in bonuses. Ferentz, who has fallen to No. 18 among top-paid coaches, is coming off his third 10-win season, the other prompting new contracts. His buyout is $21,571,250, increasing after a seven-win season.

Ferentz gets a $100,000 bonus if the Hawkeyes make a bowl game (six wins) and $500,000 if they win eight.

His staff of 10 currently shares $4,710,600 and gets an automatic 8% increase for seven or more wins. Phil Parker, defensive coordinator, made $845,729; Chris Doyle, strength and conditioning coach, $832,229; and Brian Ferentz, offensive coordinator, $799,895.

Ferentz’ pact — perennially called one of the worst five in the FBS by USA Today — no longer seems so comparatively terrible.

Florida State fired Coach Willie Taggart, No. 15 in pay at $5 million, who got a $17,708,000 million buyout after going 9-12 in nearly two seasons.

Arkansas is a slow learner. It paid Chad Morris, No. 28 at $4 million, a $10 million buyout after going 0-14 in Southeastern Conference games and 4-18 overall. Two years earlier, it fired Coach Bret Bielema, who got $11.9 million to leave.

In Ames, Iowa State’s Matt Campbell, who concluded his fourth year and a third straight winning season, makes $3.5 million — an increase from $2.1 million — with a $19.8 million buyout.

As an incentive for him to stay, Campbell (or his new employer) will owe ISU $7 million, decreasing by $1 million in each subsequent season.

His staff makes $4,236,600, including an additional $1 million in Campbell’s new contract.

Basketball coaches Fran McCaffrey at Iowa and Steve Prohm at ISU were both listed at $2 million in 2018.

According to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Iowa’s other highly paid state employees among collegiate athletic programs are Lisa Bluder, Iowa women’s basketball coach, $1.09 million, Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta, $986,745; and Bill Fennelly, ISU women’s basketball coach, $750,000.

ISU Athletic Director Jamie Pollard was paid $703,000 in 2018.

The Iowa and ISU athletic programs are self-sufficient, not relying on taxpayer dollars.

Among the top-paid, non-sports interlopers are two University of Iowa orthopedic surgeons, Matthew Bollier, $1.2 million, and Andrew Pugely, $1.1 million.

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld got $590,000 with deferred compensation of $200,000 annually for the next five years when hired in 2015. The latter amount increases to $400,000 this year.

ISU President Wendy Wintersteen, hired in 2017, makes $590,000 with her deferred compensation increasing to $200,000 annually this year.

Gov. Kim Reynolds makes $130,000.

Amazingly, 10 states have top-paid employees not supervising playing with a ball — all geographic outliers: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts in the Northeast (university presidents); Alaska (university president) and Hawaii (university surgeon) on the Pacific Rim; North Dakota (school district superintendent) and Montana (university fundraiser), and Delaware (university president).

Obviously, collegiate athletics generate more revenue than classroom activities. But in an era of rising tuition, it would be nice if schools shared more of the spoils with their academic counterparts. Rumor has it that is why colleges exist.

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