College sports’ warped finances

I’ll give you $10 if you can guess the highest-paid state government employee in Texas.

Hint: It’s not the governor, the manager of the state’s $111 billion pension fund or a university president.

It’s Mack Brown, the head football coach for the Texas Longhorns. Brown earns over $3 million per year in annual compensation and can take home another $450,000 through performance incentives.

It gets better.

The University of Texas was so impressed with Mack that it gave him an extra $1.6 million in 2004 — as a birthday gift. No confirmations yet on whether they had cheerleaders jump out of the cake.

But hey, it’s worth it, right? Football-related revenue funds over half of the entire Longhorns athletics department, and football is one of only three sports (along with men’s basketball and baseball) that make money. Basically, the football team is the whole reason all the other sports can even exist. So from a purely business perspective, the exorbitant salaries ­— and the absurd birthday gift — are justified.

There’s one problem: College athletics isn’t supposed to be a business. Universities are ostensibly non-profit (read: tax-exempt) institutions.

Now would be a perfect time to moan about how college football and basketball are simply big-money businesses and that the true “student-athlete” no longer exists. But in all honesty, I don’t really care. I love college football, even with all its imperfections. Plus, sports columnists at Ivy League newspapers wield little power over billion-dollar industries.

But I do have a request for the University of Texas and its BCS brethren: Can you at least be a little less obvious about how little you actually care about the future of these kids?

Case in point: UT rewards Mack Brown if the football team reaches a 50 percent graduation rate. In other words, if Mack can just make sure that only half his kids drop out of school, he can walk away with an extra $25,000.

The sad part is that a 50 percent graduation rate would actually be a huge achievement. Last year, the Longhorns football program graduated 42 percent of its players, the lowest number in the Big 12. For every Vince Young, there are hundreds of players who work themselves nearly to death for their school and leave without getting a degree.

So instead of the million-dollar birthday gifts and the country club memberships, why not put your money where your values are? If schools started offering million-dollar incentives for coaches to get graduation rates where they should be, coaches would sit up and listen.

It’s not surprising that Mack Brown isn’t too concerned about his players’ graduating — just look at his contract. Each Big 12 championship and bowl game appearance gives Mack hundreds of thousands of dollars. Making sure that his players are actually student-athletes? That earns you just twenty grand.

Hey, if I were in that position, I wouldn’t care about graduation rates, either. Accounting 101 suddenly becomes a lot less important than being able to pick up a blitzing linebacker or knowing how to exploit a zone defense. After all, there are only so many hours in a day.

So let’s realign the incentives. Instead of giving Mack a $1.4 million gift for reaching his 53rd birthday, let’s give him a million-dollar bonus for graduating 20 more players.

All of a sudden, Accounting 101 starts to look pretty good.

karan arakotaram is a junior in Ezra Stiles College. Contact him at karan.arakotaram@yale.edu

Comments

  • Anonymous

    good article, but one correction: Vince Young didn't graduate while playing football for UT--he left after his junior year.

  • Rishi Kumar

    A lot of your points are good, but of those 42% that did not graduate, how many declined graduation for the NFL draft? Was that included in that percentage? It should be since a LOT of players (including the venerable VY) enter the draft before graduating.

  • Karan

    I didn't mean to say that Vince Young graduated - just that he's an example of a successful player who didn't graduate, whereas most of the other non-graduates will end up with low-paying jobs.

    Rishi - in last year's NFL draft, only 5 Longhorns were chosen. There are about 90 players in each year, and if we assume that 40% of those players don't graduate, that's only 5 out of 36 going to the NFL. That's 31 kids unaccounted for.

  • Anonymous

    There are not about 90 players each year. Each class is between 20 and 25 players as a team cannot give out more then 25 scholarships each year, and can have only 85 scholarship players on the team.