Higher ed has lost its moral compass

by Jim Longworth

Last week, Miami Dolphins head coach Nick Saban announced he would jump ship and ply his trade for the Crimson Tide of Alabama. That in itself might have warranted a little coverage on ESPN, but certainly not the interest of mainstream news media. Yet Saban’s move has drawn widespread ire and attention, not because of his new job, but because of his new salary.

Estimates put Nick’s deal at between $40 and $50 million dollars over the next eight to 10 years. That translates to at least $4.5 million per year, not including perks, benefits and endorsements. And it’s four times the take home pay of most college coaches, who earn an average of $950,000 per year.

The real insult, though, isn’t to other coaches but to the thousands of teachers who toil every day in classrooms and lecture halls all across America. Depending upon whose survey you care to cite, and allowing for a differential among the states, college instructors make on average about $50,000 per year (much less than that in the Triad), and that’s a far cry from the millions made by college coaches.

It also sends a perverted and confusing message to students, parents and taxpayers: that people who coach football and basketball are more valuable to a college than people who educate our kids. And please, don’t insult my limited intelligence by quoting the popular mantra, “Just look at how many of the coach’s players graduate.” News flash: College students are supposed to graduate, whether they play sports or not, and coaches have absolutely nothing to do with the academic successes of players, except insofar as to threaten their eligibility if they fail to show up for class.

Sure I was happy for Pat Summitt when she broke the salary ceiling for women coaches, and yes I’m glad to see some of the smaller schools graduating to the ranks of Division I. But no coach is worth $4.5 million per year. Saban’s salary is not just unwarranted; it is obscene. And it makes no financial sense either. If Saban led ‘Bama to national titles for the next 10 years in a row, the combined TV revenues wouldn’t even cover his salary.

It used to be that colleges were revered for their academic reputation. Now they’re ranked and recognized by the salaries of their coaches.

In the case of Alabama, I don’t blame Saban for taking the deal, but I do blame University President Robert Witt for brokering it. That’s why the NCAA should step in and order a salary cap for all division I coaches, no matter where the money comes from. I don’t care if part of the salary is derived from boosters, TV revenues or corporations, it just looks bad. It is also demoralizing for teachers and runs counter to the mission of higher education.

Coaches might be engaged in a noble profession, but we need to stop treating them like royalty.

Jim Longworth is host of “Triad Today” which can be seen Friday mornings at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7), and Sunday nights at 10 p.m. on MY48 (cable channel 15).