Friday, March 2, 2007

Winning Strategy: West Virginia University Proves Pay Matters

Comparison of Gross Wages:

WVU Football/Men’s Basketball Coaches to WVU College of Business and Economics Ph.D. Professors; Rounded to nearest $1,000

Head Football Coach:         $1,233,000
Asst. Head F/B Coach:            210,000
Asst. Football Coaches (9);   1,334,000  (Aggregate)
Asst. Football Coaches (9);      148,000  (Average)
Dean, College of B&E:         $  202,000
Coll. Of B&E; Ph.D. (54)          108,000  (Average)

Head Basketball Coach         $ 849,000
Asst. B/B Coaches (3);            110,000  (Average)
Aggregate: FB & BB Coaches (14):     $3,747,000
Aggregate: Coll. Of B&E; PhD (54)      $5,831,000

Sources: WV State Auditor, WVU College of Business & Economics, WVU Athletic Department (via respective websites) 

While in the grips of cabin fever last month, I had time to memorize all 1,223 pages of state employees’ wages.

With knowledge comes duty. So I compared West Virginia University coaches’ wages to those of WVU’s College of Business and Economics (CB&E) professors.

For comparison purposes, I limited my study of the CB&E professors to the Ph.D.s listed at The football and men’s basketball assistant coaches are those listed in the 2006 coaching guides at

By now, everyone knows how much Rich Rodriguez and John Beilein earned in 2006. What I found more interesting is the payroll of their assistant coaches.

Dean Stephen Sears holds the CB&E’s top-paid position. But Dean Sears made about $8,000 less than Assistant Head Football Coach Rick Trickett. Overall, the average assistant football coach earned 37 percent more than the average Ph.D. professor. The average Ph.D. professor also earned less than the average assistant men’s basketball coach.

The payroll for 14 coaches is almost two-thirds (64 percent) of that for the CB&E’s 54 Ph.D. professors.

Coaching salaries have always been defended by the argument that football and men’s basketball are revenue sports that bring home the bacon. Left unsaid in that argument is the fact that college sports enjoy two substantial subsidies.

College sports are subsidized by tax-exempt donations to the athletic program. Ostensibly, this tax-exempt status was granted in an era when athletic scholarships were the major expense of the department. Now that Division I coaching salaries have mushroomed, Congress has asked the NCAA to justify the tax-exempt status for donations that effectively make high salaries possible.

A second subsidy is the uncompensated labor of scholarship athletes. These youngsters are indentured servants who risk permanent injury when plying their trade. While the athletic department makes money from ticket sales and television contracts, the department’s financial obligation to scholarship athletes consists mainly of room and board and an opportunity for an education.

In making fair comparisons, we need to recognize that the CB&E is also generously subsidized. If Pell grants, PROMISE scholarships, student loan subsidies and transfers from the WVU Foundation and state government stopped tomorrow, the school would easily lose more than half of it students; the professorial ranks would shrink accordingly. As well, the competition for an open professorship would drive salaries down.

In other words, without all of these subsidies, WVU’s campus would look much like it did in the 1950s. Come to think about it, that was WVU’s Golden Age. The rifle team, Sam Huff, Jerry West, three Rhodes Scholars, and a new medical center represented WVU well.

I have no clue as to what the ideal Ph.D. salary should be. Nor do I have access to the national norms for Ph.D. salaries. But my instincts tell me that when the head football coach makes more in one month than half of the CB&E professors make in one year, then Ph.D. pay scales are far too low-not the other way around.

When the football or basketball program goes awry, the old coach is unceremoniously dumped and a new coach is hired to turn the program around in three to four years. If the university’s academic standing falters, then recovery is much more complicated.

A good example of this dilemma is the College of Law’s slide to fourth-tier status in the U.S. News and World Report survey. Rather than read the scoreboard, the faculty remains in denial; they blame the magazine’s survey criteria and beg the need for remodeled classrooms.

At least coaches understand that life is a game, that the game has rules, and that competition is their friend.

In this world, you pretty much get what you pay for. WVU’s success in all of its athletic programs has happened because financial commitments have been made. If the university is to project its academic reputation in the same fashion, then financial commitments for academic salaries must be forthcoming as well.

The law school’s decline may very well be the canary in the coal mine in this regard.