Fred Hoiberg got a raise. That’s good, because while employment is improving, many working Americans just get by. Hoiberg, basketball coach at Iowa State University, will take home an extra $600,000 a year. His new contract pays an average annual salary of $2.6 million. Maybe someday he’ll make serious money.

After all, the coaches of this year’s NCAA Final Four teams—Kentucky’s John Calipari, Florida’s Billy Donovan, Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan and Connecticut’s Kevin Ollie—pull down an average of $3.1 million. Plus bonuses.

Not all major-college basketball coaches get paid on that level. UC Berkeley just signed Tennessee’s Cuonzo Martin, who would have received only $1.35 million each of the next two years. Martin was negotiating for an extension that would have paid $1.8 million per. Berkeley will pay him more, I’m sure. But Hoiberg or Calipari bucks? Don’t know.

Granted, these guys have families to feed. But should universities pay basketball (and football) coaches seven-figure salaries? Do faculty members make as much? And what about the folks who run prestigious academic institutions? Berkeley’s The Daily Californian reported that, “Chancellor Nicholas Dirks will earn a base salary of $486,800 per year—an amount below the UC-calculated median salary for chancellors nationwide of $569,000.” Compared with the coaches they employ, chancellors make chump change.

So what does this say about academia? Money talks, truth whispers. For TV rights to its Division I basketball tournament over a 14-year period, the National Collegiate Athletic Association hauls in $10.8 billion from CBS and Turner Sports. Hefty broadcast and gate revenues during the regular season swell college hoops revenues. Where does the money go? For starters, it pays NCAA officials. It also supports basketball programs and contributes to other campus sports. The players? They get scholarships. That’s not trivial, but many need extra money to get by. That’s why some players at Northwestern want to unionize—which the NCAA opposes.

What does this say about our society? Fans—particularly alumni—enjoy vicarious thrills associating themselves with the athletic accomplishments of 18-to-22 year-olds. I did once, but I was 15. Meanwhile, many of the NCAA’s biggest hoop stars leave school after their freshman year to enter the National Basketball Association draft. The NBA mandates them to “sit out” for one year after their regular class graduates from high school. Others leave after two or three years, generally without diplomas. Some make millions. Many—never interested in academics—don’t get drafted or make a team.

Money and boosterism infect sports beneath the college level. (Pro leagues exhibit their own hypocrisies but never deny the profit-making motive behind obscene ticket, parking and concession prices.) Whole communities seek validation in the exploits of high school athletes. Colleges now scout middle-school kids—even fifth-graders. Parents regiment youth sports with four-year-old tee ballers wearing uniforms and “playing” under the watchful eyes of eager adults.

President Calvin Coolidge famously said, “The business of America is business.” The academy has long sold out while buying athletes on the cheap. We have to question the values academia—and we as a people—say we hold dear. The answers may not be pleasant.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first three chapters of The Boy Walker, at davidperlstein.com. Order in soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com or iUniverse.com. Check out Green Apple Books and Books, Inc. in Laurel Village. 

1 Comment

  1. Carolyn Perlstein on April 18, 2014 at 5:47 pm

    All kids want to be sports stars–until they grow up. Education is a gift, an opening to a greater awareness and knowledge of the world. Too bad it so often goes wasted.

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