Human beings are great at justifying pretty much any belief they have. For instance, both the Bible and the U.S. Constitution were used to justify the continuation of slavery in the United States. Likewise, people seem quick to justify multi-million dollar college coaching salaries for men’s sports but not for women’s sports. While not as nefarious as slavery, discrimination is still something we should be unilaterally against. Which is why we should also be against the contract signed by Jim Harbaugh, University of Michigan’s new head football coach.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, the average salary of a Division I-A coach of a men’s team in 2013 was $531,826 while head coaches of women’s teams averaged only $140,457. The University of Michigan men’s head coaches averaged $578,279 and the women’s head coaches averaged $175,339. So the University of Michigan’s pay gap is not out of the ordinary for college coaching. It is out of the ordinary among all professions though. According to a report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), college educated women make 7% less even when controlling for “occupation, major, hours worked, parenthood, and many other factors.” While college educated women are paid 7% less than their male counterparts, college educated coaches of women’s teams are paid 379% less than coaches of men’s teams!
The most often used justification for such gender discrimination in college coaching pay is the amount of revenue generated by men’s sports. According to the previously cited data from the U.S. Department of Education, University of Michigan (UofM) men’s teams netted almost $60 million while women’s teams actually lost a little over $20 million in 2013. Some have said that paying more for coaches whose sports generate more revenue for their college is akin to paying salespeople for generating more revenue for their business. Yet, that argument falls short when you consider Harbaugh is making seven million dollars this year while UofM’s President is making less than a million dollars. Harbaugh is only in charge of the football program while Mark Schlissel is in charge of the entire University! Surely, no General Motors car salesman makes more than the CEO of General Motors, let alone seven times more! But more significant than that is understanding public universities are not private sector businesses. At a public university, you should be paid for the amount of time you put in, your commitment to the program, and the quality of the outcome, not for the amount of revenue you raise. That is how it works in the high school ranks. The coaching contracts for Rockford High School and Clarkston High School reveal their head football coaches are paid the same amount as their head women’s basketball coach, assuming they have the same number of years of service. These are two big time high school programs with multiple state titles in football, and I’m sure the football program brings in more revenue than the girl’s basketball program. Other sports that require less of a time commitment pay less.
I’m not naïve. I do not expect Division 1-A universities will reign in coaching pay on their own. After all, they are in the midst of an arms race. The only way to fix this problem is to do it as part of reforming the entire non-profit system. After all, examples of outrageous compensation exist in all areas of the non-profit world. What we need is a maximum wage for non-profits. For individuals who want to make a fortune, they should move into the private sector. A public university should not be able to compete with a professional league when it comes to coaching pay. Side note: The NFL is actually a non-profit that pays their commissioner 29.5 million a year.
If men’s coaches were paid less in college, and if pay were equalized, there would be more money to take care of the athletes who actually play the game that people come to watch. Money could be set aside to pay for future health issues that occur as a result of playing the sport. The same day that Harbaugh was named UofM’s head coach, Governor Snyder signed legislation to prevent student athletes from unionizing. So players will not be able to make these changes through old fashion organizing.
Before you go criticizing me as some leftist intellectual who is anti-football, consider that I coached football for the better part of two decades. Before you criticize me for being a Michigan State fan, which I am guilty of, consider that I made UofM the focus of this article only because their coaching hire has been in the news non-stop these past several weeks and that makes this discussion timely. Before you go discounting my entire argument, ask yourself if you would have used the Bible or the Constitution to justify slavery if you had a stake in the slave trade industry. Just because you can justify your argument does not mean that it is moral, ethical, or that it should be legal.