January 28, 2012 in City

Shawn Vestal: How about sharing the NCAA wealth?

By The Spokesman-Review

We’ve heard all the perfectly reasonable reasons for the wild salaries being paid to the new football coaches at Washington State University.

You gotta pay to compete. Everybody does it. It’s the market.

And, crucially, the source of those salaries – a big TV contract – does not flow out of the university’s academic budget.

OK. But what if some of it flowed into the university’s academic budget? What if one little trickle of that river was diverted toward the parched landscape on the other side of the stadium walls?

Wouldn’t that be insane? To make an actual, concrete nod toward the institution whose name is on the uniform?

This is hypothetical in the extreme. Wazzu did not create the economy it’s trying to swim in; UW throws more money at its coaches, as do the other schools the Cougars are trying to emulate. None of us should hold our breath waiting for football programs to start subsidizing physics.

Still, it’s worth noting that what’s going on is insane. The recession and state budget crisis, coupled with the renewed financial effort to get serious about football, dammit, at Wazzu, has placed our priorities about college education into stark relief. We are now cutting academic programs, assessing who ought to be laid off, and raising tuition radically – all while forking over six-figure salaries to the sub-assistant football coaches, seven-figure salaries to savior head coaches, and untold millions on building a bigger, better palace for people to watch a half-dozen football games each fall.

Again, the reasonable reasons: Football money isn’t tax money. It’s TV money. It’s ticket sales. It’s donors. This is apples and oranges. You gotta pay to compete. Everybody else does it. It’s simply the way of the world. A winning football team “raises all boats” at the university, in the words of Athletic Director Bill Moos.

As if this were just an ingenious strategy to improve the university.

To recap: Mike Leach was hired as the new football coach at WSU. He’s a hot shot and everyone’s thrilled. He’ll earn $2.25 million, plus a lot of extras and incentives. Leach has nine assistants – not counting a chief of staff and a director of football operations – and they’ll earn a total of $1.8 million. The special teams coordinator will make $225,000. The linebackers coach will make $210,000. The offensive line coach and running back coach each will make $200,000. Etc.

What is the market telling us here? That the position of governor, at just under $167,000, is worth a little bit more than an inside receivers coach, and a little bit less than a defensive line coach.

These paychecks will be supported by a 12-year TV deal that the schools in the Pac-12 will share in; it’s expected to bring $20 million to WSU each year.

What if some paltry percentage of that went back into university coffers?

Call it rent. Or naming rights. Whatever you like.

Gripes about money in college sports are an ongoing pastime. Every off-season brings another round of up-the-ante all across the country, and another round of predictable complaints – as predictable as this one. One of the anticipated results is the resumption of the argument that college athletes should be paid.

Major magazines have recently carried arguments that, if college football is going to be such a cash cow, maybe the players ought to get some milk. I think there’s a decent case for that, especially if we’re going to pay coaches Lady Gaga money, and if nothing else, it’s amusing to read the objections of NCAA honcho Mark Emmert, defending the purity of student-athletes who are toiling for mere full-ride scholarships amid the stacks of cash.

But what about moving things the other direction? How about un-lavishing the football program by a degree or two? Instead of talking about all the benefits that will flow to the university from a winning football team, how about just forking over some of the benefits now?

Tony Weaver, an assistant professor of leisure and sports management at Elon University in North Carolina, says it’s an attractive idea that would be very difficult to realize. For one thing, no one school is very likely to do the noble thing and keep paying Paul Wulff money in order to fund the poetry magazine – not while every other team is furiously adding zeros to paychecks.

Couldn’t the NCAA enforce some sort of sanity? Require some percentage of TV deals to be diverted to general university budgets? Or simply put into a kitty to offset the latest increase in tuition and fees?

Weaver said there would be legal and practical obstacles to controlling how conferences and schools spend their money – not least of which, presumably, would be the badger-like fury with which football programs would oppose it. I tried to contact NCAA reps and Moos to get a little pushback, but couldn’t arrange it.

WSU’s athletics budgets is $38 million-plus. That comes from a lot of different sources, from TV revenue to ticket sales to roughly $1 million in student fees. No state dollars go into athletics.

But as the Legislature sharpens the ax once again in Olympia, it would be an opportune time to send a few pennies the other way. Heck, everybody could do it.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509)459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com.

There are five comments on this story. Click here to view comments >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email