Sports Outside the Beltway

NCAA Worried About Coaching Arms Race

The NCAA is worried about the arms race over coaching salaries, reports AJC’s Mike Knobler.

NCAA president Myles Brand set out two years ago to rein in the runaway growth in college athletics spending. Last week, Alabama hired football coach Nick Saban for $32 million over eight years. So delegates listening to Brand’s annual speech this weekend at the NCAA Convention didn’t have to look far for an example of the limits of Brand’s power or the limits of the NCAA’s.

Many of Brand’s top priorities can’t be handled the way the NCAA traditionally handles its biggest issues, by adding another rule to a 460-page rulebook. Legislation produced real change in college athletics: Athlete graduation rates are climbing; athletes enroll as freshmen better-prepared than their predecessors; they get at least one day a week when they don’t have a practice or a game, and their games and practices are limited to 20 hours a week.

But rules can’t solve everything.

The NCAA can’t legislate a cap on the amount of money an athletics department spends. It can’t force universities to hire more women and minorities as athletics directors and coaches. It can’t write a sportsmanship rule that prevents Miami and Florida International from turning a football game into a helmet-swinging, punch-throwing, radio-analyst-trash-talking black eye for college athletics.

Brand said he will keep pushing for solutions to those problems, some of which he has been working on for years with limited, if any, results. “There is some frustration, but I have to tell you, as a university president, I have known frustration, too,” said Brand, former President of Indiana University. “The main role of a university president is as a consensus builder and persuader. You can’t go marching up the hill on campus by yourself, and you certainly can’t do it in the NCAA. Sure, I’d like to be the czar of college sports, but I’m not.”

Brand’s position gives him a bully pulpit, but fewer and fewer people come to listen. Only two Division I-A commissioners attended this weekend’s convention, where Brand gave his State of the Association address. Only a few Division I-A presidents and athletics directors attended.

College sports, at its highest level, is run by small committees rather than by one-school-one-vote elections. Many of the people Brand is trying to reach no longer take part. “We’re disconnected,” said Missouri Valley Conference senior associate commissioner Patty Viverito.


Brand desperately wants to connect with the people who run universities and athletics departments. He hopes selling schools on “best practices” in hiring will improve diversity in administration and coaching; only seven of 119 Division I-A football coaches are minorities. He also hopes he can give university presidents the tools they need to get athletics expenditures under control.

The NCAA once tried to legislate its way to athletics department cost savings by creating a restricted-earnings assistant basketball coach. The coaches took the NCAA to court and won a $54.5 million settlement in 1999. So when Brand set about trying to tackle out-of-control athletics spending, he formed a task force of university presidents to explore solutions. Their main recommendation: Standardize accounting procedures so we can get a grip on the problem. Meanwhile, more than half of Division I-A athletics programs require annual subsidies of more than five percent, Brand said. Presidents struggle to control expenses in the face of competitive pressures and the demands of their boards of trustees. And Brand struggles to solve problems for which legislation isn’t the answer.

The problem is that college football is a huge moneymaker for a tiny handful of schools and all the other schools are willing to go into debt in the (mostly elusive) hope of catching up. The Alabamas, Notre Dames, Michigans, USCs, and Texases of the world have a huge leg up, though, and the Troys and UABs are unlikely to ever be in their league.

Hat tip: The Big Lead

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