sports (2006-22)

Pat Summit is Overpaid

It’s women’s basketball, after all

Pat Summit is Overpaid

by Tony Basilio

I really like UT Women’s Athletics Director Joan Cronan. I think she’s a fine person, a great administrator, great in our community and mostly superb. She’s always been a straight-shooter, steadfast in her opinions and wholly informed. Against this backdrop, after several days of criticizing Pat Summitt’s recent controversial raise (she will make more money than Bruce Pearl next year, $1.25 million), I invited her on my radio show for a no-holds-barred look into the decision to give Pat Summitt a 30-percent raise after a season in which she failed to reach the Final Four.

Let’s put Summitt’s raise into perspective. Sylvia Hatchell, the wildly successful head coach at North Carolina, just received a raise at UNC that will boost her salary to around $400,000 per year. That’s a third less than Summitt’s! Cronan admitted Summitt’s raise is tied to national pop. “You can’t put a dollar sign on what Pat Summitt is worth to the university,” Cronan said. “I was watching something on American Idol , and they were talking about what people are paying for a 30-second spot on that show. Just think of how many 30-second spots Pat Summitt has had for the university over the last 32 years.”

Cronan was then quizzed by my partner in crime Beano (one half of “B&B in the Midday”) about whether the raise was more about matching the contract of Bruce Pearl than merit.

“I think it was a combination of all things,” she said. “We’ve been working on this contract since last August. I can admit that it wasn’t done in a vacuum from what Bruce Pearl was going to get and what he deserves. I’m a huge Bruce Pearl fan, and I think we’re very fortunate to have both Pat Summitt and Bruce Pearl coaching basketball at UT.”

When asked about Bruce Pearl’s pending raise back in January that was going to push his compensation substantially higher than hers, Summitt told a Scout.com reporter,  “I have feelings about that.” With this in mind, I asked Cronan what role Pat Summitt played in the new contract. 

“Obviously when you’re negotiating with the person who is receiving the raise, she had a big role,” she said. “But we all looked and had a role. Dr. Petersen (UT President John Petersen), Mike Hamilton, Joan Cronan, Pat Summitt all sat down and considered what was the right and fair thing to do for Pat Summitt. Pat Summitt’s never been about the money. If you look closely, you’ll see that she started coaching for $250 (a week) or something like that.”

UT released a financial report that showed that the Lady Vols netted just a $26,000 profit for women’s basketball for the ’04-05 season. It should be pointed out that UT’s men’s team recorded 46 times the profit of their female counterparts in ’04-’05. Cronan is singing a different, more nebulous tune: “That $26,000 figure is not accurate. That is strictly without a lot of the other things factored in…I think an accurate figure is close to a half a million dollars. That’s an average over the last three or four years and that’s net.”

Cronan calls Pat Summitt the “finest coach in basketball” even though she coaches women’s basketball. I called Joan on this with the observation that women’s basketball and its male counterpart aren’t comparable. Still, Cronan was unflappable.

“Well Tony,” she answered, “I listen to what you’re saying. I just received an invitation to go to a kind of summit of basketball coaches and they’re billing it as the John Wooden/Pat Summitt. She gets that kind of billing a lot of the time. Even though there is a difference in the depth of women’s basketball to men’s basketball and the number of quality teams, I don’t think that you can deny that Pat Summitt is a wonderful ambassador for the University and she is a great coach and she is considered by many to be one of the most well-known people in Tennessee.”

The notoriety is one thing, but the revenue simply isn’t there to justify this kind of contract for Summitt.

The TV contract is miniscule for women’s basketball with an 11-year, $200 million television deal that includes TV rights to 20 other collegiate sports. For perspective, the NCAA men’s basketball tourney (alone) brings in $6.2 billion during that same period. Still, Cronan is steadfast when quizzed on the disparity between the two sports. I called Summitt’s raise insane based on the financial realities. There is no way she should make Bruce Pearl money.

Cronan’s response: “Tony, I completely disagree with you on that… There are two facets of the contract that people are missing. One is the fact that it’s a six-year contract...that’s a tremendous commitment. And No. 2 is both Pat’s and Bruce’s contracts there are bonuses tied to academic performance within the university.”

Perhaps the catalyst of this hasty raise was not only to best Pearl but also to beat her bitter rival Geno Auriemma of the University of Connecticut to the millionaire club. He’s scheduled to enter that stratosphere in ’08.

Listen up! Tune in and talk sports with Tony Basilio weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ESPN Radio WVLZ 1180 AM. Visit www.tonybasilio.com for more information.