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Go, Gophers! Football team (alas!) finished No. 1 in at least one postseason poll

We're Number One! We're Number One!

Sort of.

USA Today, which used to be criticized for its short stories, delivered its second annual survey of college football coaches' salaries Wednesday, and it's a marvelously disturbing piece of important sports journalism.

Especially in its comprehensive Web-based presentation of college coaches' pay, a reader/user can peruse rankings by conference, by salary, by just about everything, including ... and here's where we're Numero Uno — cost per victory.

Gophers Nation garnered one victory this past season. New coach Tim Brewster pocketed $1 million: $400,000 in base pay, $400,000 for media and public relations work, and $200,000 for his pension.

That one victory — over mid-major Miami of Ohio — means that Minnesota's lone "W'' was the most expensive victory in college football. It cost a cool mil to pocket one win.

Worse yet, Miami's coach, Shane Montgomery, made "only" $144,225, 85 percent less than Brewster, and the lowest reported salary in Division I football.

I'll let you explore the USA Today project on your own. Click and weep.

The market and those women
I'll also let you ponder why big-time college football coaches are paid more than college presidents and physics professors and, surely, arts profs, and know that the answer is: "That's what the market will bear." True, of course, but clearly a reflection of a twisted value in capitalism. Fact is, a very small group of college football programs actually "turn a profit," after paying out scholarships, paying debt service on facilities and sharing their TV money with their conference partners.

I'll let you kick around, too, all the misdirected anger from anti-Title IX vigilantes who blast women for getting a boathouse for their rowing team or a right-sized ice rink for their hockey team and, then, go on to blame women's sports costs for the demise of men's gymnastics or wrestling or golf or track and field on many campuses.

Hey, guys, it's not the women who are taking from you. It's the bloated football budgets, driven by a facilities arms race and absurd salaries and huge staffs. The Gophers football program has a dozen assistant coaches and administrators pulling down between $85,000 and $330,000 a year, at an average of $163,000 per staffer — or more than, say, the director of university's journalism school or the chairperson of its history department.

But here's where I'll direct you the most. And that's to a recent story in The Chronicle of Higher Education (reg. req). It cites a study in the Journal of Sport Management. That study's findings run counter to the conventional wisdom that sports fundraising lifts academic fundraising.

Let me say that I agree that, on many campuses, football is a great community builder. Go to a game in Madison on a sunny autumn Saturday and there's nothing more fun, nothing more communal, nothing more — dare I say — intoxicating than watching the Badgers and the band and the student section and the color and the alums. Other sports can bring a campus together, too — Gopher women's basketball a few years back at the 'U,' for instance — but the outdoor, mega-atmosphere of a tradition-steeped college football game is, I admit, special.

Sports takes from academics
But, this Journal of Sports Management study suggests the community building is not the fundraising bonanza that cash-squeezed athletic directors and pompom-waving presidents claim King Football to be.

Brad Wolverton, the Chronicle's athletics expert, writing of that journal study, reports: "... Sports fund-raising success has come at a cost: While donations to the country's 119 largest athletics departments have risen significantly in recent years, overall giving to those colleges has stayed relatively flat ... Among the surveyed institutions, athletics departments brought in an increasing share of the colleges' overall donations. In 1998 athletics gifts accounted for 14.7 percent of all contributions. By 2003 sports donations had reached 26 percent."

Wolverton continues: "The shift has frayed relations among fundraisers soliciting the same donors and has led to broader concerns about the growing importance of sports as overall funding for colleges has stagnated."

He quotes Dennis Howard, the University of Oregon business professor who co-wrote the Journal of Sport Management study: "There's a fear among faculty members that there is a discrete amount of money that alums and non-alums are willing to commit. The more the athletic program gets, the less there is to support the academic programs."

Hmmm.

There has long been tension between academia and athletics on campuses. Minnesota is no different. The construction of a new $288.5 million on-campus football stadium, the hiring of a new football coach at $1 million per year — and the $3.6 million buyout of fired Glen Mason's contract — the hiring of a new men's basketball coach, Tubby Smith, at nearly $2 million per season — and the $1.3 million buyout of Dan Monson's contract — raise the stakes.

Oh, did we mention that Smith wants a new practice facility for his team?

Sports hoopla creates emotion. But it's costly. It hands disproportionate power to coaches. And, over time, it just might be luring donors away from the core mission of universities.

Think about that next time you stand up and cheer for Gopher Nation.

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Comments (1)

Jay... Eugene McCarthy once said... "Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think it's important."

He was right and so are you.