Coach K's pay shows need for limits

May 16, 2013 

Duke’s men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski has led the Blue Devils to four NCAA Championships, but he has also earned another national title of his own – highest paid college coach in a single year.

USA Today reported this week that in the 2011 calender year, Krzyzewski was credited with nearly $9.7 million in compensation based on Duke’s federal tax return. That pay, which includes bonuses and deferred compensation, is the highest single-year amount paid to a college coach since the newspaper began tracking pay for men’s basketball and football coaches in 2006.

Rick Pitino, the men’s basketball coach at Louisville holds second place. His compensation totaled a little more than $8.9 million in 2010-11.

Does any coach merit such stratospheric pay? Duke obviously feels its Hall of Fame coach does. But to casual observers it must be a thing of wonder that a man who coaches amateur college players can be paid 10 times more than the president of the United States ($400,000) and several times the salary of his boss, Duke President Richard Brodhead (just under $1 million).

USA Today reported Krzyzewski’s and other college coaches salaries as part of its annual listing of who’s making what in the dizzying world of ever higher spending on major college sports.

If sports are a mirror of society, the numbers are dazzling and discouraging. Elite coaches’ incomes are rising like the rest of the 1 percent, a bounty that has grown while many Americans lost jobs, homes or equity during the deep recession and the years of economic struggles that have followed.

That’s OK for the coaches. If they can command such pay, they should have it. But it’s not OK for the colleges and universities who keep throwing millions of dollars at their coaches even as their professors are pinched and their students sink deeper into student loan debt.

Kevin Burke, a dean and professor at Queens University in Charlotte, co-authored a study based on the USA Today figures. The study found that already huge coaching salaries are still climbing quickly. The authors looked at the salaries they could confirm for 60 men’s basketball coaches who made the NCAA Tournament in 2009 and for 62 coaches who made it in 2012. In that short period, the combined salaries grew from $74 million to $87 million.

Burke appreciates what athletics can do for a school’s culture and reputation, but he said coaches’ pay is raising issues of fairness. “It’s sort of hard to swallow for some academics why some coaches can make such humongous salaries,” he said.

The rise of college coaches salaries has been the subject of debate for years, but all the talk has had no slowing effect. The gulf grows between professors’ and coaches’ pay and the contrast becomes ever starker between millionaire coaches and their unpaid players. Those who lead colleges and universities should decide that this race upward is not a contest worth winning.

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