Kentucky is the Bluegrass State, where the cash is always greener.
Just ask the University of Louisville’s Rick Pitino, the highest-paid coach at a public school in this season’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament, or the University of Kentucky’s John Calipari, the highest-paid coach not in it.
Pitino’s Cardinals will play in Saturday’s Final Four and are favorites to win the national championship. Pitino makes just shy of $5 million, which would likely make him his state’s highest-paid public employee, if not for Calipari, who makes $5.6 million—and whose Wildcats won last season’s national championship.
Pitino’s contract runs to 2022 and will pay him roughly $42 million if he completes it, plus potential bonuses worth millions. And his boss thinks he’s a bargain.
“In a lot of ways,” Louisville athletics director Tom Jurich says, “I would look at him and say he is underpaid.”
That’s not how many observers would think of what college basketball coaches are paid these days. The average pay for coaches in this year’s NCAA tournament field is $1.47 million, up slightly from $1.4 million last season. That’s based on 62 of 68 schools in the field for which USA TODAY Sports was able to obtain compensation figures.
All of this comes at a time when academic spending at many schools is declining or not increasing at the same pace as athletics spending, according to a recent report by the Delta Cost Project at the non-profit American Institutes for Research that was based on data from the U.S. Department of Education and data collected by USA TODAY Sports.
Pitino and Calipari declined to comment for this story through spokespersons, as did key decision-makers at their schools, outside of Jurich.
There were 42 schools in the tournament field both this season and last. USA TODAY Sports obtained compensation packages for 37 of them in each year and found average pay for coaches at those schools was $1.57 million in 2012 and is $1.75 million in 2013, an increase of 11.4%. The median increase is 8.2%, which might be a more relevant number given the small sample size and wide range in dollars and percentages.
“These salaries just look out of sync when it comes to the educational mission of our colleges and universities,” says Anne D. Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. “Trustees and presidents have to ask themselves what justifies these obscenely rising salaries in a time of limited resources.”
Among public school repeaters, the largest dollar increases went to Kansas’ Bill Self ($1,327,106), North Carolina State’s Mark Gottfried ($750,000) and Indiana’s Tom Crean ($646,250). The largest percentage increases went to UNLV’s Dave Rice (70.2%), Gottfried (62.5%) and Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg (41.1%).
The most highly paid coach in this season’s tournament is Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, who made $7.2 million in the 2010 calendar year, including more than $3.7 million in bonus pay. (Comparisons between private and public schools are difficult. Private schools are not required to disclose employment contracts, so USA TODAY Sports obtains their data primarily from federal tax returns. The returns provide pay information for past years and include all forms of compensation. Figures for public schools are taken primarily from contracts; they mainly reflect current-year pay before bonuses.)
Louisville, which reports basketball revenue that is the nation’s highest, signed Pitino to a 10-year deal last summer, essentially a five-year extension of his previous contract.
“We just wanted to lock him up,” Jurich says. “It’s very important to me that we have stability and consistency and continuity in this program. … It seems to us that it’s just a wonderful investment that we get a mega-return on.”
Kentucky officials might feel similarly about Calipari, though athletics director Mitch Barnhart, President Eli Capilouto and board of trustees chairman E. Britt Brockman declined to comment. Lee T. Todd Jr., UK’s president when Calipari signed originally, also declined to comment.
Their collective reticence “certainly suggests that they realize that (Calipari’s salary) doesn’t send a very good signal,” Neal says.
John Thelin, professor of educational policy studies at Kentucky, says by e-mail that he sees “little indication of complaint” among his peers on campus. “UK faculty tend, I think, to understand the priorities of the university and are silent and perhaps accepting of the practices.”
Louisville President James R. Ramsey also declined to comment, saying through a spokesman that Jurich speaks for him.
Pitino will turn 61 this summer and would be close to 70 if he completes his contract.
“Yeah, but he’s such a young guy right now: What is he, 61 or so going on 31?” Jurich says. “He’s very young at heart and spirit, tons of energy, extremely hard worker. I would hate for the day this would have to come to an end.”
And when it does? “I’d like to sign him again,” says Jurich, who is himself the highest-paid athletics director at a public school, at more than $1.4 million annually. He works on agreements that run until 2023—one year longer than Pitino’s deal.
Louisville basketball produces big revenue
It’s unusual for Cabinet-level officials to weigh in on coaches’ contracts, but U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who played basketball at Harvard, chastises colleges for paying coaches high-dollar bonuses for their teams’ athletic achievements and low-dollar bonuses for their players’ academic achievements.
