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JENKINS: To reform college athletics, control coaches' pay

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

Note that I'm writing these columns about reforming collegiate athletics when the NCAA basketball tournament is two months behind us and the start of football practice is nearly two months away. That's not a coincidence.

Remember, though, that I'm college sports fan, too, as well as a former college athlete, coach and administrator. I just want to see the games continue so that my grandchildren can enjoy them, and I'm afraid that won't happen unless we take decisive action now. If we don't rein in the spending and corruption, a few years from now big-time college athletics may be just another bubble that burst.

My first recommendation, along those lines, is that we bring compensation for coaches back into the realm of sanity. What does it say about an institution when the football coach makes $4 million while the university president makes one-tenth of that?

OK, one thing it says is that there are 10 times as many people who can run a university as there are people who can win NCAA football championships. I understand market forces. I'm just saying that this particular market might not be the best place for institutions of higher education to invest.

Yes, I know Nick Saban has brought far more money to the University of Alabama than they're paying him. I know that the UGA Athletic Association just donated $2 million to the university's general fund. But those are the exceptions. Places like Georgia Tech, with strong programs but still sweating the budget, are the norm.

Look, I don't begrudge anyone his payday. Nor am I suggesting that some outside entity, such as the federal government, start dictating what college football and basketball coaches can make. I'm just saying that institutions need to re-think their policies on coaches' compensation.

What if we treated them like faculty members? Without the furloughs, I mean. If each institution decided not to pay any coach more than the highest paid faculty member, that would go a long way toward reining in the nuclear arms race that is currently big-time college athletics.

And while we're treating coaches like faculty members, we should offer them tenure. They can still earn a good living while at the same time having the kind of job security most people would envy. In return, they'd be expected to demonstrate the loyalty and long-term commitment it takes to build and maintain a program.

Yes, I know we'd lose some coaches to the NFL. (No more than 32 at a time, though.) Let them go. The ones who love working with young people will stay on our college campuses, where they belong. And all of us -- players, coaches, institutions, even fans -- will be better off for it in the long run.

Next week I'll get off the coaches' case and conclude this series by talking about reforms related to student-athletes.

Rob Jenkins is associate professor of English and director of The Writers Institute at Georgia Perimeter College. E-mail him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.