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Fact check: Was UNC AD Bubba Cunningham underpaid?

UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham watches a football came against Cal at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill on Sept. 2, 2017. North Carolina self-reported an NCAA violation in February by its football program, Cunningham said in a statement late Wednesday.
UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham watches a football came against Cal at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill on Sept. 2, 2017. North Carolina self-reported an NCAA violation in February by its football program, Cunningham said in a statement late Wednesday. News & Observer file

Considering that most Americans earn less than $60,000 a year, it’s hard to imagine suggesting that someone earning more than $705,000 a year is underpaid.

But that’s what Haywood Cochrane, chairman of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Board of Trustees, said recently about the school’s athletic director.

The board voted in November to provide AD Bubba Cunningham, who made a base salary of $705,853, with an extra $200,000 each year for the next five years. The move embarrassed at least one board member, Tom Fetzer, who said the move was “a travesty” given recent scandals within the program.

Cochrane responded by saying Cunningham’s new salary is a reflection of the market.

“But he’s not at market,” Cochrane said of his previous salary. “He’s not even close.”

PolitiFact North Carolina found the claim interesting and set out to determine what’s considered “market rate” for experienced athletic directors at the “Power Five” conferences: the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12 and SEC.

Part of the fact-checking process is contacting the person who made the claim, so PolitiFact inquired about the statement by sending an email to the UNC Board of Trustees.

The first response came from board member Dwight Stone, president and chairman of D. Stone Builders in Greensboro.

“Why not do a little work and look up the top 25 Athletic Director compensations in the country and you can learn a lot,” Stone wrote in an email. “There is this thing called Google and you can really find most anything.”

Cochrane then emailed to say, “Bubba has done an exceptional job!”

“We do look at comps as part of our overall assessment and your research will, I believe, answer your question for you,” he wrote. Cochrane didn’t respond to follow-up emails.

In PolitiFact’s process, the burden of proving a statement correct falls on the person who made it. So how did the claim fare on PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter? Check out the story on PolitiFact.com.

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht

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