UC Berkeley football coach Jeff Tedford had a good year in 2007 — a very good year.
Sure, the Bears finished the regular season with a dismal 6-6 record and an invitation to the insignificant Armed Forces Bowl, where they barely beat Air Force, 42-36. But Tedford collected as much money in that one year as many of us will earn in a lifetime — $2.8 million. It was the first installment of his seven-year, $17.5 million contract renewal.
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.
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, as last season showed, a coach, no matter how well-paid, cannot guarantee victory. Success on the field and at the box office can be ephemeral. Moreover, that should not be the mission of the university. Turning out well-educated adults who will be the future leaders of our state and nation should be the real game plan.
Yet, the university continues to subsidize intercollegiate sports at Cal, last year by $6.4 million. If athletic departments can afford such rich salaries, perhaps it's time to eliminate the subsidy, or even reverse the flow and use some of the sports profits to offset the cost of badly needed programs elsewhere on campus. The subsidy, for example, could pay for roughly 45 full-time Cal instructors.
With UCLA negotiating a contract with its new football coach, Rick Neuheisel, and Cal bargaining with its new basketball coach, Mike Montgomery, UC regents should step back and question soaring coach salaries. On the 10-campus system's "Annual Report on Executive Compensation," four top earners stick out:
Those salaries — which do not include pensions, health insurance and other standard benefits — each surpass the annual salary and benefits of Mark Yudof, the incoming president of the entire UC system. As reported here last month, Yudof's total compensation of $924,642 will make him the highest-paid leader of a public university in the nation. That's appropriate for a world-class education system.
But the university should avoid the boundless financial race that's professionalizing the country's college sports. According to a USA Today survey, the average earnings of the 120 major-college football coaches reached $1 million last year. At least a dozen made $2 million or more. Tedford's contract makes Cal a top-tier payer.
Under his seven-year renewal, his annual salary is $225,000. But he also is guaranteed $1.575 million each year as a "talent fee" — what the university describes as a payout "based on standard participation in outside events representing UCB." Last year, he also received a $1 million "signing bonus." Adding in a $25,000 bonus for the team's bowl game appearance and a discretionary bonus of $6,654 from the athletic director brings the total to the $2,831,654.
That doesn't include his membership in the Blackhawk Country Club ($7,080 annually), two "courtesy vehicles" ($14,750), the cost of his pension contribution (about $36,000 annually), his life and health insurance, 30 free tickets and five parking passes for every home game, and travel expenses for his wife.
Sure, the signing bonus was a one-time deal. But to keep Tedford around — as if that money wasn't enough — the university will pay him a "retention bonus" that works out to $500,000 a year.
Cal also laced Tedford's contract with bonuses: For each year the team reaches the Rose, Orange, Sugar or Fiesta bowl, or the National Championship game, Tedford will receive an additional $50,000 that year and $100,000 every subsequent year of his contract. Winning the national championship would boost Tedford's income by $150,000 that year; being named coach of the year, $100,000; winning the Pac-10 championship, $75,000; and winning nine games in a season, $25,000. On top of that, if his players keep their grades up, Tedford would be eligible for an additional $25,000.
The most interesting provisions in his contract would boost his income by $250,000 if he's still coach when the university opens its controversial new training facility at Memorial Stadium and another $250,000 if he's there when the team plays its first home game after completion of planned stadium renovations. That's right, he'll get a bonus when his team gets new quarters — the sports equivalent of getting a raise when your company gives you a new office.
Little wonder that Americans think that spending on college sports is out of control. A 2006 survey by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics found that most Americans believe college sports have become too commercialized, that coaches are overpaid and, most significantly, that money earned by athletic departments should be redistributed to benefit the whole school. The commission's 2007 survey of university faculty nationwide found that they feel that football and basketball coaches' salaries are excessive and that the financial needs of athletics get higher priority than academic needs.
Nationwide, university officials are outbidding each other to win what Cornell University economist Robert Frank calls a costly "positional arms race." At a time when universities are struggling for financial survival, they are spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year in an attempt to better each other on the football field and the basketball court.
But, as Frank notes, no matter how much they spend, no matter how high they bid up coaches' salaries, only 25 teams will make the top football ranking and only four teams will reach college basketball's Final Four. The rest will just be left with fatter payrolls.
It's a costly competition that's draining money that could be better spent on education. But it won't end until schools have the courage to say no.
Borenstein is a staff columnist and editorial writer. Reach him at 925-943-8248 or dborenstein@bayarea newsgroup.com.