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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Kentucky, John Calipari and America's Priorities

Memphis men's basketball coach John Calipari is mulling over an 8-year, $35 million deal to coach the men's basketball team at Kentucky.

While the President had time to spend in the White House with ESPN's Andy Katz (who is the reporter on the Calipari story) to fill out a bracket for the NCAA tournament, there has been no comment from the political classes or the chattering classes about Kentucky's offer to Calipari.

After all, it is a lot of money.

Especially for a guy who coaches young men.

Of course, there are many reasons for this, such as:

1. The financial crisis and the White House's rivalry with the major banks.
2. The collapse of the auto industry, a final concession that Detroit has lost its World Cup match to Tokyo.
3. The continued pillorying of AIG, which is now playing the role of the 0-26 team your college schedules to puff up its roster and give its men's team confidence before the league schedule begins.

With all that going on, there is little time to reflect on the fact that while the federal budget is stretched to the max (even the Europeans are criticizing the Americans' spending plan) and states are struggling not only to provide basic services but to figure out how to fund staggering obligations for public employees' pensions, a college basketball coach will get paid $4,375,000 a year.

There are no more than 15 kids on a college basketball team, which means each kid will get about $292,000 worth of the coach's time. Layer atop assistants, the director of basketball operations, tutors, trainers, physicians, publicists, and, well, the high majors do spend significant sums on their programs.

Without outrage. Without even the raising of an eyebrow by any politician.

Now, of course, the argument in favor of keeping one's mouth shut goes like this:

1. If you're a capitalist, Calipari is successful, hasn't cost his school staggering losses (although UMass was put on probation after Calipari left for things that happened while Calipari was there, although then again it's unclear whether Calipari had anything to do with the problems or boosters caused the problems), helps bring prestige and money into the school, and wins, so he should be rewarded, and if that's what the market bears, so be it.

2. If you're an advocate of states' rights, you'll view this as a state matter, so that if Kentucky wants to pay the money, fine, and if Kentucky wants to let its boosters pay Calipari the money, that's fine too.

3. If you're a statist (read: the Federal government should have a bigger say), you'll say "hey, wait a minute", every state university gets Federal money in some way, shape or form, and there should be limits on executive compensation, regardless of how successful Calipari was, is or will be, and regardless of what the market will bear. What those limits should be is open to question, and since the President prides himself on being a hoopster, well, perhaps any such policy would exclude those employed in the basketball world. Makes sense, even though that would be catering to special interests, a term that the President likes about as much as the words "AIG bonuses."

4. If you're a healthy skeptic, you do wonder aloud why it is that guys who coach kids get paid so much, regardless of how many tickets are sold, TV money, booster donations and the like. Especially in these times. You don't want government to be the answer, you don't like populist outrage (because it can be misplaced, based upon falsehoods, prone to violence, etc.), but you want honesty and common sense to take over. Sure, Coach Cal has succeeded and is one of the most successful out there, but why should a coach of an extracurricular make more than the University president? What are the priorities in Kentucky and elsewhere?

Anyway, I just thought that in these times it's interesting how the vitriol is focused on Wall Street and to a certain degree (albeit, perhaps, from slightly different circles), Detroit, and not on this particularly news item.

Perhaps that means that a) America is focusing on what it should and not permitting sports to deter it too much, b) America is out of gas in terms of populist outrage and protests and has nothing left for this situation, c) America just doesn't care or d) America thinks this is just fine.

What do you think?


Blogger hdg40502 said...

Indeed, this is an OUTRAGE!! Barnhart needs to go. UK is cutting staff, eliminating programs, increasing tuition, star faculty are leaving in droves, state money is drying up but, hey, we got to fund a slick, salesman coach for a program that doesn't even graduate it's players in six years. Let's ignore the woman's tennis team that graduates everyone in 4yrs and wins the SEC.

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