If you believe the NCAA, college athletics are predicated on the ideal of amateurism, and introducing money into the system would render it untenable economically and unappealing to the masses of fans who watch events like the NCAA Tournament every year. Thankfully for the four men who coach the teams that made the Final Four, those rules don’t apply to them. There may not be enough to pay the players, but there’s plenty to hand to coaches.
The four head coaches who will take their teams to Arlington, Texas for the Final Four next week will collect a total of $358,333 in bonuses for getting there, as the New York Daily News noted Monday. But there’s more: counting other bonuses the coaches have already received, the tally rises to more than $500,000. And adding in the bonuses for assistants and athletic directors, the total could stretch past $1 million by the end of the tournament (and that doesn’t count the bonuses coaches from other schools collected for making the tournament and advancing).
Kentucky leads the way. John Calipari, whose annual base salary is roughly $5.4 million, will pocket $175,000 for taking the Wildcats to their third Final Four in four years, a a nice addition to the $200,000 in bonuses he’s already made this postseason. As Deadspin’s Tom Ley found, Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison’s game-winning shot over Michigan on Sunday night netted Calipari, Kentucky’s assistant coaches, and athletic director Mitch Barnhart a total of $330,000 in bonuses.
But he’s not alone. Florida’s Billy Donovan has already earned $187,500 in bonuses this postseason, including the $37,500 bonus he made for taking the Gators to the NCAA Tournament. That bonus increased to $75,000 when Florida made the Sweet 16 and $100,000 when the beat Dayton to reach the Final Four. If Donovan and Florida win the title, it’ll rise to $150,000. That’s on top of a $3.5 million base salary.
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan earned $50,000 for making the Final Four; according to USA Today’s Steve Berkowitz, he had already collected $50,000 for making the tournament and $50,000 more for making the Sweet 16. Connecticut’s Kevin Ollie earned $33,333 for making the Final Four in just his second year at the helm. He’s now made $100,000 in bonuses this postseason.
Calipari, though, could be the biggest winner. If Kentucky wins its ninth title on Monday night, the fifth-year coach will earn an additional $375,000 bonus.
The levels of hypocrisy here are astounding. Not only does the NCAA argue that it doesn’t have enough money to pay players while handing coaches millions of dollars, it also continues to preach about the fact that it puts education first. Those are the primary reasons NCAA president Mark Emmert says college athletes shouldn’t be designated as employees who have the right to unionize, as a group of Northwestern University athletes are trying to do. And yet, many of the coaches who pull in hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses for tournament performances, bowl games, and other athletic accomplishments receive far less in incentives — if any at all — when their teams or players meet academic goals. So not only is the NCAA distorting facts when it says there’s no money to compensate athletes, it’s ignoring the fact that the financial incentives are totally skewed toward athletics.
And that’s how it wants it (and, judging by the amount of money at stake, how fans want it too). The NCAA is in the middle of a 14-year television rights contract that will pay it $10.6 billion. The money is in athletics. The academics are, in many ways, a ruse to sell a product and protect the ideals of “amateurism.” And that means that even if it’s players like Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison who make game-winning shots, it’s coaches like Calipari, Donovan, Ollie, and Ryan who make the money.