Calhoun’s accomplishments deserved huge dividends
Published: Thursday, September 20, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2012 22:09
In a well-known incident, when asked about how much of his salary he was willing to return to the state of Connecticut, recently retired head coach of UConn men’s basketball Jim Calhoun, responded by saying: “Not a dime back.” Aggressive and defiant, Calhoun’s response was awkward to watch, as he was blindsided by a financial question at a basketball press conference.
Was Calhoun’s salary a serious concern? Was that reporter justified in asking him to return his money? In cost-benefit analysis, what is gained must always be greater than what is expended. Calhoun’s basketball achievements are well documented, with multiple Final Four appearances and three championships to show for it. However, Calhoun’s worth to the university extends to more than just basketball. He was one of the most important figure at UConn for the last two decades.
On June 16, 1986, Jim Calhoun was hired from Northeastern University to guide the Huskies basketball team. Even then, there were questions about his salary. “I’m working now in the Big East, not the [Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference],” Calhoun said when asked about the financial terms of the contract. “I’m being paid like a Big East coach.” To fully grasp the meaning of his words, one has to look at what he was getting himself into.
At the time of Calhoun’s hiring, the newly formed Big East had already appeared in the national championship three times. UConn was a regional powerhouse, but had achieved nothing more than a few tournament berths. Their accomplishments stood tiny compared to those of the other members of the Big East: Villanova, Georgetown and Syracuse. Nevertheless, within ten years, UConn became a repeat participant of the NCAA tournament, barely missing the Final Four several times until finally winning the championship in 1999. For an accurate comparison, Jim Calhoun is to UConn what Dean Smith was to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He transformed UConn into an attractive destination for both athletes and fans.
Let’s face it – from a strictly geographical perspective, there is nothing about Storrs that makes prospective students want to attend. It’s too far from Boston or New York. Not everyone has a car, and weekend visits via cabs or buses are expensive. There are not many physical attractions that are in walking distance, compared to a city school. However, one appeal of UConn is its basketball program. Since 1999, UConn has been able to slowly attract students who who could normally rather attend Boston or NYC schools, because of the school spirit and events sponsored by the basketball program.
UConn students are strangely apathetic to most other sports. The women’s basketball team, perhaps the most dominant program in all of sports history, doesn’t have much support among students and it’s only recently that their attendance numbers have been increasing. Football has large attendance numbers, but considering that the stadium is detached from campus and the team has been mediocre for a long time, the declining attendance numbers since 2007 make sense. Yet UConn fans go crazy for their men’s basketball team. They even rioted in 2004 after Calhoun’s second championship.
Today, UConn is arguably in the same class as legendary basketball schools like Kansas or Louisville. UConn men’s basketball receives about $12 million from students, alumni and general fans in the form of tickets and merchandise. UConn basketball also brings in sponsorships, with a 20 percent increase after the 2011 championship. Fifteen years ago, the basketball program was self-supporting; they didn’t drain money from the academic side. That was commendable in itself. Today, the program creates a profit of about $3-4 million for the University.
So, does Calhoun’s reported $2.3 million salary in 2011 make sense? Not just from a basketball perspective, but financially and in terms of school attraction, Jim Calhoun and the program he built provides\ huge dividends to both the students and alumni of UConn. He is the 7th-highest paid basketball coach, along with coaches of historic schools like Duke, Kentucky, Louisville, and Kansas. He has accomplished far more than most with far less, and deserves every penny he has earned. Calhoun can now sit back and relax on the laurels of a Hall of Fame career. And if that pesky reporter comes asking again about his salary, he can say with full conviction: “Not a dime back.”