What the market will bear

Another call for cutting football coaches’ salaries, this time from Contra Costa Times’ columnist Daniel Borenstein regarding Jeff Tedford’s contract at Cal. It’s the usual recipe made with the standard ingredients – a little sarcasm, a dash of envy, a drop or two of cluelessness mixed with a heavy portion of illogic – that results in the typical stew.

As UC struggles to maintain academic programs, as proposed state cutbacks portend increased student fees and smaller classes, it’s time to rein in wild spending by athletic programs at the state’s public universities.

So how much is Tedford costing Cal? Well, Borenstein can’t say that the head coach is costing the school anything.

UC officials will tell you that Tedford’s success before last year brought in more money and that Tedford’s compensation comes from athletic department revenues and private fundraising — that no state or general campus funds are used. Indeed, season ticket sales have more than doubled during Tedford’s reign.

But no matter. Since the school is subsidizing the athletic department as a whole, it’s appropriate to be critical of Tedford’s pay. After all, that athletic department subsidy could pay for 45 full-time instructors, Borenstein tells us.

And that’s fine. Just quit acting like this is some sort of zero sum game, such that every penny cut from Tedford’s salary (which the school couldn’t do anyway until the current seven year contract it has with the coach expires) can be directed to a specific area of academic need. That only works if the next coach the school brings in for less money – because there’s no reason the current guy who’s brought his school to a level of success unmatched for sixty plus years is going to agree to be paid less than the market allows – is able to maintain the same level of success, both on the field and in the bank, that Cal has enjoyed under Tedford. Otherwise, all that math goes out the window.

Bottom line, you pays your money and you takes your choice. If it’s financially irresponsible to pay a coach what he’s asking for, don’t do it. But keep in mind that if you find a diamond in the rough who improves your program for what you consider a reasonable salary, you can’t expect it to last forever. At some point in time, somebody with a bigger checkbook will come knocking on his door.

This whole thing reminds me of the classic quote from Babe Ruth:

“I know, but I had a better year than Hoover.”
— Reported reply when a reporter objected that the salary Ruth was demanding ($80,000) was more than that of President Herbert Hoover’s ($75,000).

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