March Madness is underway, but the 2011 champion, the University of Connecticut, is conspicuously absent. The Huskies men's team isn't competing this year because it failed to meet the minimal academic requirements set by the NCAA for postseason play.
The fate of UConn's team sent shock waves through locker rooms, coaches offices and the suites of athletics directors and university presidents. For the first time, a powerhouse program lost its opportunity for postseason glory because of years of poor performance in the classroom. We think this is a good start toward restoring a healthier balance between academics and athletics in Division I college sports — and toward reaffirming that the mission of a university is to educate all of its students. But it is just a start.
The NCAA should be commended for raising the academic benchmarks that teams must meet for postseason play. New NCAA regulations essentially require teams to be on track to graduate half of their players to be eligible for postseason play, and graduation and academic progress rates are up significantly for tournament teams this year. Yet governing boards of universities and college presidents also need to do more to reinforce the educational mission of their institutions. Too often, presidents and trustees undermine that mission by providing lucrative incentives to coaches that downplay the importance of athletes getting a college education.
Tom (McMillen) recently examined around 50 contracts for head coaches of college football and basketball, many of them culled from the USA TODAY Sports coaches' salary database. Most of what he found will surprise no one: Salaries and rewards for big-time college coaches are astronomically high. In 2011, 32 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision coaches and 11 NCAA Division I men's basketball coaches earned more than $2 million annually. The highest paid basketball coach that year, Rick Pitino, was paid $7.5 million by the University of Louisville — a little more than $20,500 a day.
Coaches today earn whatever the market pays. But many coaches work at public universities, funded with taxpayer dollars. In 2011, in Oklahoma, Connecticut and Maryland, a head football or basketball coach was not only the highest-paid employee at the university but the highest-paid state employee.