College Football Coaches, Big Salaries, & the Impact on Education

USA Today reported on Monday that college football coaches are continuing to see salary increases at faster rates than traditional business CEO’s, begging the question: Is this good thing as it relates to the overall mission and quality of education colleges are expected to provide students?  More simply, if your football coach earns $5 million dollars a year but your chemistry professor earns only a mere fraction of that salary per year, what does this say about the value the college places on athletic development and success over delivering an outstanding education?  Should education (and related salaries) always be above athletics, if no other reason than the mere fact that colleges are marketed to be institutions of higher learning (with athletics as a part of the experience)?  Some people feel strongly this should be the case, and are upset that the education/athletics “old model” of prioritization has been completely flipped on its ear.

I also see the other side to this argument, most notably based in the following two beliefs:

  • It’s capitalism, and coaches only make what the market bears, and/or…
  • NCAA Football coaches often make colleges tens of millions of dollars each year and are therefore paid accordingly.

So there you have it — one camp believes football coach salaries have gone out of control, and consequently question the overall mission of a college education. The other side of the argument looks at education from a business lens with less (if any) interest in how money is made – so long as the college makes money.

If you believe it’s all pure capitalism, I wonder where the line should be drawn?  Obviously having casinos on campus would rake in millions of dollars, yet as far as I know there haven’t been any colleges to do that yet.  Legal gambling….live sports events….what’s the difference?

If you believe football coaches make universities the most money and that’s why they earn the highest salaries on campus, it should be noted that many professors bring in research grants, not to mention their less obvious value of delivering quality education and service to the college and surrounding community.  While it might be easier to quantify the value of how much money the football team makes a university, professors are responsible for what the college is actually selling — an education. Obviously there is a great value in having good professors, but it is not as easy to quantify their worth like we do athletic ticket and apparel sales.

Personally, I do not see this as a “right or wrong” issue, but instead a time for our culture to reflect on the importance we place on athletics, especially as athletic salaries increase at the expense of education.  When millions of dollars are devoted to football coach salaries, those are the same dollars that could have been spent on professor salaries, classroom and building needs, campus safety concerns, parking accommodations, and many more common college expenses. As more dollars shift toward athletic department salaries, somebody has to lose.

How do you feel about these changes?  Should capitalism continue to play out, or should better guards be put in place to protect the pursuit of education over football coach salaries?