In a letter delivered earlier this week to Congress defending the tax-exempt status of big-time college sports, Myles Brand, president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, writes that "coaches’ compensation packages, especially those with seven-figure packages, include institutional salaries commensurate with other highly paid and highly recruited faculty and staff.”
Brand goes on to explain that the majority of the total income of these high-paid coaches comes not from an institution's tax-exempt dollars but from outside revenue. "This is exactly the same method that colleges and universities use to compete for top academicians in selected disciplines," the letter says.
On Thursday, a day after the NCAA made public the Brand letter, USA Today released a report -- including a comprehensive salary database -- on the state of head coaches' wages in Division I-A football. The data show that coaches at the association's top-level institutions are earning an average of $950,000, without counting benefit packages or other perks. At least 35 coaches will make $1 million or more this year -- and the three top-paid coaches earn well over $2.5 million.
The newspaper's report points out some of what Brand does in his letter -- that only a small portion of a Division I-A coach's income (an average of 25 percent) comes from base salary. Many receive money from lucrative television contracts, apparel deals and other endorsements. For instance, Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville earns a $235,000 base salary but earned $2.2 million overall, according to USA Today's information.
Brand continues his coaches-to-faculty comparison in the letter: “There are likely to be as many as two dozen 'million dollar faculty' members on each of these [Division I-A] campuses who earn a relatively small salary from the institution with the balance coming in the form of clinical and private practices, patent royalties, consulting contracts, books, speaking engagements and other sources.
"It should be noted, however, that faculty members have the protection of tenure while coaches are employed at will and can be dismissed for lackluster win-loss records or the inappropriate behavior of 18- to 22-year olds," the letter says.
Scores of professors would take issue with Brand's "million dollar faculty" calculus. While there is substantial money to be made by writing the newest Economics 101 textbook, for instance, the number of faculty members who see that revenue -- likely in the thousands, not millions -- is small.
Gary R. Roberts, deputy dean of Tulane University’s law school and director of its sports law program, said that only at some medical schools would you find the kind of seven-figure salaries that Brand mentions in the letter. But even that, he said, is misleading, because the surgeons on the clinical faculty aren't "real classroom faculty," he said.
“It is not accurate ... to say that the overall compensation earned by major football and men’s basketball coaches today are within the order of magnitude of the highest paid classroom teaching faculty,” Roberts said in an e-mail.
According to the most recent data from the American Association of University Professors, the average faculty salary increased by 3.1 percent in 2005-6 -- a year in which the inflation rate was 3.4 percent. The average salary for professors is roughly $100,000 at doctoral research universities and $130,000 at private doctoral institutions, the AAUP study shows. The group also notes that average salaries of college presidents and the average size of college endowments have outpaced rises in professors’ pay.
The University of California at Los Angeles, which pays its full-time professors an average of $130,000 a year, tops the list for doctoral research universities. By comparison, the university's head football coach makes a base salary of $181,000 and a total of $881,000, according to USA Today figures.
Andrew Zimbalist, the Robert A. Woods Professor of Economics at Smith College and author of Unpaid Professionals: Commercialization and Conflict in Big-Time College Sports, said a person's societal value is, in part, measured by salary. "If a coach is getting five times as much as a university president and 10 or 20 times as much as an average full-time professor, that's making a statement to the student body about what's important."
Murray Sperber, a former English professor at Indiana University and author of College Sports Inc., wrote in an e-mail that "the enormity of coaches' annual income deals mainly proves that they are in the entertainment, not the education, business.....If anything proves that big-time college football and basketball has little to do with higher education, it is these coaches' deals.”
Survey results released earlier this year by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources show that among all institutions, the highest paid "mid-level staff position" was staff physician ($127,270 median), followed by staff lawyer ($96,326). By comparison, the median salary is $65,000 for a department business manager and $48,000 for a reference librarian.
And for the average college faculty or staff member, even a mid-level coach's salary likely seems high. The CUPA-HR study found that at doctoral institutions, the medians for five athletic positions are all in the six figures: head football coach ($185,000), head men’s basketball coach ($157,500), head women’s basketball coach ($108,000), offensive coordinator for football ($101,097) and defensive coordinator for football ($101,000). But when you include all institutions, including two-year colleges, those numbers drop significantly -- $74,000 for a head football coach and $63,000 for a men's basketball coach.
"You can't lump all the bananas into one bunch," said Grant Teaff, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association. "We're talking about a small percentage of football coaches in America who attain this [million-dollar] status. The majority of coaches, like a majority of teachers, work for much less."
Brand, both in his letter and in previous statements, has said that he would like to see colleges stay within their means when hiring coaches. But he also defended coaches' pay, saying that it is market-driven. Brand also said that the NCAA can't set financial parameters for individual colleges without being in violation of antitrust laws.
Teaff added that "coaches should not be blamed [for high salaries] -- institutions pay them based on solid logic. The value they provide an institution is huge."
Still, that -- like the institutional value of a high-profile professor -- is hard to measure.