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September 20, 2009 - Arizona regents look at athletic coaching salaries

The Arizona Republic reported on the status of the Arizona Board of Regents' review of intercollegiate athletics in Arizona higher education.  According to the paper, the purpose of the review of college sports in Arizona is to examine the growth in coaching salaries, how sports programs are funded, and whether opportunities for male and female student athletes are more equal.

This year, Arizona State University raised the annual salary of football coach Dennis Erickson's by 200 percent to $1.5 million and raised the salary of men's basketball coach Herb Sendek by 18 percent to $1.1 million.  The University of Arizona raised the annual salary of football coach Mike Stoops by 46 percent to $1 million; the salary of men's basketball coach Sean Miller is $2 million annually.

While coaches salaries continue to escalate, the funding of coaches salaries is largely accomplished through revenue from ticket sales to football and mens' basketball games, as well as from private donations.  The universities in Arizona are paying the competitive rate for coaches across the country; without high profile coaches, athletic department officials fear the sport teams would become less successful, and, in turn, lose revenue from ticket sales and donation.

"It's absolutely and totally market driven," said University of Arizona Athletic Director Jim Livengood. "It's critical our basketball program be great."  He added that men's basketball accounts for $17 million in annual revenue and, along with football, provides financial support for 17 other sports at the institution.

"The whole objective, of course, is to be competitive in sports, but not to be like professional sports, where there is no limit," said Dennis DeConcini, a former U.S. senator who chairs the regents' athletic committee. He favors a salary cap and is consulting with an attorney about its feasibility.

Andrew Zimbalist, an economy professor at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusettes, stated that the salary issue is difficult to solve at the local level."[Arizona] either has to jump off the train and say, 'OK, we're not going to compete,' or they have to do what everyone else is doing," he said.