“Front Porch” Politics: Why College Coaching Salaries Continue to Skyrocket

It sounds almost like a talking point for college presidents at major athletic institutions.  In recent years, presidents from all over the country have repeated the same words, referring to their athletic programs as the “front porch” into their universities.  What they mean is that their successful sports teams — namely football and men’s basketball — are what prospective students notice first and what more and more alumni consider when it comes to donating.

Because of that philosophy, the salaries for NCAA football and men’s basketball coaches have risen to exorbitant figures.  The “premier” coaches often are the highest paid employees at their school, compensated significantly more than the university’s president and top ranking professors, not to mention the governor of the state.  At Indiana University, for example, basketball coach Tom Crean was paid $2.8 million in 2008-2009, his second season with the team, while Elinor Ostrom, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, received $167,018 in her 35th year of teaching at the university.

University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban, whose new salary will pay him a reported $6.9 million a year in 2014, will make approximately 60 times more than Alabama’s governor Robert Bentley would if he chose to take his salary ($120,935.80), which he does not.

What follows is a series of stories — written and reported by Columbia University Sports Journalism graduate students — that examine the tale behind the rising salaries of top NCAA coaches.  Speaking with administrators, academics, and often other sources at various universities, the stories depict why and how big-time college athletics have become the “front porch” for institutions of higher learning.


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