Friday, October 14, 2011

College sports teams are big business, and some coaches are cashing in

Cleveland-based sports agent Neil Cornrich, who represents some of the highest-paid football coaches in the country, including Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, said their compensation simply reflects that of a successful business model -- where results, on and off the field, are rewarded.

"The best coaches are creating significant added value, resulting in greater proceeds from marketing, licensing and ticket sales, increased charitable donations and a rise in student admission applications," he said. "Consequently, there is more competition for top-producing coaches at all levels."

By Bill Lubinger

October 14, 2011

AKRON, Ohio — Akron's national image was tires, blimps and LeBron James.

Then, Caleb Porter and his University of Akron men's soccer team won the NCAA Division I national championship -- the first ever at Akron.

Predictably, Porter's phone rang off the hook with job offers for higher pay and profile.

To keep him, Akron made him one of the highest-paid soccer coaches in the country. Getting the university president and board to approve the reward wasn't a tough sell.

"I think," said Athletic Director Tom Wistrcill, "they recognized the impact that a national champion has on a campus."

Impact, as in value: the value of visibility, positive exposure and pride -- especially for alumni called on for donations.

But investing in coaches and their staffs comes at a cost. A recent Knight Commission survey of 95 college presidents found escalating coaches' salaries were the single largest contributor to the unsustainable cost of college athletics. Unsustainable, as in, sports and scholarships get cut.

So who are the real winners in college athletics?

A Plain Dealer analysis of 2009-10 records filed with the NCAA found that 10 of the 11 Division I public universities in Ohio spent more on salaries and benefits for coaches and other athletic department personnel than on scholarships for their student-athletes.

The lone exception -- Ohio University -- spent about the same on each.

And Ohio's two largest universities -- Ohio State and Cincinnati -- topped the amount invested in scholarships just on coaches.

Ohio State spent more than $16 million on coaches in 34 sports -- about $4 million more than on athletic scholarships for students.

Cincinnati spent almost $2 million more on coaches than scholarships.

"The market says you have to pay that amount to have the best coaches," said Ben Jay, an associate athletic director at Ohio State. "We don't decide that. The market decides it for you."

Ohio State, with a self-funded annual athletic budget of $123 million, is on a financial level of its own statewide. But like a tiered fountain, the trickle-down for coaching salaries often starts there.

When so-called "midmajors" -- Division I schools a notch below the Ohio States, USCs and Notre Dames of the world -- fill coaching vacancies, they usually promote from within or compile a candidate list of top assistants from winning programs at the highest level, which raises the ante.

Ohio State, for instance, pays some assistant football coaches as much as $350,000 a year.

When Kent State hired Darrell Hazell to coach its football team before this season, he was making $264,804 as an Ohio State assistant. Kent is paying him $300,000 per year, plus incentives -- an amount toward the lower end of the scale for the Mid-American Conference.

Cleveland State baseball team was casualty of state fund cuts

When college athletics rely so heavily on student fees, taxpayers and donors to survive, sports can wind up on the cutting-room floor.

Among the latest locally: Cleveland State's baseball program.

Cuts in state funding this year forced CSU to order every department to trim its budget by 8 to 12 percent, athletics included. Division heads were told to slash specific programs, not make cuts here and there.

In reviewing the department, Athletic Director John Parry and his staff zeroed in on the baseball team. Its budget ran about $450,000 a year, plus $50,000 to $75,000 annually for general fees, which included renting vans to transport the team to home games at All Pro Freight Stadium in Avon and the $15,000 a year it cost to rent the ballpark.

The athletic department determined it would take a few hundred thousand dollars a year more to make the program successful. That, plus 30 years of losing, Parry said, made the team vulnerable. So baseball got axed.

The timing was a little odd, given that CSU had floated the idea of starting a football team as recently as last year. Students polled liked the football idea but didn't want to pay higher fees to have a team. State budget cuts ended that discussion.

--Bill Lubinger


Big spending sometimes can lead to big winning

Spending is no guarantee of a championship, but a case can be made that the University of Akron's big investment in a traditionally low-profile sport has paid off.

Even before claiming the NCAA men's soccer championship last season, the Zips spent on the sport like no other public university in Ohio, the latest financial filings with the NCAA for the 2009-10 school year show.

There are limits on men's soccer that the NCAA imposes. The staff is limited to a head coach and two assistants; and scholarships are limited to 9.9, which can be split among several players.

Some schools such as Bowling Green and Cleveland State opt to use just one assistant. BGSU and Cincinnati used two fewer scholarships than permitted.

Akron, like Ohio State, operated near both NCAA limits. And then in other areas, Akron outspent every other public Division I men's soccer program in Ohio, including Ohio State.

The Zips paid more than Ohio State for their head coach ($260,757 including benefits vs. $164,486), their assistant coaches ($77,216 average vs. $67,880) and their uniforms and equipment ($42,131 vs. $8,882). And Akron ran a financially huge soccer camp that netted about $160,000, nearly eight times as much as Ohio State's.

So generous was the spending that the average pay for Akron's assistant coaches exceeded the head coaching pay at Cleveland State ($66,594), Bowling Green ($72,881) and Wright State ($58,867). Plus, coaches at those three schools had only one assistant each.

So what happened the next season? Home attendance of 3,213 per game ranked second nationally and Akron won the 2010 NCAA soccer championship.

