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Friday, April 08, 2011

The Princeton Head Coaching Job: Who's the Crazy One?

I'm talking institutions, not people. Some Princeton alums are lamenting that now-former head coach Sydney Johnson left for Fairfield because of bigger bucks and that the Tigers should pay their head coach more, especially when you can compare the relatively paltry size of the head coach's salary (in the mid-200's, from what some have said) to the size of the school's endowment (around $15 billion, I believe, but who's counting?). Perhaps Johnson doubled his salary, perhaps he wants a (slightly) bigger stage, perhaps Princeton's admissions office was telling him that there is no way on God's green earth (and God went to Princeton by the way, we think at the time James Madison did) that they'll admit some of the kids that Harvard has admitted, which means that it might get harder for the Tigers to compete (even if they always seem to find a way; if 40 is the new 30, then perhaps -- ouch -- Harvard is the new Penn). But let's suppose it was about the bucks, the coin of the realm, the fact that if you were to peruse the Blue Ribbon Guide closely you'll realize that there aren't many Division I coaches in their 50's, which means that you had better earn your money while you can because most guys don't last that long. If you are cashing in, then you'll double down if you can, which is what Johnson probably did. Accompanying this chatter was a report that John Thompson III makes $1.8 million a year at Georgetown, that Shaka Smart just signed a long-term deal at VCU for $1.2 million a year and that Butler couldn't come up with the coin so they gave Brad Stevens the Indianapolis Speedway (just kidding on the last one). And in this post -- by former Princeton player Matt Henshon, you realize that about half of the coaches in the NCAA tournament made over $1 million a year last season (ah, finally, a league where the coaches make more than the players). That's a lot of money, but does it mean that an Ivy League school, which fields more varsity teams than almost any other college in the country, and whose best hope in the post-season is to make it there and perhaps win one game (two games perhaps once every two generations), should pay the huge bucks for a basketball coach? After all, I don't really care who coaches the Ivy team, they aren't getting to the Final Four unless a MRSA outbreak paralyzes the college hoops world in a given season. So, if that's the case, why pay huge bucks for a coach? Just because "everyone else does it" doesn't make it right, and, typically, that type of herd mentality signifies that there is a point (or money) to be made by doing just the opposite. Pay reasonably, get a good coach, but remember that hoops really isn't a revenue sport for you the way it is for Kansas. And then, if you're a Princeton fan, you won't get so upset that the school wouldn't pony up to keep Sydney Johnson. Sure, they love him and he loved them, but if making top dollar is his motivator, he did the right thing by leaving. But I'm not so sure that Princeton is wrong in its approach, and I'm more certain that VCU is nuts for paying Shaka Smart $1.2 million a year for eight years. Yes, he seems to be a good coach and yes his team was good this year, but so what? Does VCU really need to pay a coach -- even one with a high ceiling -- such a king's ransom? No, it doesn't. And if that were to mean that Smart were to bolt for the ACC, so be it. And if that were to mean that Johnson were to bolt for, gulp, Fairfield, then that's his prerogative. But that doesn't mean that they schools they left should pony up the big bucks. Not in the least.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fairfield is paying Johnson $500K a year, plus has athletic scholarships. Considering they draw only about 2000 fans a game and don't seem to get a lot of TV revenue, Fairfield is probably operating their basketball program at a loss.

They must figure it's a promotional expense. The school isn't particularly well-known, and maybe they figure that this is the way to attract a better level of student (possible, perhaps, but I doubt if my son would get excited about going to Fairfield because they have the best basketball team in the MAAC) or more research grants.

The Ivy League took a different path long ago, deciding not to offer athletic scholarships and to try to keep a decent level of perspective on sports (my Ivy League roommate played in the NFL with a player who went to a major Midwestern university for four years, and who later became a media sensation when it was announced that he was illiterate - and he's not the only one at a big-time, scholarship program in that boat, unfortunately).

Ivy coaches have trouble attracting the athletes they want because they can't offer scholarships. And because of academic requirements. The coaches are paid a professor's salary, rather than more then the university president earns.

As much fun as it is to watch college sports, far too many schools have been taking it way too far for generations. The Ivy League has opted out of this foolishness, and our athletes are more likely to become Senators, Governors, Supreme Court Justices, business innovators and brain surgeons. Somehow that seems far better than producing illiterates, highly-paid thugs (Big Ben and Doggie Vick and a cast of hundreds), or, more commonly, the guy who winds up working at the car wash because he only earned 64 credit hours in four years of college.

9:02 PM  

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