“A majority of the FBS conferences (on average) actually spend less state funds or student fees on coaches’ salaries than their academic counterparts do on faculty salaries.”
Recently, a number of media outlets and academic researchers have examined the connection between increases in faculty compensation and athletic coaches’ salary. Systematically, these reports have claimed that coaches’ salaries are increasing at a rate substantially higher than their faculty counterparts. 1
When controlling for four traditional shortcomings in such research, however, this paper finds that a majority of the FBS conferences actually spend (on average) less state funds or student fees on coaches’ salaries than their academic counterparts do on faculty salaries.
While comparing changes in compensation for both athletics and academics is important for understanding the landscape of higher education, thus far no studies have been able to create an appropriate comparison. A common mistake in analyzing athletic finances is the examination of the athletic expenditures without looking at athletic revenue.
Postsecondary institutions, particularly public four-year institutions, traditionally operate under the financial mentality that institutions must spend a large percent of yearly revenue. In fact, the Delta Costs Project asserts, “[r]evenues dictate functionality in higher education. Therefore, to understand spending fully, it is first necessary to know where the money is coming from. Higher education operates under what economists often call the ‘revenue theory of costs,’ which means that spending—both overall levels and what the money gets spent on—is dictated by revenues.”
In many cases increases in athletic expenditure may then be a product of the need to spend annual revenues, rather than “out-of-control” spending—how athletics are often regarded within academia.
In reviewing the current work on comparing compensations between athletic and academic personnel, numerous challenges emerge, four of which can be addressed through adjusting the data to ensure appropriate comparison.
Structural challenges remain, however, in regard to accessing this compensation data. Currently the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) represents the primary source for faculty salary information. This data is presented in the school aggregate level, whereas athletic coaches’ compensation are accessible at the individual level. This lack of specificity within the IPEDS systems makes it difficult to robustly connect faculty and athletic-based salaries.
Given the structural barriers, this article attempts to overcome the following shortcomings traditionally present when comparing athletic and academic salaries:
- Different time periods: Faculty salaries are traditionally reported on a 9-month equated contract, while athletic coaches and other personnel operate on 12-month employment cycles.
- Different ranks: The comparison of salaries paid to head athletic coaches versus all faculty ranks and type is not easily comparable; a better comparison is faculty with the rank of “professor,” as it represents the highest level / title within the profession, similar to that of an athletic head coach.
- Different compensation amounts: Publically reported figures on faculty salaries do not include outside compensation (i.e. consulting, grant bonuses, etc), while athletic coaches’ compensation does include media appearances and apparel bonuses as part of the total compensation.
- Different revenue definitions: Both academic and athletic enterprises “generate revenue” through grants, contract, sponsorships sales, and other revenue streams at different rates. Adjusting sales to reflect the public investment in both faculty and coaches is thus difficult.
The four challenges outlined above represent the primary deficiency within the conversation on faculty-to-coaches compensation comparison. To date, no comparative studies on athletic-to-academic salary have taking into consideration the basic tenets of the contract length, or the complexity of subsidized versus unsubsidized revenue. We hope that the two analyses below will foster a more meaningful comparison of faculty to coaches’ compensation, taking into consideration the above challenges.
Analysis 1: Adjusting for Contract Length Differences
For the purpose of more appropriate comparisons, the following data will be limited to public four-year colleges and universities who sponsor an athletic program. Table 1 provides the average salaries 2 for both coaches and all faculty members at public four-year colleges, and universities who sponsor an athletic program. Salaries reported within the “actual” column represent the 9-month equated contracts that are traditionally reported within IPEDS or other faculty salary databases.
The “12 Month” column represents the adjusted average compensation based on if those faculty members had employment of 12 months, similar to athletic coaches. As evident below, ensuring both compensation models plays a key role in interpretation. Prior to adjusting faculty salaries to a 12-month contract, it appears that faculty members are paid less than either head or assistant coaches overall. However, after adjusting faculty members’ compensation, 12-month faculty compensation is greater than assistant coaches—$108,840 to $93,811. In many cases the 12-month adjusted faculty compensation is greater than assistant athletic coaches within FBS conferences; only in the Big 12 and the SEC are assistant coaches compensated more than 12-month equated faculty contract.
