Built on Facts

Money, Money, Money

From the always good Ph.D. comics, we have this comic, which I saw pointed out at Pure Pedantry.


I’ll defend this, a little. Football coaches are in large part responsible for the success or failure of a football team. In the grand scheme of things the position of a pigskin on a field is not exactly earth-shattering, but there’s more too it than that. Football is popular. Tremendously, staggeringly popular. At LSU, my undergraduate university, every single home game saw 96,000 people in the stadium. Expensive merchandising with the LSU logo sells by the truckload with royalties going to the university. Same thing at Texas A&M. This results in a tremendous amount of money, at while I don’t know how closely it holds at other universities, at many universities with large football programs the team is far and away a net financial benefit for the university. The coach’s salary is a good investment, and pulls in a lot more money than it costs.

Presidents and provosts? Can’t defend that. Administration is not that difficult. Certainly not nearly as difficult as being a professor. In fact, department heads to enormous amounts of administrative work while doing research at the same time. They do it on a professor’s salary. That college administrative personnel who don’t contribute squat to the progress of the arts and sciences make so much more than professors do is inexcusable.

Grad students? I’m biased, but I wouldn’t mind a bigger salary. But I also understand money is tight and especially during the first few years we’re not necessarily the most productive research workers because we’re pretty busy with studies and TA duties. That said, if any administrator out there wants to trade salaries, I’m game. Any takers?


  1. #1 Johan
    October 21, 2008

    any source for the claim that the sports make programmes make money? All reputable sources I have seen claim the opposite.

  2. #2 Russell
    October 21, 2008

    The president of a university doesn’t do administration.

  3. #3 Matt Springer
    October 21, 2008

    It’s really hard to use Google for academic financial figures when “LSU football” is a search term, but I did find this:

    “LSU Athletics is a self-sufficient auxiliary of Louisiana State University. LSU utilizes no state tax dollars to operate the LSU Athletic Department.

    All funding of the LSU Athletic program is generated through ticket sales to athletic events, seat donations associated with ticket sales, corporate sponsorships, radio and television revenue, concessions and merchandising, parking at athletic events, revenue distribution through membership in the Southeastern Conference and privately raised funds through the Tiger Athletic Foundation.

    LSU Athletics contributes to the financial well-being of the University. The LSU Athletic Department annually transfers over $3.5 million to the University in the form of administrative charges, a Chancellor�s Excellence Fund, a Classroom Building Fund and a Campus Environmental Fund. ”

    Here’s a PBS report on college football programs and their financial status as well.

  4. #4 Moopheus
    October 21, 2008

    “Presidents and provosts? Can’t defend that.”

    Really? By your logic they should get at least as much as the coaches: a big part of their job is fund-raising. Sucking up to wealthy alumni, for instance, like the ones who can donate money for new lab buildings, fund endowments and chairs, and so on.

  5. #5 Matt Springer
    October 21, 2008

    Yes, but the best qualifications for successful schmoozing are distinguished looks and lots of charisma. Those aren’t so hard to come by that it’s worth the salary of four or five distinguished professors.

    Heck, the physics department head at A&M is just an ordinary professor with an ordinary salary but he just oversaw a $10,000,000 contribution for a new physics building from a very successful alumnus.

  6. #6 Moopheus
    October 21, 2008

    Perhaps, but your argument wasn’t that good coaches were paid a big salary for being a scarce talent, but that they bring in money.

  7. #7 Matt Springer
    October 22, 2008

    It’s an indirect relationship, I think. Bringing in the big bucks usually requires a team that performs well, and being able to coach a team to success is a very difficult task requiring rare skill. Texas A&M’s new coach this year certainly hasn’t yet managed it!

  8. #8 Peter Morgan
    October 22, 2008

    “Yes, but the best qualifications for successful schmoozing are distinguished looks and lots of charisma. Those aren’t so hard to come by that it’s worth the salary of four or five distinguished professors.”

    Yes, but if you employed a person with “distinguished looks and lots of charisma”, and they raised a hundred million dollars, they would get 10 million in commission, and a twenty million golden parachute when you fired them for corruption. It’s better to have an academic living off the pig’s foot than your non-academic high on the hog. We can hope the average president cares about the academic enterprise even if they aren’t directly contributing to it.

    Last time I looked for some distinguished looks and charisma for my CV, I couldn’t find any.

  9. #9 Bob S
    October 22, 2008

    Having retired after 37 years in academia, I should note (1) football coaches are the only people in academia held responsible for their job performance, and (2) football coaches are the only people in academia who produce anything that has real societal value. Everyone else on your chart is a grossly overpaid parasite.

  10. #10 Laelaps
    October 22, 2008

    “at many universities with large football programs the team is far and away a net financial benefit for the university”

    From what I have seen the opposite is actually true. At some universities with a strong football tradition, like Notre Dame, the team pulls in enough money to support itself and the rest of the athletic department. That’s good. The majority of teams, however, wind up in the red, spending more than they earn and requiring the university to absorb the debt.

    This is the case at Rutgers, which I attend, where the football coach is paid $2,000,000. Several years ago the team was invited to the Insight Bowl, but they spent so much money on air fare, rooms, and promotional junk for the families of teams, guests, and alumni that they actually lost money despite the payout from the bowl invite.

    What’s worse, one good season has convinced the RU community that we have a good football team, and plans were put in place to create a $120,000,000 stadium expansion. The state, and university, are in a financial crisis right now, however, and it looks like that money is going to have to be borrowed as the university certainly doesn’t have it. This is combined with secret sweeteners offered the football coach and other behind-the-scenes dealings to give the football team everything they want despite the fact that faculty & staff are being laid off and tuition is going up.

