The magnitude of college basketball in United States: coaches salaries

baloncesto universitario en estados unidos

The NCAA basketball tournament, also known as The Big Dance or March Madness, is officially over. The South Carolina Gamecocks won the first women’s basketball title in school history after defeating the Mississippi State Bulldogs by a score of 67-55. On the men’s side, the North Carolina Tar Heels captured their sixth trophy after barely edging the Gonzaga Bulldogs 71-65. UNC’s tally of six national championships only trails Kentucky’s eight and UCLA’s 11.

In this new entry of the VT Sports’ blog we want to highlight several facts that have come up lately as the Final Four was approaching. The magnitude of college basketball is limitless.

Coaches salaries, through the roof

A couple days before the Final Four, ESPN published a report that illustrated the financial muscle of American universities. According to USA Today data, a college football or basketball coach is the best paid public official in 39 of 50 states. Let that sink in.

Thus, former quarterback Jim Harbaugh pocketed in $9 million as the Michigan Wolverines’ head coach. At Kentucky, John Calipari, arguably the best recruiter in the college basketball business, earned a hefty $7.2 million for coaching the Wildcats. Meanwhile, the governors of the aforementioned states, Rick Snyder and Matt Bevin, only made $159,300 and $140,070 respectively.

Buckle up, because the next piece of information is mind-boggling.

When you add up all 50 governor salaries, it’s still less than what Final Four contestants Dana Altman (Oregon), Frank Martin (South Carolina) and Roy Williams (North Carolina) bring home in base pay. Three coaches outearn 50 governors $7.2 to $6.9 million.

The only private university that made it to the final weekend in Glendale (Arizona) was Gonzaga, which allegedly pays Mark Few a $1.3 million base salary. A lot has been written recently about Few, who in 1988 accepted a restricted-earnings job on GU’s staff that paid $500 plus free housing at fellow assistant Dan Monson’s spare bedroom. According to ESPN journalist Darren Rovell, back in the day, Few used to have a meager $200 budget for a 30-day recruiting trip. He even used to sleep in his car.

In 1999, after guiding Gonzaga to its first ever Elite 8, Monson accepted an offer he could not turn down to be at the helm of the University of Minnesota’s basketball squad. Its $400K a year salary was four times as much as what the Spokane-based institution could afford. In almost two decades as head coach, Few has been able to elevate the little Jesuit university from Cinderella story to perennial contender. Nowadays, the budget of the basketball program ascends to a whopping $7.3 million, just a 15% short of Michael Jordan’s alma mater.

What about the players?

After the title game ended, Associated Press’ reporter Tim Reynolds tweeted that Roy Williams earned almost one million dollars in bonuses for the National Championship run. At the same time, the players who actually scored the baskets…what did they win? While the NCAA and UNC make a humongous amount of money off of their image and likeness, they only receive fancy shirts and hats.

Is that fair? Current LA Clippers shooting guard and ex-Duke University superstar, J.J. Redick, clearly thinks college athletes should get paid. According to the 2005/06 Naismith Player of the Year, athletic scholarships are not enough. They do not represent players’ value in revenue sports. Former Wisconsin Badgers star Frank Kaminsky concurs.

There’s a lot of room for debate on that topic. It does not look like it will be settled any time soon.

Text: Pablo Mosquera