Who would you think makes more money: the coach of the seemingly unstoppable Denver Broncos, John Fox, or of the perennially decent University of Iowa’s football team, Kirk Ferentz? Believe it or not, the answer is Ferentz, and by almost half a million dollars a year, according to Celebrity Net Worth and Coaches Hot Seat NFL. In all but 10 states, according to a recent viral map of the U.S. found on Addicting Info, the highest paid public servant in each state is the head coach of a college sports team, predominantly football and basketball. According to USA Today, the average salary of football head coaches from major colleges in 2012 was $1.64 million (and skyrocketing faster than that of corporate executives), while the average salary of basketball head coaches from this past NCAA tournament is $1.47 million, the vast majority of these teams being from public schools.
Compare those seven-digit figures to those of their K-12 teacher counterparts. The average salaries of these teachers, according to PayScale, run from the low- to mid-$40,000 range. That’s about a fortieth of the top college football coaches’ haul.
The rationalization behind coaches’ incredible salaries is that they’re basically necessary for the universities. If universities don’t offer market salaries to top potential coaches, they cannot, they argue, hire them because another school will take them up. And without a top notch coach, there will be no top notch team to rake in millions of dollars in revenue to help support the school. Sure, Mack Brown may make over $5 million a year, but Texas Longhorns football still takes home close to $80 million in total profits, according to ESPN. Showering Brown and his counterparts around the country with that much cash earns the lucky public schools the necessary extra money the government may not always be able to reliably endow them and extra prestige that will attract more students.
While the best coaches may expect very high salaries and may help put together a successful revenue-generating team for a university, their salaries underscore the particularly high, but perhaps often subconscious, value our society places on sports. A friend of mine who attends Louisiana State University, a football powerhouse, described his university to me as “a football school with a side of teaching,” and apparently head coach Les Miles is revered at an almost religious level. Whenever I hear about the university, it’s in reference to its football team. From both inside and outside the school, people are coming to view it as more of a football institution rather than an educational institution, and this trend seems to be picking up steam with the collegiate football and basketball juggernauts around the country.
With so much emphasis being placed on athletic domination, we’re hearing more and more about academic dishonesty, especially with players of these two sports. Highlighted recently by an NPR article concerning a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill scandal, athletes around the country have had their grades rigged in addition to other illicit benefits in order to remain eligible and are falling far behind their non-sporting classmates in academic skills. The involved student athletes are learning much less and are going to be ill-equipped for life after college unless they’re one of the lucky few who will play professionally.
While college sports are a fun, exciting spectacle that ignite our competitive spirit (and generate lots of revenue), it’s people like K-12 public school teachers who really take on the vital burdens of continuing an intelligent, functioning society. Society could go on operating just fine without collegiate sports, but would be hopelessly floundering without the millions of dedicated public school teachers to spark and foster kids’ creativity and pursuit of knowledge, not to mention get them to their college teams in the first place. In light of this, it would make more sense for these teachers rather than the coaches to be making the big bucks, even if the rewards of playing/coaching/watching sports seem more immediately tangible.
Don’t get me wrong, I love watching college sports, especially the ones that pay their coaches millions of dollars, but I don’t think we should be fostering a mindset that leaves education in the backseat. We need to ask ourselves what we truly value more and what we should be prioritizing.