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Hot Topic: Rising Coaches' Salaries

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Emmert: “At the close of every season, there’s a bidding war for coaches. That’s not sustainable.”
Coaching salaries can’t continue to rise at their current rate, said NCAA President Mark Emmert during the opening of the ‘12 IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in New York City, but he added that there was little in the way of regulations that could be put in place to address the problem. The only surefire cap, he said, is athletic departments running out of money.

“It’s a free market, with huge pressure and a limited number of skilled people,” Emmert said. “It’s something that we all have to live with. I was asked the other day when will coach’s salaries be capped, and I said, when athletic departments run out of money, and I wasn’t being facetious.” He went to add that the current system is not sustainable. “We don’t have a legal structure where we say, ‘Thou shalt not pay more than X for a coach or an assistant coach,’” he said. “At the close of every season, there’s a bidding war for coaches. So the system where someone suggesting they might hire your coach and now you have to pay them more, that’s not sustainable.” The issue of coaching salaries was prominent not only during a one-on-one interview with Emmert, but on subsequent panels throughout the day. Univ. of Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman talked about the complexity of the issue and how it affects an entire athletic department. “The whole effort over the last couple of years to control athletic costs, since you can’t control salaries, is to do things that aren’t good for students,” he said.

WHAT TO DO? There were few specifics of possible ways to control costs, but Perlman brought up the option of studying a legal remedy. “We know the antitrust laws prohibit us from agreeing to cap coaches’ salaries,” he said, “so there’s really two options. One is to figure out a creative way to do it within the antitrust laws. Or, second, is to get the antitrust laws changed. I know there’s great reluctance, but there’s been conversations within the NCAA about going before Congress and doing something about this.”

Emmert countered, “It’s been discussed for years, but the notion right now of going before Congress and trying to figure out a highly-complex, highly-political bill, or an antitrust model for intercollegiate athletics, would probably have more unintended consequences than any of us could imagine. If the NCAA is a ‘weird’ decision-making organization, then I’m not sure what the right adjective is for Congress. To turn over our fate to them at this moment would be risky.” Perlman said that the one area in which he would most like to see change in the next year was “some control over coaches’ salaries.” But then he added that he is “realistic” and knows it’s unlikely to happen.FROM ONE WHO WENT THROUGH IT: NC State AD Debbie Yow discussed the pressure of rising salaries in hiring coaches, as she just went through it during the last two weeks in hiring Dave Doeren from Northern Illinois as her school’s new football coach. “We pressed really hard, very fast,” she said. “I consider [the deal] a bargain at $1.8 million [annually]. We did the buyout, but he paid some taxes. For those who may not have thought that, paying the taxes is a big deal, it's a point of discussion. I think it was 17 percent of the buyout.” She admitted to being relieved to get a deal for a football coach at less than $2M a year. “It was an extraordinary relief to get out for $1.8 [million] and get the person we wanted,” Yow said. “Because I'm watching now from the sidelines, and as far as I can tell, the numbers are going up every single day, and the pool was shallow this year of qualified coaches, with way too many schools out looking. So it's a coaches’ market and the majority of schools don't have theirs filled." Michigan State AD Mark Hollis stressed it wasn’t just the salaries of a head coach impacting the department’s finances, saying, “There's been a trickle-down effect. Not only the position of hiring somebody, it's retaining coaches.”
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