Federal Legislation Would Limit College Coach Salaries | Athletic Business

Federal Legislation Would Limit College Coach Salaries

The former college chancellor credited for initiating the turnaround of the then-cash-strapped University of Wisconsin athletic department in the late 1980s is now introducing federal legislation that would limit the salaries of collegiate coaches.

"I'm mortified at these salaries," said House Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL), sponsor of the CACIA Act of 2019. "We have not been able to slow spending or expenditures."

As reported by CBS Sports, the bill introduced last month would establish the Congressional Advisory Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics (CACIA) "to investigate the relationship between institutions of higher education and intercollegiate athletic programs."

The market forces governing the spending habits of for-profit athletic departments has long been viewed as being in conflict with the nonprofit educational mission of public universities and the NCAA.

Most of the national attention for the proposed bill has centered around increased oversight of sexual assault by the NCAA regarding athletes. However, the bill contains a provision that would examine "the amount of funds expended on coaching salaries …"

"I would say this would be discussed. That's really the only way we can stop [spiraling salaries]," Ohio University professor David Ridpath told CBS Sports. "As a public institution, you shouldn't be building a lazy river or paying a strength coach a million dollars." Ridpath is president of The Drake Group, which for decades has sought to uphold academic integrity in collegiate athletics. The Drake Group consulted with Shalala on the legislation.

Scrutiny regarding college athletics spending began after NCAA football television telecasts were deregulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1984, allowing conferences and individual schools to negotiate their own media deals. Revenues soared, as did coaching salaries, even as scholarship players struggled to meet the full cost of college attendance — something the NCAA has addressed and continues to address with anticipated name, image and likeness compensation legislation.

While she was president of the University of Miami in the early 2000s, Shalala quelled expansion overtures from the Southeastern Conference. "We just could not complete with their salaries," she said.

Since December 2017, Clemson's Dabo Swinney and Texas A&M's Jimbo Fisher have become the two highest-paid college football coaches in the history of the game, according to CBS Sports. Fisher is beginning the third year of a 10-year guaranteed deal worth $75 million. Last spring, Swinney signed a new 10-year contract worth $93 million. More than 50 college football and basketball coaches make more than $3 million per year. Critics point to the fact the highest-paid state employees in 40 of 50 states are college coaches.

Contract buyouts have also been a huge expense for athletic departments, something the NFL does not deal with. According to a USA Today database, the average buyout for the top five highest-paid coaches as of Dec. 1, 2019, was $30 million.

"Intercollegiate athletics does a very poor job with coaches contracts in general," University of North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham told CBS Sports. "The pro leagues don't have those issues. We have the issues other people don't. Our buyouts are significant. … We need to be better in constructing our contracts. When we commit to a coach, a coach commits to an institution. And you can't go other places."

University of California Davis athletic director Kevin Blue wrote a 2019 opinion piece titled, "Why Congress Should Regulate Salaries and Spending in College Athletics."

"There's going to have to be some sort of systemic intervention because there is no natural way for [the schools] to control themselves [the way college sports is currently structured]," Blue wrote.

He made three main points on the subject.

  • The existing salary market is inefficient because it is inflated.
  • Limits on spending would generally benefit athletes.
  • Limits on salaries would increase competitive balance.

According to CBS Sports, there have been at least four comprehensive bills intending to reform amateur athletics in the last 40 years. The Amateur Sports Act of 1978 established the United States Olympic Committee. It asserted that amateurism is no longer a requirement for international competition. The Collegiate Athletic Reform Act in 1991 that sought a limited antitrust exemption for football and basketball. The Student Right-To-Know Act from 30 years ago dealt with campus security and athlete participation rates. Legislators sought to establish a presidential commission to investigate college sports in 2014.

Shalala told CBS Sports some of the latest bill's as-yet unrevealed sponsors include a "consortium" of Republican senators from Southern states that include SEC schools, but current co-sponsors also include Democrats.

"The NCAA, in my opinion, is running scared," Shalala said.

Added Ridpath, "Donna has really changed. She was always a reformer. She has definitely become more progressive and certainly sees the NCAA model right now, as it is, unworkable."

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