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Good Question: Do College Coaches Have Too Much Power?

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — On most college campuses: who’s got more power? The president or the head football coach? At Penn State the answer is fairly clear: it was the head coach. So do college coaches have too much power?

“I think they have a lot of power,” said Michael Rand, college sports editor for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

“They are very visible, very well compensated and very powerful,” said Rand. “Too powerful? That’s up for debate.”

“They have that power they wield because the university knows they have the cash,” said WCCO sports anchor Mark Rosen, who noted the power is linked with winning.

“If Jerry Kill starts putting the Gophers in significant bowl games they’ll start putting statues of him around town next to Mary Tyler Moore and Sid Hartman,” he laughed.

According to a USA Today analysis of college football salaries in 2010, 60 college football coaches make more than a $1 million a year.

“These guys are making a ton of money. They are the front window to the university, the first point of contact with the school for many people,” said Rand.

Alabama pays Nick Saban $5.1 million. Kirk Ferentz gets nearly $3.8 million from Iowa. USA Today said the average pay for a major college football coach is $1.36 million.

“In Paterno’s case, Penn State’s football program generated $50 million profit. That’s where the power exists,” said Rosen. That $50 million profit was in one season, according to information Penn State provided to the U.S. Department of Education.

Last year, the football teams in the 6 major conferences made a combined profit of $1.1 billion.
That breaks down to a profit of at least $1 million per team, per game. It’s enough money to fund nearly all of the other sports those schools offer.

But that doesn’t mean the coaches don’t have to ultimately report to someone.

“They wanted to run Joe Paterno out of town 6 years ago. Why? He wasn’t winning,” said Rosen.

Ultimately, of course, Paterno did survive. He did overpower the University president. A problem when all of the power lies with one man.

“There was too much power, too much of an inner circle, and nobody stop things when they should have. People will see what happened now and say, ‘That can’t happen again,’” said Rand.

So what to do about the problem?

Andrew Zimbalist studies the business of sports as an economics professor at Smith College.

He proposed a salary cap for coaches in an article in the Harvard Business Review pointing out that some coaches are earning five to 10 times what is paid to their schools’ president.

“If the NCAA were to place, say, a $400,000 cap on coaches’ compensation packages — about five times an assistant professor’s pay, which would also put coaches’ pay in line with the average pay of college presidents — it would not materially affect the quality of coaching or the college programs’ ability to attract top talent,” Zimbalist wrote.

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