April 13, 2009

Calipari deal good news for football coaches

The cost of hiring a top-notch football coach may be rising. And there's a basketball coach to thank.

New Kentucky hoops coach John Calipari's eight-year, $31.65 million deal is the richest in college basketball. He will make close to $4 million per season, surpassing the $3.5 million per year of Florida's Billy Donovan. Kansas' Bill Self is close behind with a deal that pays him $3 million per season. The highest-paid football coach is USC's Pete Carroll, who reportedly makes $4.4 million per season.

"I'm living the American dream," Calipari said after signing the deal. "My wife and I will be good stewards of this blessing."

College football coaches should feel the blessings, too. There's a good chance Calipari's deal will push the salaries of college football coaches even higher. Why? Football is a much bigger revenue-producer on college campuses than basketball, so it stands to reason the football coach almost always will be higher paid.

The rising revenues from mega-TV contracts and BCS bowl deals have stuffed college football coffers with millions. With the stakes higher, coaching salaries have soared. The list of football coaches who make more than $2 million grows each year; there were 23 who were at that plateau in 2008.

"The continued upward pressure on football coaching salaries comes from many different places," said Russ Campbell, an attorney who serves as a professional contract negotiator and/or legal counsel for several NFL players, NFL coaches and college coaches. "The increased budgets of athletic departments, and the football program's relative contribution to that overall pool of money, is certainly one source."

Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said there are a few schools that might be inclined to pay their basketball coach more than their football coach.

"Sheer numbers alone [ticket sales, donations related to benefits, premium seats and suites] would account for most of the difference [between football and basketball revenue]," he said. "But some of the universities which play in larger arenas, like Syracuse, North Carolina and Kentucky, may be able to make a case or at least demonstrate that gap isn't very wide when television revenue, endorsements and licensing/merchandising are considered."

Only a handful of college basketball coaches make $2 million per season, including Calipari, Donovan, Self, Louisville's Rick Pitino, North Carolina's Roy Williams and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski. At all but Florida, the hoops coach is the highest-paid coach on campus.

But that certainly isn't the norm, and the balance sheet of the vast majority of athletic departments shows football generates a majority of the revenue. And if a basketball coach now is being paid almost as much as the highest-paid football coach, it stands to reason football coaches will see their salaries rise. In fact, college football may have a $5 million-$6 million per year coach in the next few seasons.

I know we always are talking cost-containment on campus. Can we afford it? Where does it all end? It has gotten crazy.
Barry Alvarez
There is a leveraging dynamic between football and basketball coach contracts. By definition, each coach's compensation level is "the market." Therefore, if any contract pushes the envelope, it immediately establishes a new grid for negotiation.

"College sports is big business, and if the revenues derived from them didn't support the hire [of Calipari], that contract would never have been finalized," said Paul Sheehy, owner of ProStar Sports Agency.

NCAA president Myles Brand told reporters last week that his organization can't regulate coaching salaries.

"You have to ask some very hard questions, whether this is really in tune with the academic values, whether we've reached a point already that these high salary and packages for coaches has really extended beyond what's expected within the academic community," Brand said. "Those questions really have to be asked. Now, we can't answer them; it's anti-trust if we were to try to regulate any salaries.

"But I would hope our university presidents and our conferences would ask those questions themselves."

Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez already appears to be asking some questions.

"I remember when we had our first $1 million a year coach in Steve Spurrier [at Florida in the mid-1990s]," he said. "I know we always are talking cost-containment on campus. Can we afford it? Where does it all end?

"It has gotten crazy."

It's likely to get even crazier, thanks to Calipari's mega-deal.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.


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