Why Won’t Penn State Pay for Coaches?
College athletics have changed in the past ten years when it comes to how much money schools are paying head coaches. In 2002, there were only two Division 1 men’s basketball coaches making more than $1 million per year. Since that time, the number has increased to about 10%. Saint John’s coach, and former prospective Penn State coach, Steve Lavin, told the Birmingham News in 2009 that the going rate for a BCS conference coach was around $1.5-2 million a year. For a consistent top 10 program (along the lines of Duke or Kentucky), these numbers are more likely to break $3 million.
For football coaches the numbers are even higher. According to USA Today, Alabama coach Nick Saban and Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops both command salaries in excess of $5 million per year. This isn’t too surprising because football programs usually bring in more money than basketball programs. But it’s becoming more and more clear that, in order to succeed in major college sports, you need to be willing to pay for high caliber coaches, and their salaries aren’t looking to go down anytime soon.
Which brings us to Penn State. A perennial top 25 finisher in the Director’s Cup, awarded to the most successful college athletics departments, Penn State also has one of the most profitable athletics departments in the country. However, our successes on the football field and, more notably, on the basketball court haven’t been up to the standards expected from a school that brought in $106 million in revenues last year. It’s becoming quite clear that Athletic Director Tim Curley appears unwilling to pay multimillion dollar salaries to head coaches, a necessary component for continuing success in major college sports, even though the department seems to have the wherewithal to do so.
According to Penn State’s filings with the Department of Education, Penn State Athletics made $106,614,724 in revenues during fiscal year 2009, while shelling out $80,260,637 in expenses. Of that $80 million in expenses, only $4.4 million went toward head coaches. Compare that to the University of Alabama, who spent $9.1 million on coaches, or Duke University, who spent $10.1 million on head coaching salaries.
For you non-math majors out there, Penn State’s net profit (revenues minus expenses) comes out to a whopping $26,354,087. My question: Where is all that money going? It sure isn’t going toward new facilities (ask the Soccer and Lacrosse programs, who still don’t have a locker room at Jeffrey Field and are forced to use a tent under the bleachers), and we know it’s not going toward our head coaches. Joe Paterno makes $1.1 million per year, placing 7th among Big Ten coaches (potentially 8th, as Northwestern doesn’t have to report individual coaches’ salaries). Ed DeChellis makes a whopping $600,000 a year (a number that some say is too high as it is), which puts him in dead last in the Big Ten for salaries. Annoyingly, the athletic department has gone out and taken big name coaches from powerhouse schools in other sports (wrestling and lacrosse most notably), presumably by offering significantly higher salaries than their current institutions. Why else would Jeff Tambroni have left Cornell, a perennial Top 5 (and National Runner-Up last year) in men’s lacrosse, to take over a team that went 2-11 last season?
The level of successes that Paterno and DeChellis have had during their tenure, different though they may be, make them relative bargains in the landscape of big time college athletics. But as both of them near the end of their time at Penn State (wishful thinking perhaps, in the case of DeChellis), this author sincerely hopes that the Tim Curley is prepared to dip into some of that $26 million and pay for a pair of coaches that are of the caliber of the institution they’ll be working for and who will bring the successes that Penn State fans have come to expect.