Arne Duncan: Fine coaches when athletes don’t graduate

Akron senior center Zeke Marshall takes a hand to the face from Virginia Commonwealth junior guard Rob Brandenberg during the teams' first round game Thursday in Auburn Hills, Mich. VCU dominated in an 88-42 win. Gregory Shamus / GETTY IMAGES
Akron senior center Zeke Marshall takes a hand to the face from Virginia Commonwealth junior guard Rob Brandenberg on Thursday. VCU won. (By Gregory Shamus / GETTY IMAGES)

With March Madness in full gear, Education Secretary Arne Duncan is proposing that colleges and universities start penalizing coaches financially if the athletes on their teams don’t graduate.

In this op-ed in USA Today, Duncan and co-author Tom McMillen, chairman and chief executive officer of the Timios National Corporation, argue that big-time coaches make enormous salaries and are awarded bonuses for athletic performance. But, they said, there is no penalty when athletes who get big scholarships don’t graduate from the institution. Their prescription:

They [NCAA officials] could adopt a model of “best practices” that includes greater parity in new contracts for coaches between academic and athletic bonuses and provides penalties for poor academic performance.

Today, coaches can enjoy multimillion-dollar contracts when they jump to another university, even when their former team suffers sanctions for misconduct that happened under the coach’s watch.

 

We would like to see “clawback” provisions in new contracts that would enable institutions to recoup some salary and bonuses from coaches and ADs for rogue programs, even after coaches leave an institution.

 

They note that the University of Connecticut, the 2011 NCAA champion, is not playing in this tournament because it was penalized by the league for failing to meet the academic standards necessary for postseason play.

McMillen reviewed the contracts of dozens of coaches, and found this:

Coaches today earn whatever the market pays. But many coaches work at public universities, funded with taxpayer dollars. In 2011, in Oklahoma, Connecticut and Maryland, a head football or basketball coach was not only the highest-paid employee at the university but the highest-paid state employee.

 

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin earned $147,000 in 2011, while the football coach at the University of Oklahoma, Bob Stoops, was paid $4.875 million, 33 times as much as Gov. Fallin. Moreover, nine Oklahoma football assistant coaches were paid more than the governor, including the tight ends/tackles coach, who pulled down a $240,000 salary.

 

Coaches receive huge financial bonuses when their team is winning. Yet the incentives for academic success in the contracts Tom examined show how warped priorities have become at some institutions.

 

About two-thirds of the basketball contracts and three-fourths of the football contracts did include a bonus for academic performance. But these incentives were dwarfed by bonuses for performance on the field or court. Academic incentives averaged $52,000 per coach, while athletic incentives averaged $600,000 per coach — a lopsided ratio of 11-to-1.

 

When many states are reducing funding for higher education, it is hard to justify such skewed priorities and runaway athletic spending. Even at Division I institutions, few athletic programs are self-supporting — which means that institutional funds must typically be diverted to pay for athletic programs.

 

They conclude by saying that the current situation is “neither economically sustainable nor morally defensible.”

Is it fair to put the total blame on a student’s academic performance on his or her coach? Why shouldn’t student athletes who take scholarships and then don’t graduate but go on to have professional athletic careers have to repay the money, with interest?

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · March 22, 2013