Sorry this is late. Spent large chunks of the afternoon futilely trying to Google hard numbers on spiraling coach salaries.
You wouldn't know it from the college football world's reaction to HBO's most recent edition of Real Sports—best summed up by Michigan tight end Kevin Koger, who tweeted "They snitched on Auburn lol"—but the point of the thing was a little broader than the Paul Finebaum show. It was yet another discussion about the NCAA's amateurism brought about by March Madness.
This is a near-annual rite. Attention to the tournament invariably sees journalists bring up the eye-popping dollars CBS pays to air it, at which point someone's always like "hey, these players aren't getting any of that" and we get roundtables inexplicably containing Jason Whitlock, Rich Rodriguez, and Billy Packer. Since this is the first year of an even more eye-popping contract we've gotten a heavier dose than usual this year, one sufficient to prompt responses from John Gasaway and Big Ten Geeks. Oh, and also this.
Pieces on these tend to be maddeningly soapboxy. The headline on Whitlock's latest column is witheringly dumb: "Greedy NCAA exploits athletes." The content isn't much better. In an effort to keep things as engineery as possible, a series of questions and a table.
Who is hypothetically getting exploited?
Football and basketball players in power conferences. Nothing else consistently turns a profit. In other sports that occasionally do—baseball and hockey—there is an alternate development path for anyone who doesn't like the NCAA model. The only restriction placed on those players is that baseball players who pass up a contract out of high school have to stay in college at least three years. In other conferences even successful schools like VCU are throwing money down a pit—77% of their "revenue" comes from student fees*.
Who is benefiting from hypothetical exploitation?
- Non-revenue athletes. About 30% of Michigan's expenses are related to housing, educating, transporting, and outfitting athletes with another 16% devoted to giving them places to play.
- Coaches. 17% of Michigan's revenue pays them.
- Everyone else. 21% of Michigan's revenue goes to the rest of the department.
It is clear that as revenue rises, Coaches and Everyone Else take up an increasingly large chunk of the pie. In the last ten years Michigan has added PSLs to its football seats and seen television revenue skyrocket. They've gone from 25 to 27 sports, and they'll add two more in the near future when lacrosse and a sop to Title IX are added.
Operating revenue has gone from 78 million in 2004-05 to 106 million last year. Outlays to students have gone from 11.4 million to 15.7. Coaches have gone from 9.3 to 14.7, and Everyone Else from 12.3 to 18.5. Chart? Chart.
Michigan outlays to scholarships, coaches, and administrators (millions)
|2004||2010||Pct 2004||Pct 2010|
Students are essentially constant as a percentage of revenue, and that's only because tuition keeps skyrocketing as long as anyone can get a federal non-dischargeable student loan. They're watching the people around them eat up more and more as a percentage of revenues as places like Michigan get big enough that costs like flying people around and building stuff top out. And this is over six years! In 2007 the average compensation of a D-I head coach averaged one million dollars; last year it had already gone up 36%. When I wrote about Michigan putting EMU on the schedule in 2007 I ran across a now-linkrotted Bloomberg article with this stunning fact:
This relatively ancient Bloomberg article from March 2005 takes a look at the increase in NCAA coaching salaries across the board from '97 to '03 and finds that average compensation went up 89 percent in just six years. This is before the twelfth game. (Though it's noted that there were some twelfth games in there. That was a calendar quirk and not permanent policy, however.) This is before 3-2-5e*. This before Superfluous BCS Bowl and The Two Teams With Six Wins Each bowls. This includes the obscurest coaches you can think of, like Romanian Buffalo Polo.
Eighty-nine percent in six years.
*[The hated clock rules that got repealed after one year were at the time loathed enough to be referred to solely by bylaw.]
Is there a real case here?
It's getting to the point where the Whitlocks of the world are not entirely crazy. There was a time when Bo Schembechler was making 100k per year and had to have a tearful press conference because Texas A&M offered him the life-changing sum of one million dollars and he turned it down. At that juncture anyone crying about exploitation was nuts, not that there was anyone doing that.
HOWEVA. Given the revenue growth at major universities there is a point at which even the student managers are walking around wearing monocles and puffing cigars and there will be a unified popular opinion that we can no longer treat the people doing the bulk of the labor like Oliver Twist except with infinite sex and training table. Which, granted, isn't much like Oliver Twist at all. But at some point it seems like it.
I don't know how much of the uptick in "Everyone Else" for Michigan is adding to the legions dedicated to getting athletes their educations. It's some. It's probably not that much when you consider the revenue athletes specifically and it certainly isn't enough to look a the above chart without a sense of foreboding as to where this is going. It is clear as day Michigan has money to spend on these athletes, and that goes for every team sporting a coach making too much money relative to revenues (in case you are wondering: this is all of them).
The money goes somewhere. It doesn't go to more rowers. It goes to the literal and metaphorical scaffolding around the athletes, and being in Michigan Stadium these days looking up at luxury boxes and down at Denard Robinson kind of makes me think this Oliver Twist point is in the past, at least for me.
So what now, smart guy?
I'm not actually sure. I do know that guys like Andrew Zimbalist who advocate the reduction of scholarship limits are precisely wrong about the problem. The outlay to keep a football player around is the only thing that has remained relatively constant over the course of the Knight Commission's infinite complaints about costs. They've gone up by the cost of tuition. Coaching salaries have gone up by multiples.
The fact that anyone's even talking about making cuts to the sole redeeming bit of the whole enterprise speaks to just how badly the system is messed up. Revenue sports are disproportionately populated by black males,** many of whom wouldn't have a shot at college otherwise. Cutting them so you can keep paying the people around them in gold bullion is an idea only an academic economist could come up with.
The opposite would be better. Hockey has 18 scholarships, three short of fielding a full team. Baseball has some weird number like 11.7. Many athletes make do with partial or no scholarships in equivalency sports. The NCAA should significantly raise those restrictions. Small schools will complain about unbalancing the playing field and blah blah but we are talking about putting kids on scholarship, not autobids. An unbalanced playing field because one school has offered to pay for more tuition than the other is justified. It's beyond justified.
As for the guys making the actual money, I'm not that peeved about basketball since 99% of the exploited are good enough to go on to pro careers here or in Europe and anyone good enough can just screw off after a year or two. It's in football and its brain damage and other damage and low chance of a reasonable minor league career and low chance of an NFL career longer than three years that the moral compass gets a little confused. It's hard to look at 110,000 people paying close to 100 bucks a head and look down at Martavious Odoms and think he's not getting a raw deal.
*[Numbers come from the USA Today database. Unfortunately, it doesn't produce permalinks. VCU's specific case highlights the stupidity of the OTL piece on athletic departments making a "profit". The Rams are 600k in the red even with 12.4 million in student support. They are nowhere close to self-sustaining.]
**[45% in football and 60% in basketball this year; in all D-I sports white guys are 63% of the population; 77% of women playing sports are white; 57% of the undergrads are women.]