Monday, March 30, 2009

Kentucky Wildcats, Academics, and Money

Eastern Kentucky University, where I work, is just about 40 minutes from the University of Kentucky, so the firing of UK men's basketball coach Billy Gillispie is big news around here. Interestingly, Gillispie was never officially under contract with the school, but rather both parties were working off of a "Memorandum of Understanding".
I have no idea if this is a common occurrence or not, but here is something that caught my interest:

Athletic Incentives
SEC Regular Season Championship $50,000
SEC Tournament Championship $50,000
NCAA Tournament Appearance $50,000
NCAA Sweet 16 Appearance $75,000
NCAA Final Four Appearance $150,000
National Championship $375,000

Academic Incentives
Academic Progress Rate of 950+ $50,000
Graduation Rate of 75%+ $50,000

Now, I'm not one of those academics who hates sports, thinks they are a waste of time, or even begrudges coaches the money they make (well, that last one isn't always true). But in my mind it says a lot about the priorities of a program when the incentives are divided as they are above. Winning is important, and it is part of a coach's job to help his or her team achieve excellence. However, why not put a little more money into the academic incentives column?


Joe said...

Mike, I think an answer to your question is a little easier than you might think. To my mind, it's purely pragmatic and not necessarily about the fundamental priorities of a university.

Presume for the moment that we're talking about men's college basketball. The NCAA gives schools $1mil for a tournament appearance. Schools don't have to win the game; they just have to appear. Compensation increases progressively for each of the games the college or university wins, through the Sweet 16, Great 8, Final 4, and Championship.

Very few alumni are able to give as much as $1mil after graduating from the university or college. Even scholar athletes who do go on to prosperous athletic careers give very little money earmarked for programs other than the sports program in which they participated when they were a student. If the school's bottom line increases as a result of something a professor or coach does, then they should receive some type of incentive. So, salary incentives should hinge on tournament appearances, etc.

Shawn said...

One important factor might be to what extent a coach can have that much affect on the academics of student-athletes. Surely, the coach will have some affect, but is it enough to place significant compensation incentives on such an affect? Consider the reverse. I have many student-athletes in my classes. I wouldn't think my job evaluation hinges on their athletic success; and so why should I be compensated for such success? Of course, I'm not in any position to affect their athletic success, but the point is that the coach may not be in a position to affect the academic success -- at least not nearly to the same degree as he/she can affect the athletic success.

Griff said...

Acutually, Mike, I'm not sure anyone should receive special compensation for student athletes doing well academically. If anything, I would be more inclined to say that schools should be fined for their athletes' failure to perform academically.

Student athletes should be expected to perform as well as any other student, shouldn't they? I'd like to hear some arguments to the contrary. (I can perhaps think of a few.)

Tait Szabo said...

I would like some of those athletic incentives in my teaching contract. And why are the academic incentives for the coach (presumably, at least in some cases) greater than the salary for the academic teachers? That may trouble me more than anything about this.

Mike Austin said...

Tait wins the "my favorite comment" award for this post. The coach is given an incentive related to the academic success of a small number of students. I'd like the same per capita incentive for the 130 students I teach each semester.

Joe, I am not up to speed on the profitability of big time basketball programs, though I've read that only a third of NCAA football programs actually make a profit. I suspect, however, that this doesn't take into account the rise in donations when a school has as successful big time men's sports team. Still, when there is little to no cost of living increase at UK for faculty and staff, and no merit pay for faculty in the state of KY, it seems problematic to throw money around this way. But this might just be an emotional reaction on my part!

Shawn, I agree with much of what you say, though I think a coach who values academics and the personal growth of his or her athletes can actually do quite a bit to foster academic success. I'm thinking of coaches like Joe Paterno who've been successful in sports and preparing kids for life after college.

Griff, fines sound like a good idea to me, as this places the emphasis in the right place.

Joe said...

I didn't mean to imply anything about the profitability of athletic programs in my original comment. I merely wanted to point out that the athletic incentives pay scale you posted probably had to do with the amount of money the school receives for it's teams, particularly men's basketball teams, getting into the NCAA tournament.

(In fact, I have to agree with you that athletic programs are not profitable at all, even when alumni donations etc. are factored.)

I guess that it's unclear to me whether you think the money a school receives for a tournament appearance should be given to faculty and staff (in terms of cost of living increases, etc.) or whether coaches should receive more compensation for athletes who perform well academically. In your original post, I thought you were suggesting that coaches should receive more money for their athletes' academic success.

If it's the former, it's unclear to me how to justify compensating faculty and staff who have not contributed to the success of an athletic program.

Mike Austin said...

I'm not saying that money from tournament appearances and championships should necessarily go to faculty and staff, but rather that if coaches receive this form of merit pay, then merit pay for appropriate accomplishments should not be denied to the faculty. I do tend to think that more money should be allotted to coaches for the academic performance of their athletes, for both the symbolic and practical value of such.

Carl Thomen said...

Good thing I am both a teacher and a coach then :-)

Rebecca Goldner said...

This is my first comment on this blog, but I hope nobody will mind if I jump right in...
It seems to me that we need to consider the fact that, in general, teaching does not tend to be a merit based practice, while coaching does. Coaches at the collegiate level have come to expect what coaches at the professional level receive in the form of compensation for post-season appearances.
The real issue, then, is what happens when a single institution houses both categories of practice-- some merit based, others not. The same issue arises when an institution encompasses, say, union and non-union employees and currently offers no pay raises to faculty while giving pay raises to union employees due to contractual obligations. So the issue seems to be whether the institution is justified in holding different standards for different groups of employees. It is unclear to me what would be right in these situations.
Regarding a previous comment, though, I do think as faculty we can have some (small) influence on our student athletes. When I teach classes that have a number of student athletes (often these are the early morning classes) I do try to use more examples in class that relate to sport and may even include more readings that will stimulate their interest. I can't say for sure whether such a practice influences their actual athletic performance, but I do think they benefit from seeing their role as student-athletes taken seriously in the classroom.
So, yeah, where's my bonus?

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