College Coaching Salaries: A New Level of Absurdity

I’ve participated in, worked in, studied, researched and written about college athletics for over 40 years. It’s not often that I see something that makes me sit up, take notice and say “Are you kidding me?” Last week I had such a moment when LSU announced that it signed its’ defensive coordinator, Dave Aranda, to a four year, $10 million contract. All of it guaranteed. An assistant coach? Seriously?

For an educational institution? That’s absolutely absurd!

Of course, paying head football coaches exorbitantly is not new news. According to USA Today, in 2017, 78 college head football coaches and 41 head men’s basketball coaches earned at least $1.0 Million per year. Alabama’s Nick Saban heads the list at just over $11 Million and recently fired head basketball coach of Louisville, Rick Pitino, earned just over $7.7 Million. And in 2016, in 39 of the 50 states, the highest paid state employee was either a football or basketball head coach. (Business Insider, 9/26/16). 

Why does this matter? Why should we care whether LSU, Alabama or Penn State pays its football coach crazy money?

“I love my state and my state university and want them to be good in football,” is a common response. “It’s a point of state pride. And it’s far more fun and entertaining when they win. You need good coaches to win. Besides, the football program generates enough money to be able to afford it.” Others argue that this is simply an example of what the market will bear and that being able to have a quality coach is a sound investment.

But those who make these claims miss the larger point. American higher education is playing in a much bigger and infinitely more important “marketplace”. And spending that much money on a football coach undermines higher education’s ability to succeed in that larger marketplace.

That larger marketplace relates to higher education’s role in our society. From teaching to research from spurring economic development to being an agent for social change, the mission of higher education is many things to many people. But when you boil it down, it’s mission is to serve the public by helping to meet the many problems, needs and challenges that face society, including the role that sports plays in relation to education. And the effectiveness with which higher education responds to those needs will define it in the future.

It is no stretch to say that our country has lost perspective regarding the role of organized sport in our culture. We have come to glorify athletic accomplishment far more than academic achievement. Our colleges and universities, have, in large part, been responsible for allowing this culture to evolve. This is so, because in the case of the cultural subject matter of athletics, American higher education has failed in its public mission. Our colleges and universities have not provided the necessary leadership in establishing a healthy societal attitude regarding athletics. The result has been the grotesque distortion of educational priorities through the disproportionate resources and attention devoted to athletics. Aranda’s salary is simply the latest example of those skewed priorities.

While some may consider it a stretch, the fact is, the way colleges and universities conduct their athletic programs greatly influences higher education’s ability to fulfill its mission. Whether right or wrong, the fact is, major college athletics are the largest and clearest window through which the public views and interfaces with higher education. With such high visibility comes tremendous influence.

That being the case, as the public comes to view the hypocrisies and excesses of major college athletics with a more critical eye, higher education pays a price, specifically in the form of declining credibility, moral authority, and public trust. If universities cannot conduct their athletic programs in a way that makes it clear that while athletics are important, educational and academic excellence are paramount, how can it be expected that the public believe in its ability to effectively address issues such as poverty and illiteracy and to provide an education worthy of the twenty-first century?

Our colleges and universities can no longer afford to engage in practices that display for all to see, such skewed priorities. If there is any American institution that absolutely must stand up and demonstrate that academic and educational excellence are far more important than football or men’s basketball, it has to be our colleges and universities.

The values that are projected by college athletic programs are critical for another reason. What we do in our college athletic programs; the behaviors we condone, the messages we send and the “investments” we make, filter down to all levels of education. If our institutions of higher education tacitly endorse activities that undermine educational priorities and achievement in the name of athletic glory, it provides an example for all to emulate. In short, the public looks to higher education to provide educational leadership, including leadership regarding the role, importance, and purpose of sport in relation to education. Given its traditional role in our culture, it is clear that if we are ever going to begin the process of restoring our cultural consensus regarding the proper role of sport as it relates to education, it is up to the higher education community to initiate it.

It’s hard to see how paying $2.5 Million per year to an assistant football coach helps in that regard.