-- Rich Exner


Kent State President Lester Lefton said he's comfortable with Hazell's salary, and that of new KSU men's basketball coach Rob Senderoff, the university's fifth basketball coach in 16 years. Senderoff, a former Kent assistant, was promoted when head coach Geno Ford left for Bradley University and an annual $700,000 contract that more than doubled his salary.

In its 16-year run of basketball coaches, Kent paid the first one a base salary of $77,500 -- a number that hit $120,000 just five years later. Senderoff is getting $250,000 -- a base salary that, even when adjusted for inflation, has more than doubled since 1996. And that's at a school considered among the more frugal.

This year, Akron reasoned that the coach of the best men's soccer program in the country deserved to get paid accordingly.

To keep Porter, who declined through an athletic spokesman to comment for this story, Akron extended his contract 10 years and raised his base salary $100,000 to $270,000 a year, plus incentives. He also gets $800 per month for a car allowance, up to $7,500 a year for a club membership, a retention bonus of $15,000 a year in an escrow account and $80,000 a year to help promote the university. Akron also rebuilt the soccer stadium.

Such compensation outside of football and basketball, the top revenue sports, is rare. The other exception in Ohio was Miami hockey coach Enrico Blasi, who made $566,154 -- a base salary of $300,000, plus benefits and bonuses for such accomplishments as winning the league, being named Coach of the Year and reaching the NCAA Frozen Four.

Miami Athletic Director Brad Bates said the total actually reflects more than one year of compensation because Blasi's contract was reworked during the season. Bates also said increases in the hockey coaches' salaries and the program's operating budget were covered by private donations.

Kent State's Lefton believes college sports are on a financial "collision course with itself" because the rising cost of coaches and sports facilities is untenable.
"What's the breaking point? I don't know what the breaking point is," he said. "It's tough to justify a coach making three times more than our faculty members."
Most college coaches don't.

In 2010, a typical Division I head men's tennis coach made about $49,000 annually; and a Division I head women's golf coach about $52,000, according to the NCAA. Most Division II and III coaches make less than their Division I counterparts.

But for high-revenue sports, such as football and men's basketball, coaches are often compensated much better than faculty and even some college presidents:

• Ohio State pays the most in the state for full professors, averaging about $160,000 in pay and benefits in 2009-10, according to the American Association of University Professors. Professors can make extra money from speaking and consulting fees, but not to the extent that coaches can, through shoe sponsorships and television, radio and event appearances.

• Meanwhile, compensation, including benefits in 2009-10, for Ohio's public-university head football coaches ranged from about $202,000 at Kent State to $3.5 million at Ohio State.

• And the median cost of employing a college president nationally was about $440,000, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee topped the list, pulling in more than $1.8 million, counting bonuses, benefits and deferred compensation. Before former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel resigned, he was making about twice that -- enough to cover in-state tuition, fees, room, board and books for 166 students for an entire year.

And he wasn't even the highest-paid college football coach in the country.

That title belongs to Alabama's Nick Saban, who has hopscotched 13 teams in college and the NFL -- with no coaching stop longer than five years -- to an annual salary of more than $5 million. By comparison, his university president has a base salary of about $500,000.

"Market forces," said Cleveland State Athletic Director John Parry, "have gotten away from the idea that a coach is an educator."

Coaching pay and benefits, 2009-10

Here are the head coaching salaries and benefits for selected sports at Ohio's public Division I universities.

Sources: University forms filed with the NCAA

Compensation includes salaries, benefits, bonuses, car stipends, pay from camps and other benefits from the colleges, foundations and booster clubs.

But coaches at big-time winning programs, with revenues fueled by multimillion-dollar media rights fees and shoe contracts, are also rainmakers.

Cleveland-based sports agent Neil Cornrich, who represents some of the highest-paid football coaches in the country, including Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, said their compensation simply reflects that of a successful business model -- where results, on and off the field, are rewarded.

"The best coaches are creating significant added value, resulting in greater proceeds from marketing, licensing and ticket sales, increased charitable donations and a rise in student admission applications," he said. "Consequently, there is more competition for top-producing coaches at all levels."

Kent State's Lefton said applications jumped 40 percent after the Flashes advanced to the NCAA men's basketball tournament's Elite Eight in 2002. Likewise, CSU saw a spike in admissions after its basketball team's remarkable run in the NCAA Tournament in 1986, and again in 2009 when it scored a first-round NCAA Tournament upset, according to Parry.

But in an NCAA-commissioned study of Division I athletic budgets in 2003, researchers found there was little to no connection between how much a university spent on sports and academic quality or alumni giving.

University presidents and their boards usually have to approve what coaches are paid, so if the complaint is that salaries have gotten out of hand, they have only themselves to blame.

Not that college administrators intend to legislate limits on how much a college coach can make. Although there are no income limits for presidents, athletic directors and faculty at public universities, the NCAA did try to cap the incomes of some coaches 20 years ago with something called "restricted-earnings" coaching positions.

The coaches sued and, in 1995, a federal judge ruled the NCAA had violated antitrust laws. The settlement cost the NCAA $54.5 million.

In the discussion about reining in the cost of college athletics, coaches' salaries are not even on the table.

"A day will come," predicted Kent State's Lefton, "when the cost of maintaining a Division I football team will seem exorbitant and will eclipse the budget of some universities. We're not there yet, but we're on a pathway that leads us in that direction."

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