sports (2006-47)

Institutions for higher learning will just spend it on athletics

Don’t Waste Your Money

by Tony Basilio

What you have to appreciate about the NCAA is how they have it both ways. They are either in business or are a collection of helpless academic institutions whose goal it is to educate our youth and better our community. The former description is apt when it’s time to beg for money, the latter when it’s time to protect their interests. 

Tennessee has an athletic budget of over $75 million per year. They have three coaches on campus who are making over $1.2 million per year. Combining football with men’s and women’s basketball, the number of assistants drawing a six figure-plus paycheck is in the double-digits. There are new facilities galore. They’re even building a multi-million dollar basketball practice facility. All of which comes off the back of the common fans who see the price of their tickets continue to skyrocket.

It’s called big business. Until it’s time to pay taxes. It’s at this point that UT is in education, thus hiding behind their 501(c)(3) status. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. In this ruse, UT is not alone. They are a small spoke in a major wheel that is rolling down a hill of financial ruin. No one seems to know how to stop or even slow it. 

Those on the sports side may not readily admit as much. As my friend Bill Curry (former football head coach at Georgia Tech, Alabama and Kentucky) said, the “arms race” in major college sports is at a “critical stage.” Findings released by USA Today recently reveal that between 80 percent and 95 percent of Division I-A athletic departments still rely on either the university’s general fund or student fees to balance the budget, according to NCAA financial reports.

At the same time, one-third of the NCAA Division 1-A football programs pay coaches at least $1,000,000 per year. Where is that money coming from? How ’bout you and me? We’re making average people millionaires—people who were happy making a good living just 15 to 20 years ago doing something they loved doing. Now the arms race is on and college sports will be driven to the brink.

“Where does it end? That’s what I think about when I walk into a weight room down at a university in Texas and see their weight room is twice as large as it needs to be. The only reason they build is they say: ‘Hey, we’ve got to keep up with the Joneses in our conference.’ I don’t know what the answer is, but somebody better understand that college sports as we know them are in danger of destroying themselves,” Curry said.

The arms race Curry speaks of is illustrated locally where Tennessee erects a basketball practice facility while modifying Neyland Stadium along with building a palatial soccer stadium. Hundreds of millions of dollars are needed and culled from the fan base for these projects. Sure they will tell you that large ticket donors are mainstays in these endeavors, but don’t fool yourself.

Here’s perspective: In ’99 when Phillip Fulmer joined the million-dollar coaches club, he was one of only five guys earning seven figures. Today, Fulmer is one of nine coaches who pocket $2,000,000 plus per season. That’s out of control. The spigot isn’t slowing anytime soon. Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops is a member of the $3,000,000 per year club. Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, who will pocket over $4,500,000 over the next calendar year after renegotiating his contract over the summer, joins Stoops.

It’s tough to sell the “woe is me” argument while throwing around this kind of money to a bunch of undeserving instant millionaires. Where else are these guys going to make this kind of money? Are all going to the NFL? Only 32 teams there. Where are they going? How do college sports continue to maintain non-profit status while making everybody involved rich at our expense? And all the while paying zero taxes: Who wouldn’t want to be in that business? Or is it education that they’re in?

That’s where it gets interesting. Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Cal.), outgoing chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, recently sent NCAA Chairman Myles Brand a letter asking him to justify the NCAA’s tax-exempt status. The answers are due by the end of the month. This should get sticky as Thomas raises some great points: “Why are athletic department budgets increasing faster than university budgets? In 2000, the NCAA repealed a rule requiring all athletics-related coaches’ income to be reviewed and approved by the university. Why did the NCAA repeal this rule? From the standpoint of a federal taxpayer, what benefits does the NCAA provide taxpayers in exchange for its tax exemption?”

Against my typical apolitical nature, I’m calling for our government to get involved and help us take back our sacred trust of major college sports from a system inhabited by people that obviously can’t be trusted to oversee it. Failure to do so may spell doom. Either for your pocketbook or college sports as we know them.

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