Duncan accused such schools of “warped priorities” in an op-ed column for USA TODAY Sports at the outset of the tournament, co-authored with Tom McMillen, former NBA player and former congressman. McMillen pulled 50 contracts for football and men’s basketball coaches, drawn from the USA TODAY Sports coaches’ salary database and other sources, and found “academic incentives averaged $52,000 per coach, while athletic incentives averaged $600,000 per coach—a lopsided ratio of 11-to-1.”
Calipari’s contract specifies that he can earn up to $800,000 in bonuses for his team’s athletics achievements—and $50,000 if his players achieve an Academic Progress Rate of 950, which the NCAA reports as the national average for men’s basketball.
Pitino’s contract allows a maximum bonus of $725,000, of which as much as $200,000 can come from the academic performance of his players. His maximum bonus will rise to $775,000 next season, with as much as $250,000 for his players’ academic performance.
Thelin, author of The Rising Costs of Higher Education: A Reference Handbook, out this week, e-mails: “With all due respect to Arne Duncan (and his Harvard basketball lineage), do you find it ironic that professors who teach, advise, help and grade student-athletes get no bonus for their good academic record yet a coach who has no academic standing and who has not taught in a college classroom” does?
Louisville’s athletics department attributed more than $42 million in operating revenue and a $27 million surplus to men’s basketball in 2011-12, according to the financial report it filed with the NCAA in January. These figures, which take into account donations made to obtain preferential seating at games, mean that the basketball program generated close to twice as much money as Louisville football—and operated at more than five times the surplus.
Daniel Fulks, accounting program director at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky., who also serves as an NCAA consultant on schools’ financial reporting, says it is “upside-down” for a basketball program to produce so much more revenue than football.
In 2010-11, the most recent year for which NCAA aggregate figures are available, Louisville led the nation in men’s basketball revenue and surplus.
Spending at the top appears to spur schools with lesser resources to spend more, too. NCAA tournament-caliber schools outside the elite conferences are increasing their men’s basketball head coaches’ pay and potential bonuses at a greater rate than those in elite conferences, according to an article published last month in the online Journal of Issues in Intercollegiate Athletics. The authors used documents obtained from USA TODAY Sports and found average total pay for coaches in the tournament from the six power conferences was up 20% from 2009-10 to 2011-12—and up nearly 44% for schools from other conferences.
Hoops coaches revered in Bluegrass State
Kentucky loves its basketball as much as its Thoroughbreds. Coach Adolph Rupp won four national championships in the 1940s and 1950s, establishing UK as a blueblood in the bluegrass. Kentucky has since won four more under four different coaches, including Pitino in 1996 and Calipari a year ago.
Louisville’s lesser pedigree includes national championships under Denny Crum in 1980 and 1986, but the Cardinals are favorites to add another in coming days by virtue of their No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.
Coaches who win it all can seem a fiscal necessity in a state largely divided by loyalties to one program or the other.
“It’s important to keep in mind that the UK basketball coach really is a statewide presence and public figure—including diplomat,” Thelin says. “And by that litmus the UK head basketball coach does a lot and probably fulfills the letter and spirit of that role—public service announcements, charities, talking to the legislature, et al.”
Calipari won last season’s national championship with starters made up largely of freshmen who stayed one year and moved on to the NBA. This season, another Kentucky team made up largely of freshmen faltered, failing to make the NCAA tournament field and losing to Robert Morris in the opening round of the NIT.
The Wildcats played that game on the road because Rupp Arena was occupied for the NCAA tournament. To the mortification of Kentucky fans, and the delight of Louisville’s, that’s where the Cardinals won games in the rounds of 64 and 32.
Pitino’s contract says he gets a university-paid term life insurance policy with a face value of $24.6 million for which Pitino names the beneficiaries. The contract also says that Louisville purchased a long-term disability policy from Lloyd’s of London that protects the school if Pitino is unable to coach for medical reasons.
Louisville athletics department spokesman Kenny Klein said the department paid nearly $180,000 in 2012 for the term life policy, an amount included in USA TODAY Sports’ pay figure for Pitino, and nearly $170,000 for the disability policy, an amount not included.
The largest of Pitino’s endorsements cataloged in his self-reported athletically related outside income report is $602,500 from Adidas. Jurich says Louisville “didn’t really have any apparel contract” until Pitino arrived, “and he was able to secure us a much bigger deal with Adidas simply because of who he was. … I felt the only fair thing to do was to give him his own opportunity to deal with the apparel company.”
Pitino is racking up bonuses all through this postseason. He got $50,000 for winning the Big East tournament, $50,000 for advancing to the NCAA Sweet 16, $50,000 for advancing to the Elite Eight and $75,000 for advancing to the Final Four.
He gets $150,000 more if his Cardinals win the national championship.
“It seems to be working here, doesn’t it?” Jurich says. “We don’t have any complaints.”