Today President Obama is proposing a $500,000-a-year cap on executive salaries for corporations that get government help. Great idea. And while the government is at it, they should also consider capping sports salaries in higher education. After all, public colleges and universities, as well as private colleges, get federal funding along with state funding -- almost $70 billion a year. Currently these institutions are struggling with rising costs and declining endowments, and are raising the bar of tuition and student fees. Yet football coaches -- especially top coaches -- are now being paid some astounding salaries.
The other day, an Oklahoma friend of mine was complaining bitterly about the reputed multi-millions in total compensation being shoveled to the football coach at the University of Oklahoma. "And meantime," he said, "the school is so strapped that it's charging a whole lot of new fees rather than raise tuition."
In 2007, USA Today reported that some football coaches are hitting the $3-million mark in salary alone. Among these 3-million-dollar babies was the Sooner coach. And that figure evidently doesn't include bonuses and perks, namely subsidized housing, cars, a percentage of ticket sales, and other benefits.
Fact is, a top college football coach can buy and sell the CEO of Boeing, who made only $3,300,000 in 2007, everything included. But few Americans are complaining...so far, anyway.
Supporters of the practice insist that winning coaches bring economic benefits to their schools. Yet it's clear, from the balance sheet, that whatever they bring is not necessarily enough to offset the deadly financial drains on these schools and their students. Recently, as the University of Washington was looking for a new multi-million coach , Seattle PI reported, "The university's endowment declined 14 percent to $1.9 billion for the year ending in September. Add to that the fact the state is considering a rollback of up to 20 percent to higher education, and layoffs. A hiring freeze and deep budget cuts all over campus are in the works."
So schools take money from government for student financial aid, then they turn around and raise tuition, because (among other things) they have to find extra millions for a football program that doesn't benefit all students or help the bottom line. It doesn't make sense, right?
But we Americans have put up with a lot of things that don't make economic sense. And it's all coming back to haunt us in many ways. Staggering student debt is one of the big factors that now drives some younger Americans into bankruptcy. In the scales held by the Goddess of What's Fair, we have to weigh that against winning football games. Maybe Senator McCaskill of Missouri should add coaches to that list of people who shouldn't make more than the President of the United States makes.
At the Bilerico Project today, I posted a longer piece on the general subject of how overpaid executives are soaking the country, on both the for-profit and nonprofit front. My comments on football coaches are incorporated into this piece.