This was originally published at The Sports Column.
‘Enough Already!’ With Big Sports SalariesThe elephant in the room is increasing income inequality—the outlandish incomes and escalating growth at the top of the income chain. Perhaps nowhere is that situation more evident than in athletics.
Last month we saw two record-breaking salaries. The Phillies’ Bryce Harper signed for $330,000,000. Mike Trout of the Angels signed for $430 million.
While it would be easy to focus attention only on the highflyers of professional sports, that’s far from the only place where we have a problem. In college sports, the coaches—not the players—are raking in an outrageous amount of cash.
For example, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski makes $8.9 million a year, and twenty-six other coaches make at least $2.5 million annually. That includes the 2019 Final Four coaches: Tom Izzo (Michigan State), $4.36 million; Chris Beard (Texas Tech), $3.17 million; Bruce Pearl (Auburn), $2.57 million; and Tony Bennett (Virginia), $2.43 million.
What makes the data especially problematic is that all of the Final Four coaches work at public universities. Worse yet, those huge salaries fit a larger narrative nationally: college coaches dominate the list of the highest income earners among public employees across the country.
How might we interpret those data through a broader lens? Let’s compare coaches’ salaries to the annual salaries earned by other public officials.
President of the United States: $400,000
U.S. Supreme Court Justice: $255,000
U.S. Senator: $174,000
U.S. House Representative: $174,000.
And what about high-ranking officials in the states represented in this year’s Final Four?
Virginia Governor: $175,000
Michigan Governor: $159,000
Texas Governor: $150,000
Alabama Governor: $119,950
In Michigan, the state’s governor would have to stay in office for nearly 28 years to match one year of Izzo’s salary. Alabama’s senior Senator Richard Shelby would need to serve 15 years to match Pearl’s annual paycheck.
The median U.S. household income is $61,372 per year. That means it would take about 40 years for an American household to earn what a high-end major college basketball coach makes in one year.I know that coaching others is a noble profession. Most coaches love what they do, and getting paid for what they love to do is a gift. But nobody needs to make more in one year from doing what they love than what a typical family makes in a lifetime.
That’s what makes this situation outrageous! It might be different if we didn’t have nearly 40 million of our neighbors living in poverty, but we do. And if such inequality exists in public institutions, where in the world is the toe-hold to bring about systemic change?
Here’s a place to start. University trustees—especially those at public institutions—need to reassess institutional priorities, including putting the public good ahead of shallow gains associated with winning games and seeking athletic championships.
There are far more important ways to invest public resources—things like investing in the liberal arts, enhancing the financial status of part-time faculty, and improving salaries for hourly laborers who toil in custodial, food service, and other support areas across our universities.
The list of constructive things to do is long. The current situation—in public good terms—is indefensible.