First, let me state this as emphatically as I can: I like Fred Hoiberg. I respect him. I’m surprised at how quickly he became a good bench coach. I think he’ll keep Iowa State men’s basketball at a high level. This isn’t about him.
But the 10-year, $20 million deal he agreed to Thursday is yet another reminder of who has all the clout in major-college sports. When a coach has a certain amount of success, there is a rush to hike his or her pay and perks. It happened with Paul Rhoads at Iowa State. It happened with Fran McCaffery and Kirk Ferentz at Iowa. It happened with Ben Jacobson at Northern Iowa.
Hoiberg’s new deal did get Iowa State on ESPN Radio’s SportsCenter updates Friday morning, though. It was like a 10-second commercial that said “Iowa State basketball is doing well, and Iowa State has moved to ensure it keeps doing well.” So there’s that.
You can’t lose coaches that the fans have come to like. You can’t even have a perception the coach might be considering other options. It makes fans too edgy. Woe to the athletic director who let a popular coach escape to another university that waved millions of dollars in his face. Woe to the university president who wasn’t hands-on in keeping the coach happy. You can’t let them get away. I sure wouldn’t if I were them and wanted to stay employed and live a semi-tolerable life.
Yet, there is no pay-raise for the people on whose backs any athletic successes are accomplished, the athletes. It’s an old and tired soapbox, I know. But does it strike anyone else as amazing and bizarre? How can a head coach get big bonuses for advancing his team in the NCAA tourney and bowl games while the players who made it happen don’t? Is that the American Way? OK, it may be in some unfortunate ways, but that doesn’t make it right.
What if Aaron Craft of Ohio State had said this during the week: “Hey, I made the shot that got us into the Sweet 16. That basket was worth a lot to Ohio State in many ways. Where’s my bonus? I’m not playing another game until I get a little extra sugar. I still have another season of eligibility left, and there are other schools that would be glad to have me.”
You’ll hear of many players who leave Division I teams in the next several weeks. Some will go because they want to go. Others will leave because it was strongly suggested by their coaches that they do so. Press releases will say they’ve departed for “personal reasons” or some code words that really mean “He was on a one-year renewable scholarship and we aren’t renewing it because he isn’t good enough for us or we’re tired of his act.”
Where’s the player’s buyout? They have to sit out a year just to be eligible to play anywhere else in Division I. Minnesota fired basketball coach Tubby Smith this week, but had to give him a $2.5 million buyout to do so. Now it’s been reported that Texas Tech has contacted Smith about its vacant head-coaching position. So, Smith could make a nice salary on top of his nice buyout. There are worse people to be right now than Tubby Smith.
Every Iowa fan knows Todd Lickliter remained one of the state of Iowa’s highest-paid employees for three years after he got fired, because he was paid $800,000 in each of those years. Nice non-work if you can get it.
Hey, good for the coaches. None of us wouldn’t use whatever leverage we had available to make the best-possible deals for ourselves. It’s a fantasy for most of us.
But what’s entertaining to me is when a school does give a coach a fat raise and long extension, and happy-at-the-moment fans nod their heads approvingly. Then comes a rough patch, and many of those same fans complain about what they call that ball-and-chain of that coach’s contract.Should the business of college sports trump education? “No” got 95 percent.
That does happen, you know.
I know, I know. This is just nutty rambling. A recent poll conducted by conducted by the Marist College Center for Sports Communication and the Marist Poll got these results from 754 sports fans:
What is the appropriate compensation for top college athletes? “Only a scholarship” got 72 percent.
I wonder how many NBA players who spent just one year in college look back and say to themselves “Man, I had a great deal then.” I’m guessing, oh, about none.