Music, Creativity and the 21st Century Workforce  

In our increasingly fast paced, interconnected global economy and world community, every issue we face is becoming more complex. Whether these issues are local or global and regardless of whether they relate to health care, the environment, governance, poverty, science, technology or international relations, the challenges we face in this increasingly interconnected and multilayered world are becoming more complicated. That being the case, the only way to effectively address these increasingly complex issues is to develop in our populace, a corresponding increase in creativity. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, if we are to solve the problems we have created, we must think at a higher level than when we created them.

John Kao, in his book Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity, sums up the notion of the importance of creativity in the business world: “This is the age of creativity because companies are increasingly obliged to rapidly reinvent themselves to achieve growth.” (Kao, 1996, p. 10)

He elaborates further:
All this is risky. Unavoidably so. When the alto sax player starts a solo, he doesn’t know where he is going, let alone how far and for how long. His inner voice to which the music, other players, the setting, and even the listeners contribute-directs him. That’s the nature of improvisation, and companies that aren’t willing to take risks are not long for this fluid, protean, constantly changing world. Companies that shun creative risks may be undercut by competitors not only with better products and services, but also with better processes and ways of perceiving new opportunities. Escaping the stagnation of the status quo, of the risk free life, is part of the exhilaration of jamming-in music and in business. The choice is stark. Create or fail. (Kao, pp. xix, xx)

That being the case, a major focus of our education system must be on instilling in the populace a greater sense of, and capacity for, creativity. A creative mindset is not something that you either have or don’t have. Creativity can be developed and nurtured. Kao concurs: “Like jazz, creativity has its vocabulary and conventions. As in jazz, too, its paradoxes can create tension. It demands free expressiveness and disciplined self-control, solitude in a crowded room, acceptance and defiance, serendipity and direction. And like jazz, creativity is a process, not a thing; and therefore you can observe, analyze, understand, replicate, teach, and, yes, even manage it.” (Kao, 1996, p. xix)

In short, people who are never encouraged to “think outside the box” will not be inclined to do so. Similarly, nurturing creativity requires the courage to question pre-existing assumptions and models. If children are never challenged to “break the mold” or question existing paradigms, they won’t.

If the development of a creative workforce is key to our nation’s future economic, scientific and geopolitical success, then educational and community leaders must consider which subjects and activities are best suited for encouraging and developing the creative potential of students. And by all indications, the most effective tool in our educational arsenal to teach creativity is music. If that is the case, why is it that when school budget cuts are necessary, music is often one of the first activities to be cut?

Clearly, we must, in the spirit of Albert Einstein, begin to think at a higher level when it comes to school funding and program priorities.

Creating a Football “Safe Space” for Kids and Parents

When football legends Bo Jackson, Harry Carson and Mike Ditka say it, it’s a big deal. People pay attention to what athletes of their stature say.

The “it” is that they would never let their sons play football.

With increasing revelations regarding the link between tackle football and brain trauma, this should come as no surprise. If anyone knows the extreme violence and physicality of football it is those who have played it for a living.

It’s difficult to say exactly what sort of an impact their statements have had on the participation levels of tackle football. Regardless, their comments have raised eyebrows and generated dialogue. When a football legend makes such a statement, it opens the door for other players to offer thoughts on the subject. Every time another NFL star joins the chorus, the impact is compounded.

One important impact they have had is that it is helping to create a football “safe space” for kids who really don’t want to play. Far too often young kids feel they are expected to play and thus, believe they have little choice in the matter. They don’t want to disappoint their father, friends or community. That’s a lot of pressure on a 10, 12 or 15 year-old, particularly in communities where football is considered very important.

I was one of those kids.

I loved the game early in childhood. One of my earliest childhood memories is at age five, discovering a new football under the Christmas tree. Soon thereafter, I was fully decked out in my football “uniform” kicking that football all around the snowy, empty side lot next to our duplex apartment. I was “all in” on football.

But by the time I was in sixth grade, I realized that football was not for me.  I had fallen hopelessly in love with basketball and wanted to play it year round. I came to dread the arrival of football season because it meant that I wouldn’t be able to play much, if any, basketball.

