Perhaps the clearest anecdotal evidence of the impact escalating coaching salaries is having on higher education at large comes to us from the University of Tennessee, which announced Tuesday that its athletic department will not subsidize academic initiatives on the Knoxville campus for at least the next three years. The reason? The athletic department needs to stabilize its own budget in the midst of a football coaching change.
UT Athletics had contributed nearly $6 million annually to academic scholarships, fellowships and programs - making it a leader in such giving among Division I athletic departments. In a written statement, UT chancellor Jimmy Cheek said that money "was committed under different circumstances."
The UT athletic department finished the fiscal year in June $4 million in the red. On Sunday, head football coach Derek Dooley was fired after posting a 15-21 overall record in three seasons with the Volunteers. UT will pay Dooley $5 million for the remainder of his contract, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. It will pay a new coach plenty, as well. According to a USA Today report this week, as many college football coaches- 42, in fact - make $2 million today as made $1 million six years ago.
"Different circumstances" also includes a change in athletic directors - from Mike Hamilton, who resigned in June of 2011 as a lightning rod for criticism over NCAA sanctions, to Dave Hart, who took over that fall. But even Hamilton cautioned three years ago that the academic support provided by UT athletics wasn't without limits. "We can't give to the extent that we're affecting our ability to be successful," he told AB in the spring of 2009, "but as long as we have the resources to be able to do things for the institution, we should try to find a way to do them."
For now, anyway, UT Athletics appears to be circling its resources wagons.