King of the heap is Nick Saban, head football coach for the University of Alabama, who makes more than $7 million a year, exponentially more than the UA president makes or Alabama's governor. In fact, several of Saban's assistant coaches make more than the governor of Alabama, including Lane Kiffin, Saban's offensive coordinator, who makes $1.4 million.
What does this mean? At least three things:
College athletics is entertainment and has nothing to do with higher education. First, college sports has nothing to do with higher education anymore. It is entertainment, and highly paid coaches, assistant coaches, and athletic directors are in the entertainment industry. Football coaches don't make as much money as George Clooney or Madonna--at least not yet. But they live in a completely different world than the professors and instructors who toil away on university campuses for crap wages.
College football players don't get paid, it is true; but essentially they are interns grooming for careers in the NFL. A typical football player has only the flimsiest allegiance to the university he attends. Believe me, the 280 pound hunks that entertain us on Saturdays are not thinking about the Homecoming Prom. And at LSU, at least, the football players have a depressing tendency to get arrested on various misdemeanor charges.
More and more cash flows into college athletics while academic programs are starved for money. According to the 24/7 Wall St. story, college coaches' salaries have gone up an average of 90 percent in just 10 years. Meanwhile, state contributions to public university budgets are shrinking.
I'm not saying that coaches' salaries are the whole explanation for rising tuition prices. A few college football programs earn enough money to be self sufficient. And many coaches receive the bulk of their compensation from private foundations, not public funds.
But surely there is something wrong when LSU pays Coach Les Miles around $4.5 million a year while LSU tuition skyrockets upward. LSU would argue that its football program is completely self sustaining, which is true. But the fat cats who donate tax-deductible money to LSU's athletic foundation to pay Miles' salary are basically ripping of the public. They should be paying higher taxes instead of getting tax write-offs to support their hobby.
Sports are the 21st century equivalent of the Roman Empire's bread and circuses. Finally, America's sports craze at every level is a distraction to keep people from thinking about the fact that our middle-class way of life is evaporating before our eyes. Wages have been stagnant for years; the typical working male actually makes less today in real dollars than he did 20 years ago. Both spouses now have to work just to pay the mortgage; and young people are going into debt to get a college education with no assurance they will find a job that pays well enough to service their monthly student-loan payments.
But let's not think about that. Will Alabama win the national title this year? Which team will win the Sweet 16? Will the Saints ever climb out of the toilet?
Meanwhile, the wealthy sit in their air-conditioned executive sky boxes at our unversities' enormous stadiums, drinking premium whiskey while the rubes sit sweating in the bleachers munching on popcorn at seven bucks a box.
Evan Comen, Thomas C. Frolich, and Michael B. Sauter. The Highest Paid Public Employees in Every State. 24/7 Wall St., September 20, 2016. Accessible at http://247wallst.com/special-report/2016/09/20/the-highest-paid-public-employee-in-every-state/
In the Mix: Ten Candidates Who Could Replace Les Miles (in alphabetical order). The Advocate (Baton Rouge), September 26, 2016, p. 2C.