As a very athletic son of the high school football coach, I felt that pressure. By the eighth grade, I actively tried to gain the additional weight needed to put me over the community league-mandated limit.  I was relieved when I weighed in well above the limit. I quietly celebrated with my Mom.

While the fact that I no longer wanted to play football created ample friction and angst in our household, my Father, to his great credit, understood and respected my love of basketball.

My guess is that had there been a prominent and growing list of football legends talking about not letting their children play the game back in 1971, it would have been much easier and more acceptable for me and other kids to opt out of playing football.

“If Troy Aikman, Adrian Peterson and Terry Bradshaw say they wouldn’t let their sons play football, why do I have to play?”

If that isn’t enough impact, here’s an even bigger one. The impact on parents and in particular, Fathers. Kids aren’t the only ones who feel peer and community pressure to play football. Parents often feel community pressure to have their sons be a part of the team. Having NFL legends say that they would not allow their kids to play football makes it easier for a parent to say the same thing.

“Your boy playing football?”


“Why not?”

“If Bart Scott, Brett Favre and Jermichael Finley all say that they won’t allow their sons to play because it’s too dangerous, why would I allow my son?”

The impact of the comments of these football legends should not be underestimated. For in making them, they have provided “cover” for kids who don’t want to play to declare without risk of ridicule or having to face the prospect of undue peer pressure that they aren’t going to play.
And perhaps even more important, it provides similar “cover” and “safe space” for parents to support their child’s wish not to play or to simply prohibit their son from playing even if he wants to.

Music Education and Community Economic Development

While the majority of public school program and funding decisions are dictated by federal and state mandates the area in which local education and community leaders have enormous influence and decision making power is with extracurricular activities, such as sports, music and the arts. You can get a fairly good idea of what a local community values by examining how they allocate resources and what types of extracurricular activities are sponsored and emphasized in their schools.

The local public school environment and the values that are embraced and projected within that environment molds and influences the attitudes, beliefs and values of children, teachers, parents and general citizens of the community. What is taught and emphasized in schools influence and impact the culture and values of the community at large.  Not only is that influence felt today, but many of those children eventually graduate and settle in the same community, bringing those attitudes and values to bear on the community for years to come. In other words, the values, priorities and culture of the local high school as reflected through the types of programs emphasized have a long lasting impact on the general values and culture of the community in which it is located. 

One area in particular where programming can impact a community relates to economic development.  Social scientist Richard Florida has conducted extensive research on the impact of arts and culture on economic development. In his groundbreaking work, The Rise of the Creative Class, he indentifies the emerging class of  “creative professionals in business and finance, law, health care and related fields. These people engage in complex problem solving that involves a great deal of independent judgment and requires high levels of education or human capital. In addition, all members of the Creative Class-whether they are artists or engineers, musicians or computer scientists, writers or entrepreneurs-share a common creative ethos that values creativity, individuality, difference and merit. For the members of the Creative Class, every aspect and every manifestation of creativity-technological, cultural and economic-is interlinked and inseparable.

The Creative Class is the norm-setting class of our time. But its norms are very different: Individuality, self-expression and openness to difference are favored over the homogeneity conformity and “fitting in” that defined the organizational age.” (Florida, 2002, pp. 8,9)

According to Florida, this Creative Class can have a profound impact on economic development and a city or region’s economic vitality. Members of the Creative Class are precisely the types of people civic leaders should work to attract to their communities to live, work and raise their families. Or, as summarized in an article that appeared in Economic Development Quarterly titled “Arts and Crafts: Critical to Economic Development”:
               "Because of their knowledge-based jobs, Florida asserts that members of the creative class tend to contribute directly to the growth of a thriving economy. Equally important, members of the creative class tend to prefer those jobs in geographical locations with high levels of culture and diversity. Florida thus argues that regions that support the arts will attract and retain the creative class and consequently enjoy higher levels of economic prosperity.” (Lemore, et al., 2013, p. 222)

It may seem like a reach to consider economic development of the local economy as a factor in determining how to invest a high school’s extracurricular resources, but what is emphasized at the high school level is absorbed by students who eventually graduate and become residents of the town.  What students are exposed to and learn impacts what they will later value as community investments. It’s hard to imagine that someone who was not exposed to a quality music and arts curriculum as a student will value music and the arts as a community investment as an adult.