    Sports do have a place at universities, but from what I have seen the benefits of “big football” are slim to none for the majority of schools. Keep the teams, but keep things in perspective.

  11. #11 Jim G
    October 22, 2008

    Likely flaws in the (very funny) chart:

    (1) Seems to compare average salaries of “head” coaches – not all people associated with the football programs – against average salaries of all professors regardless of experience or seniority. Some professors make vastly more money than others (compare e.g., profs in philosophy to engineering, law school and med school).

    (2) Seems to compare Division 1-A football coaches (i.e. the top football programs) against all profs at all schools – a better comparison would be all football coaches at all schools including the far more numerous small ones with minor programs.

    (3) Ignores non-monetary compensation. E.g., knowledge fo lifetime employment via tenure, versus employment at will or term employment for coaches.

  12. #12 Bob Hawkins
    October 22, 2008

    I have one word for you: Publicity.

    The score of your game is given during the other games broadcast on Saturday. In the great majority of cases, this is the only time that week that your alumni will hear the name of their alma mater. In the great majority of cases, this is the only way that prospective future students will know that you exist. It’s better than paid ads, even if you could afford them, because people stay in front of the TV and pay attention to the scores. They go to the bathroom during paid ads.

    This translates into alumni contributions and student applications. The year after Doug Flutie threw the Hail Mary pass, applications to BC went up 15%. Joining the ACC led to many more applications from Southern states where other ACC teams are located.

    Most college presidents would dump the football program if they could afford it, but they can’t afford it.

  13. #13 Guy Plunkett III
    October 22, 2008

    from John F. Gaski and Michael J. Etzel (1984) Collegiate Athletic Success and Alumni Generosity: Dispelling the Myth Social Behavior and Personality 12(1):29-38

    “To examine the widely-accepted proposition that a university’s successful athletic performance can evoke greater generosity on the part of its benefactors, analysis was conducted to measure the strength of the relationship between football or basketball success and several measures of monetary contributions for a number of major schools. The relative absence of significant results indicates that athletic performance and monetary donations are not closely related.”

  14. #14 onkel bob
    October 22, 2008

    One thing that is overlooked too: unity. Those in the Art department dislike those in the Design department. The Business school looks down on both, while the college of Engineering gets the money and attention and couldn’t care less about anyone not in their clique. However, all will agree that they either love (or hate) the Football and Basketball team.
    Sometimes there is a case like UConn, where the Men’s and Women’s Basketball teams unites the entire population of the state. Find me one professor that the campus universally rallies around and that will be the first.

  15. #15 CCPhysicist
    October 22, 2008

    0) Matt, as a former student at LSU, could you clarify whether students are coerced to pay an “athletic fee” that entitles them to get tickets, rather than buying them on their own? If coerced, as at most universities I am familiar with, that fee is a subsidy from the academic side to the athletic side of the college. I ask because the budget
    shows almost 10 M$ in “other student fees”, which is almost 10% of the academic fees collected by the university. The “revenue” of the athletic department is not broken out in the university budgets.

    1) The majority of Div I athletic programs lose money and must be subsidized by the students. I have seen numbers breaking out the Div I non-football schools, indicating they do better, but can’t recall where that was done. There was a highly detailed one for all of the universities in Michigan done by the Detroit Free Press.

    2) The chart is real. As for other salaries, LSU athletics spends 23.5 M$ on salaries, “other compensation” (houses and cars), and benefits out of a 75.8 M$ athletic budget that expects to turn a 0.9 M$ profit but will return zero $ to the real university. (Zero on the “interagency transfer” line.) As for faculty, Div I football and Doctoral granting have a pretty solid overlap. Not all Div I football is at R1 universities, but a lot of it is. Many of those Doctoral salaries include medical schools and law schools.

    2A) You better keep winning. (What will Michigan’s budget look like next year?) And not get caught cheating to win, although the cost of that is low unless it leads to losing.

    3) Presidents are responsible for the financial success of their university as well as for the athletic program. They do the fund raising and act as lobbyist in chief. Faculty members often bring in massive grants, sometimes resulting in buildings as big as some athletic facilities, but they do have more (a lot more) job security.

    4) It is an open question whether tax deductible donations to athletics, including to buy sky boxes, reduce alumni donations to the academic side. However, it is unquestionably true that applications grow with a winning sports program, potentially resulting in an increase in selectivity and academic quality at a large university.

  16. #16 Matt Springer
    October 22, 2008

    No, students don’t have to pay an athletic fee. Student tickets are fairly inexpensive as well – about $12 a game or something like that. However the other 80,000 odd non-students in the stadium are absolutely paying out the nose. The tickets themselves are $50+ per game for the nosebleed sections, and they have to pay a tremendous sum to join the Tiger Athletic Federation merely to get on the waiting list to buy tickets.

    Fees are a real problem though. I believe the reason for all the fees is that the university is limited in its tuition increases by the legislature, and so “fees” allow de facto tuition increases without having to get approval from the State of Louisiana.

  17. #17 erik Remkus
    October 23, 2008

    “Everyone else on your chart is a grossly overpaid parasite.”

    A grossly overpaid parasite… looks like someone doesn’t know anything about the history of innovation. Come back when you’ve lived a couple of years in a straw hut living off of livestock so you can understand exactly what all those grossly overpaid parasites have given you. Hell, the internet was almost exclusively developed in universities for the first 30 years of its existence. Don’t even get me started on things even more fundamental to our lives such as medicine, preservatives, and alternating current.

  18. #18 Piccard
    October 23, 2008

    The big picture here is that academic salaries for scientists and professors at universities is not good enough, given the type and amount of work they perform. Payment should be meritocratic; however, clearly this is not the case.

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