Rising pay for men’s college basketball coaches looking particularly stark as game confronts allegations of NCAA rules – and criminal – violations
If you want to know what God thinks of money, culture critic Dorothy Parker once said, just look at the people he gave it to.
We’re looking at you, men’s college basketball coaches.
USA TODAY Sports conducted a salary survey for coaches in the power conferences, as well as for teams in other conferences that have participated in the men’s NCAA basketball tournament in at least three of the past five seasons. The survey found 47 of these coaches are making more than $2 million this season and 14 are making more than $3 million.
The top five earners this year are Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski at nearly $9 million, Kentucky’s John Calipari at nearly $8 million, Ohio State’s Chris Holtmann at more than $7 million, Kansas’ Bill Self at nearly $5 million and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo at more than $4.3 million.
This is good, old-fashioned American capitalism, where everyone’s entitled to whatever the market will bear. But it’s also good, old-fashioned American amateurism, sometimes known as restraint of trade, where players are entitled to scholarships and other perks but not much in the way of pay.
Coaches make millions. Players make little. The math is simple: Add a number with lots of zeroes to an actual zero, and what do you get? Well, how about under-the-table payments plus prostitutes?
We learned last week that FBI wiretaps caught Arizona coach Sean Miller discussing a $100,000 payment to ensure the recruitment of freshman DeAndre Ayton, according to an ESPN report. We learned that the NCAA finalized its decision to vacate Louisville’s 2013 national championship because a former director of basketball operations provided, ahem, escort services for players and recruits. And we learned about expense reports and bank records from an FBI investigation into corruption in major-college basketball that appears to implicate programs and players tied to a former NBA agent, according to a report in Yahoo Sports.
Cheating has been around since coaches were scraping by on salaries akin to other working stiffs, so it’s not fair to suggest that sky-high pay by itself begets deceit. But it is fair to say that the appearances worsen as salaries go up, up and away.
“It’s just a terrible optic,” says Rob Carey, a partner at Hagens Berman, a consumer-rights class-action law firm that has challenged the NCAA on numerous fronts. “You see these people all profiting tremendously off the labors of the student-athletes.”
More: Why Missouri bet big on Martin and pay keeps rising in SEC, Big Ten
CBS and Turner extended their media rights deal for the men’s NCAA tournament two years ago for $8.8 billion over eight years. This season the tournament begins on the Ides of March, which underlines the Shakespearean scale of the troubles facing the game.
Last weekend former President Barack Obama said the NCAA’s current system is “not a sustainable way of doing business.” He suggested the NBA beef up its developmental league “so that the NCAA is not serving as a farm system for the NBA with a bunch of kids who are unpaid but are under enormous financial pressure.” That, Obama conceded, “won’t solve all the problems, but what it will do is reduce the hypocrisy.” (Reasonpublished audio of Obama’s remarks at an off-the-record conference at MIT.)
Kentucky’s Calipari says high school and college players with pro potential should be eligible for loans through the labor union that represents NBA players. Most of the 351schools in Division I don’t have pro prospects, but Calipari isn’t concerned about fairness to those schools. “Guess what?” he says. “This isn’t communism.”
LeBron James calls the NCAA corrupt and thinks there may be no way to fix it. ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Williams suggests players boycott the Final Four, an event in which he played for Duke. ESPN NBA analyst Jalen Rose, a two-time Final Four participant, says: “The colleges and universities and coaches, they’ve all been bought and sold and now it’s time for the players to actually participate in this revenue stream.”
Still, for all the ugliness underneath, college basketball remains a beautiful game on the court. Many fans can scarcely wait for the tournament to start and all the rest to recede for a spell.
Dorothy Parker, the acerbic writer, died in 1967, the year that UCLA won the first of seven consecutive men’s NCAA basketball tournaments, an era when March madness began its ascent as a cultural touchstone.
Parker didn’t level her wicked wit at basketball — the hardwood she cared about was the Algonquin Round Table — but perhaps she would have recognized the corrupting power of money in a collegiate sport that owns its own month.
Or not. After all, she once identified her favorite words in English as “cheque” and “enclosed.”
Contributing: Sam Amick
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