Further, according to Florida, members of the Creative Class tend to be more successful and engaged in the community.  They are precisely the type of people a city, town or region wants to attract to their area to live, work and raise their children. The ability for a city, town or region to attract such people is becoming increasingly important as the Creative Class is composed of citizens who are more likely to be community “movers and shakers.”  

The challenge for communities comes from the fact that members of the Creative Class have more freedom to choose where they want to live. Such freedom results from improvements in transportation and communication (Internet, video conferencing, Skype, etc.). In the past, when a company moved to a different city or state, all employees were required to pick up and move with the company to the new location. Today, companies are much more willing to offer flexibility to valuable “creative” employees to remain with the company while they live in another location. Just as the Creative Class includes the types of employees that companies value and want to keep, they are also the type of people a city, town or region should want to have in their community as citizens.

Thus, the question becomes: What do communities have to offer as resources and values that will appeal to members of the Creative Class? According to Florida, a major, if not the major, community value or feature, is a creative, vibrant, arts-oriented culture. And one important component of such a vibrant arts culture is the type of commitment the community makes to the arts in the schools. Schools are often a major decision influencer for people who are considering where to live, work and raise their families and members of the Creative Class in particular, are very interested in the emphasis the local school district places on music and the arts.

Or, stated differently, creative people want to work with people and live in communities that value creativity. And because music and the arts are the most powerful tool in our educational and community arsenal to teach creativity, it is imperative that educational and community leaders consider that impact when allocating educational resources.

Inasmuch as creativity is the currency of the future and a major key to driving a vibrant local economy decisions regarding how a school invests in extracurricular activities such as music, theater and visual arts is immensely important as those decisions and priorities have both an immediate educational impact on the students who participate in them, but also a long-term community economic development impact beyond the school walls. 

WSJ - Coming Soon to Campus: The $100,000 Hotel Room

By Laine Higgins

Texas A&M University on Thursday will hold a lottery in which the winners walk away with an unusual—and very expensive—prize: The right to pay $100,000 for a hotel reservation.

The six-figure price tag is largely based on a single amenity: The yet-to-be-built hotel will sit across the street—96 feet away, to be exact—from Kyle Field, where the Aggie football team plays six or seven games each year.

Sound absurd? Thus far more than 750 Texas A&M alumni have expressed interest in the program, though not all of them had put down a refundable $5,000 deposit as of Monday. Less than a third of that number will win. For sleeping quarters on the hotel’s top floor—13 suites and 36 standard rooms—the deposit was $10,000. Those reservations, where the starting point for bids ranges from $125,000 to $475,000, will be auctioned off on Tuesday.

The clamor for the “guaranteed room options,” as they are called, is possibly the apogee of college efforts to wring extra revenue from well-heeled alumni on football game days. Already, most major universities require mandatory donations, usually thousands of dollars, for fans wanting premium season tickets. Some schools sell licenses for primo parking spaces.

“These folks are working every single angle that they can possibly think of to squeeze more juice out of the athletic machine,” says John Gerdy, a former associate commissioner of the Southeastern Conference and author of several books on collegiate athletic reform. “On one hand, it’s brilliant.”

The guaranteed room options, or GROs, work much like the personal seat licenses now offered by many professional sports teams—only for hotel rooms rather than season tickets. At A&M, the holders will make a one-time, tax-deductible $100,000 donation to the university in exchange for the right to reserve a specific room on any day for the next 10 years. They also get a plaque engraved with their names on the door...

Read Full Article Here

High School Football: The Folly of Trying to Sustain the Unsustainable

There were two recent items in the media regarding high school tackle football that, taken together, provide a strong hint of the future of the sport in our schools.

