The sports pages lately are full of stories of football coaches jumping ship from already outrageously compensated positions to new jobs at other schools willing to shell out even more lucre for their supposedly indispensable services. Lincoln Riley, the Oklahoma coach for the last six years, went from earning $7.672 million per year at OU to the University of Southern California where he will haul in an estimated $9 million per year. Of course, the cost of living in Los Angeles is considerably more than in Norman. USC is also buying his two homes in Norman, and is footing the bill for Riley’s $4.5 million buyout for bailing on his OU contract. The private institution is also on the hook for $10 million that it still owes its recently fired coach. Oh, and USC is also buying Riley a $6 million house and giving him and his family a private jet. Nice work if you can get it.
Riley may have had a good reason for escaping Oklahoma over and above leaving Tornado Alley for Malibu. Oklahoma is about to abandon the Big 12 and join the Southeastern Conference, perhaps a wise move financially for the Sooners, but not so smart competitively for the coach. The anxiety level of playing Kansas and Texas Tech is orders of magnitude less than what Riley would have faced playing and likely getting trounced by perennial juggernauts Alabama and Georgia.
And then there is Brian Kelly, who in his 12 years at Notre Dame professed to bleeding green. In the blink of an eye, he abruptly abandoned the Irish for Louisiana State University, where he will be paid a king’s ransom, up considerably from the mere princely amount (believed to be $5 million/year) Notre Dame paid him. In a manifestation of shamelessness reminiscent of Donald Trump, this improper Bostonian even affected a Southern accent at LSU’s press conference introducing him.
Since LSU is a public university, we know exactly what he will be paid for deserting freezing South Bend for hot and humid Baton Rouge. Kelly will earn at least $9.5 million/year for ten years, plus an array of perks that translate into millions more. LSU additionally owes its just-terminated coach a cool $17 million. LSU’s total payroll for thousands of professors and administrative staff was $104 million in 2020. Kelly will earn around 100 times the average LSU teaching salary. This is downright obscene.
I don’t fault Riley and Kelly for exploiting the market and securing Midas-like contracts. However, no one should buy into the hogwash that these mercenaries have any loyalty to the schools for which they work or the athletes they recruit and whom they over-promise. The fault lies with purported institutions of higher learning who value football and basketball and the revenue they bring in much more than they value good teaching or turning out students prepared to compete successfully in the real world.
Lest you think Oklahoma, Notre Dame, USC and LSU are the only schools that play this game, think again. Hundreds of schools behave just as brazenly and hypocritically, all the while professing that their true purpose is education. You only have to watch their puff pieces that consume a few minutes of each football and basketball halftime show where they proclaim their commitment to academics. Warning: make sure you watch these propaganda productions on an empty stomach.
December 16, 2021