UConn’s highest paid employee can’t be coach
Published: Thursday, September 20, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2012 22:09
The announcement of Jim Calhoun’s retirement is the biggest story at UConn so far this year. He has left an undeniable legacy, building the UConn basketball program out of next to nothing and putting this school on the national radar. He will be missed. But his retirement poses questions about the role of sports at a university. Calhoun is no doubt deserving of his reputation as an excellent coach. But is he deserving of the power he has at this school and the millions of dollars it pays him annually?
To many, the answer is obvious. Calhoun has contributed a lot to the University, and while I don’t deny that, my answer to this question is probably different from many of my peers. No matter how talented or valuable the basketball coach is, his program should not come before any of the academic priorities of this school. Jim Calhoun was paid more than any professor, administrator or even the president of the University.
First, some numbers: For his 873 career wins, 17 Big East championships, four Final Four appearances and three national titles, Calhoun was paid $2,403,223.54 in total compensation in 2010. That makes him the highest-paid employee of the State of Connecticut. Calhoun makes an amount of money that’s in line with other college basketball coaches of his stature, and the school had to offer a competitive salary in order to keep him. But the fact that the top-earning official in this state is not in any way involved in government, or directly involved in education, is blatantly inappropriate.
The common defense is that Calhoun’s program brings in millions, thereby justifying the millions he is paid. The basketball program does make a lot of money, but the actual net income is a bit of a grey area. According to the US Department of Education, the men’s basketball team’s total expenses for the 2010-2011 season were $8,341,406, and their profit for that year was $7,924,225, leaving them with a net loss. That $7.9 million is revenue from tickets, sponsorships, Big East and NCAA wins and alumni contributions that the basketball team earned directly, but it does not take into account the $31,281,342 of revenue that the Department of Athletics can’t attribute to a specific team. This is the money from UConn merchandise, concessions at games and various other sources. A large part of this profit can easily be attributed to the basketball team, but it’s impossible to say how much. In 2009, Sports Illustrated ran a similar story and attributed one– third of the unassigned profit for that year to the men’s basketball team. Using that same formula, the men’s basketball team’s profits for the 2010-2011 season were $10,009,933. It may seem like a lot, but in the context of the school’s $1.05 billion annual budget, it is a drop in the bucket. The men’s basketball team’s profit is equal to less than one percent of the overall budget.
Many will argue that the real value of Calhoun’s contribution has been in raising the profile of the University. But UConn has a lot of other things to be proud of. This is an excellent school, and that will always be its biggest draw. Everyone likes being on a winning team. But it is not fair to the student body to assume that most of them came here because of Division I sports. If this were an institution solely dedicated to excellence in basketball, it would be understandable for the head coach to make more than anyone else. But UConn is, before anything else, a school. Jim Calhoun has had a positive impact here, but it is hard to imagine he has done more to further learning than anyone else. The University makes a mockery of its own aims by paying the basketball coach more than any professor.
Things haven’t always gone smoothly for the basketball program, either. The amount of money involved in college sports almost guarantees that there will be misconduct somewhere. The team is not eligible for postseason play this year because in previous years they failed to meet academic standards. The contract that Calhoun signed in 2009 stipulates that if his team fails to meet academic standards, $100,000 will be taken out of his $2.3 million salary. That’s barely a slap on the wrist, especially considering the same contract provides for a $1 million bonus if he retires before his contract is up.
Calhoun’s missteps were no doubt the product of the incredibly driven and competitive nature that he was so praised for. His determination occasionally crossed the line. But in the University’s eyes, his achievements outweighed the consequences of the rules he broke, even if his transgressions undermined the fundamental goal of the school – to educate. With those millions of dollars comes the need to ensure success.
In a cost-benefit analysis, what is gained must always be greater than what is expended. For the moment, the numbers check out. But it’s more than just money on the line when a school puts athletics before academics.