The first was a report that a three-judge panel of Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court rejected an attempt by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) to have a suit against it tossed out. The suit demanded extensive steps to limit the harm from concussions among high school and junior high athletes.

The second was a report from Oklahoma Watch outlining how high school athletes in that state are sustaining hundreds of concussions and how the high schools are woefully understaffed with athletic trainers and licensed medical professionals trained to identify, treat and prevent brain trauma in athletes.

Taken together, these two developments point to the folly of attempting to sustain an activity that is becoming increasingly unsustainable by the day. While many will lament this reality, if one is willing to approach it in an open and honest way, it could provide an opportunity to create a blueprint for the future of high school sports in America.

There are several trends regarding the sport as well as the challenges facing our secondary school system that will make the sponsorship of tackle football increasingly problematic. The first is the mounting evidence of the link between participation in football and damage to the brain. Seemingly every day there is a new study confirming the harmful outcomes of participation in football. This trend is not likely to abate anytime soon.

In response to this alarming trend, football advocates point to various safety measures such as improved equipment, increased medical oversight and staffing and improved concussion testing and protocol. While these efforts are commendable, they are measures that require significantly more costs for an already very expensive sport. Another example of an expense that will rise dramatically relates to risk management and the cost of liability insurance. As a result, educational leaders will be asked to evaluate the supposed benefits of football against the very real risk of their students suffering debilitating injuries to their brains. Many of them will come to the conclusion that the risk is simply too great.

And if these troubling trends are not enough, they are playing out against an environment of increasing academic expectations and tightening school budgets. In such an environment, it will be more difficult for an educational institution to justify allocating additional resources for an activity that scrambles brains. Educational institutions are in the business of strengthening brains, not destroying them.

In short, while there may always be communities and school districts that will continue to sponsor tackle football, given these trends and the reality they reveal, with each passing day, it will become increasingly clear that high school football is no longer a sound educational investment. As a result, the sponsorship of football in our secondary and junior high schools will slowly but surely wither on the vine.

If kept safe and in the proper perspective, interscholastic sports can be a powerful supplement to the educational experience of young people. Thus, it is understandable why educational leaders remain reluctant to eliminate any interscholastic sports. But football, due to it’s extremely barbaric nature, is a different animal. But rather than bemoan and resist this reality, the elimination of football presents an opportunity to restructure the role that sports plays in our schools.

Specifically, it is time for educational leaders to begin to seriously consider moving to the European model of school sports. In that model, elite athletes pursue their athletic experience through participation in private club teams. The role of school athletics in the European system is to provide broad based participation opportunities in activities that can be practiced for a lifetime (i.e., the type of programming that has traditionally been provided through physical education classes and intramural and wellness programs). This, as opposed to our current system of highly competitive interscholastic programs that are geared to a small percentage of elite athletes while relegating the vast majority of students to the sidelines to watch. In one of the world’s most obese nations, such an approach simply makes no sense.  

That said, interscholastic sports have become so ingrained within the culture of the school and broader community, that moving directly to the European club system may not be realistic at this point.

Perhaps there is an intermediate step.  The elimination of football provides an opportunity to redirect the resources, energy and emotion currently allocated to football to not only other interscholastic sports such as soccer, basketball, swimming, cross country and baseball (sports that are less physically punishing and that can be practiced for a lifetime) but also to strengthening physical education and intramural programs as well as lifelong wellness activities such as yoga and weight training. Such a shift will clearly result in far better health and fitness outcomes for far more students than the current tackle football centric model.  This might be a viable intermediate step to eventually moving to the European model of scholastic sports and fitness.

In short, it’s time to stop trying to sustain the unsustainable. With each passing day, it is becoming clearer that both from an educational and public health standpoint, the European school and community sports model is far superior to our current football-centric elite athletic system. That being the case, rather than bemoaning the growing negative health and safety trend lines associated with tackle football, education and community leaders should seek to leverage those developments to re-imagine and restructure how schools can more effectively utilize sports and fitness activities for more positive community health outcomes.