Table 1: Comparing Average Salaries of Coaches and Faculty – 2011
|FBS Conference||Avg. Head Coaches’ Salary||Avg. Assistant Coaches’ Salary||Avg. All Faculty Salary (Actual)||Avg. All Faculty Salary (12 Month)|
|Atlantic Coast Conference||$324,256.33||$112,262.40||$94,233.25||$125,644.33|
|Big 12 Conference||$467,959.09||$137,678.57||$81,901.09||$109,201.45|
|Big East Conference||$350,502.70||$92,183.13||$87,199.33||$116,265.78|
|Big Ten Conference||$324,351.12||$101,640.66||$93,629.56||$124,839.41|
|Mountain West Conference||$214,076.23||$83,895.56||$83,034.83||$110,713.11|
|Sun Belt Conference||$94,555.40||$47,674.41||$67,245.38||$89,660.50|
|Western Athletic Conference||$134,819.54||$61,748.14||$73,583.43||$98,111.24|
Analysis 2: Compensation through State Funds Only
The second factor in comparing faculty and athletic compensation is taking into consideration the streams of revenue and support. Attempting to create a foundation of comparability, Table 2 creates a compensation adjustment that is based on “appropriations-based revenue streams.” Faculty compensation is adjusted to reflect the institutional percentage of revenue from:
- student tuition and fees (minus fees distributed to athletics);
- state appropriations;
- federal appropriations; and
- local appropriations.
Similarly, athletic coaches’ compensation is adjusted based on the percent of athletic revenue from:
- student fee;
- direct institutional support;
- direct state or other governmental support; and
- indirect facilities and administrative support.
Using the adjustment described above, Table 3 provide a new look at faculty and coaches’ compensation covered by institutional / state funds. Only three conferences—Conference USA, Mid-American Conference, and the Mountain West—expend more state funds or student fees on head coaches than their average 12-month faculty member. In fact, on average public institutions within the Big Ten Conference use 6.5 times less state funds, institutional support, and/or student fees to pay their athletic head coaches, than their average 12-month faculty member.
Table 2: Salaries – Adjusted to Only Include Appropriations, Tuition Revenue and Student Fees – 2011
|FBS Conference||Adjusted Average Head Coaches’ Salary||Adjusted Average Assistant Coaches’ Salary||Adjusted Average Faculty Salary (12 Month)|
|Atlantic Coast Conference||$41,504.89||$13,623.76||$80,991.77|
|Big 12 Conference||$21,349.05||$7,299.30||$71,944.77|
|Big East Conference||$84,730.02||$24,434.21||$85,712.04|
|Big Ten Conference||$10,735.76||$3,307.22||$65,469.92|
|Mountain West Conference||$90,074.64||$34,902.32||$71,587.64|
|Sun Belt Conference||$54,847.95||$27,378.96||$89,319.08|
|Western Athletic Conference||$63,160.30||$28,906.07||$87,886.14|
Comparing faculty and athletic compensation continues to be a challenge for both scholars and practitioners. Because athletics partly operates with a business mentality inside the academic core, navigating various streams of revenue and market segments that influence salary increases makes “apples-to-apples” comparisons difficult.
Our research shows, however, that despite increases in athletic coaches’ salaries, athletic departments are still not using state direct funds or student fees to pay the lion’s share of the coaches’ salary. In fact, a majority of the FBS conferences (on average) actually spend less state funds or student fees on coaches’ salaries than their academic counterparts do on faculty salaries.
Salary escalation is an important item to monitor as athletic programs continue to invest in athletic performance. It must be noted, however, that directly comparing coaches’ salary to faculty salaries leads to problematic interpretations that leave neither a favorable nor fair impression of the reality of compensation in college athletics.
“Comparing coaches’ salaries to faculty salaries leads to problematic interpretations that leave neither a favorable nor fair impression of the reality of compensation in college athletics.”
- Hirko and colleagues found this increase was almost 3x higher for athletic coaches and greater than 4x when comparing faculty salaries to football coaches. ↩
- Athletic salary data derived from the Win AD coaches database for the period 2009 to 2011. Faculty salary data sourced from IPEDS database for the period 2009 to 2011. ↩