The High Cost of Keeping Successful Men’s Basketball Coaches

Inside Higher Ed reported on how NCAA Division I institutions are finding ways to keep their men’s basketball coaches, despite the skyrocketing cost of salaries following the success of the national tournament. Increasingly, costs are felt some of the smaller institutions to keep their successful coaches from moving to larger institutions which have access to funds to pay higher and more attractive salary compensation packages.

An example is Brad Stevens, head coach at Butler University, whose team lost in the national championship game. Stevens’ base salary this year was $396,692 with a total compensation of $750,000 according to the Indy Star. Stevens’ contract was extended for 12 years and was expected to be worth more than $1 million per year in order to rebuff an offer from the University of Oregon, which paid its former coach, Ernie Kent, $1 million annually. At the University of Northern Iowa, head coach Ben Jacobsen signed a new deal which increases his pay from $289,300 to $450,000 annually, with a $25,000 salary increase each year for the next ten years. Steve Donahue left Cornell University to become the new head coach at Boston College for $900,000 per year; the previous coach of Boston College, Al Skinner, earned a $2.2 million annual salary.

Amy Perko, executive director of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, told Inside Higher Ed that setting coaches’ salaries has a lot to do with administrative principles.

Colleges “need to stay within your institutional values when considering how far they have to go to keep a coach,” Perko said. “I don’t want to get into pegging a number, but compensation should be considered in the context of the entire institution. You can’t parse out athletics and say, ‘We’re going to treat them differently.’ ”

She also argued that institutions should refrain from making spur-of-the-moment decisions when crafting offers to try to keep coaches who have achieved seemingly sudden postseason success.

“It goes back to the principle,” Perko explained. “What happens when you’re coming off a competitive season and there’s a lot of media attention and you have to move into the recruiting season? Those compressed windows cause some institutions to not go through their normal process. Institutions should never make knee-jerk reactions with regard to bonuses and retention payments in the heat of the moment.

“Athletics competitions create a lot of excitement and stir a lot of passions, and that’s why administrators need to take a step back from the passions and consider their moves in the context of the whole university.”