The Athletic Director - BIG $$$$$$$


With the NCAA finals captivating the media (okay, for a few minutes anyway), it is interesting to note just what kind of deals are worked out in universities with regard to their athletic directors, who profit greatly on the backs of athletes. The below has to do with the University of Kentucky, a perennial basketball powerhouse, though fallen on hard times this season. Of course, the coaches become millionaires much faster, the UK coach now in the middle of an eight-year $20 million deal, but those details will be grist for the mill later.

There was no joy in Mudville (otherwise known as Lexington, Ky.) on 19 March, when the University of Kentucky lost out in the NCAA basketball circus (okay, tournament, but so defined since there shouldn’t be more than 16 teams to start with, instead of 64) but there was not necessarily grief on the part of the UK athletics director – at least regarding the finances of it all and disregarding “what might have been” – since the Cats increased his good fortune even in defeat, though they could have enhanced it much more by making it to the magical Final Four. Parenthetically, Mitch Barnhart, who became the AD in 2002, originally signed a seven-year contract, but a clause in it called for him to receive a fully guaranteed five-year rollover at the end of the first three years. That rollover guarantee was made good last September. His base salary of $375,000 ($275,000 base plus $100,000 as TV/Radio Package) per year plus substantial incentives remains the same. Though he arrived on the scene some six or so months before then, his original contract was not settled until January 2003 – apparently a lot of dickering going on over how much loot would be available and how and when.

By virtue of the fact that the UK Cats barely made it into the initial 64-team lineup (seeded eighth), AD Barnhart collected a cool $25,000 bonus on the spot, since his contract, as outlined in the Lexington Herald-Leader of 16 January 2003, stipulates a $25,000-windfall if either the men’s or women’s basketball team makes the final field. Depending on the interpretation, Barnhart could collect another $25,000 because the women’s team also made the glorious NCAA tournament, as befits any school trying for top-twenty academic status. If either of the two teams had made it to the Olympian heights of the Final Four (semi-finals), Barnhart would have collected another $25,000, win or lose. Neither made the Final Four, unfortunately. So…since the Cats (men) also made the 64-team-cutoff in 2003-05, the AD picked up another cool $75,000 for that. This means at least another $100,000 (maybe $125,000, counting the women) made off the backs of the basketball players alone since 2003. Not bad.

Actually, all that stuff is chickenfeed when compared to what the AD could knock down if the football team would just get on the ball. If it could just make any post-season bowl appearance – no matter how lowly – Barnhart would collect $30,000 on the spot. The big enchilada, though, would come his way – $100,000 – if the football Cats made it into either the Rose, Fiesta, Sugar, or Orange Bowl, whether they won…or lost by eight touchdowns. About all a team has to do to get to a bowl is win seven games (maybe just six would do), so the AD has to get the troops motivated if his bank account is to remain worthy. So, by this summer, presumably, Barnhart will have drawn $1.6 million in salary and basketball bonuses that are known about…in four years. This doesn’t count the $5,000 he gets if any other team makes it into an NCAA tournament, and another $5,000 if it actually wins. Counting gymnastics, golf, probably cheerleading, volley ball, swimming, baseball, no telling what else, some bonuses may have amounted to a good pot by now, also…but just chickenfeed and unknown in this corner. Actually, the women’s swim/dive team participated in the NCAA championships in Athens, Georgia, a few weeks ago, so, presumably another $5,000 landed in Barnhart-Utopia for that achievement.

According to Barnhart’s contract, UK has been setting aside $30,000 annually, which Barnhart could begin collecting on 30 June this year. It’s not known here how the collecting will take place, but apparently that’s another $120,000 as of now to sweeten the old bank account. It’s called “longevity pay.” After all, four years in one spot is a long time. One supposes this feature was “rolled over” in the contract extension. So that the AD will not be unduly burdened with transportation problems, UK also furnishes him with two cars for business and personal use. In addition, he’s entitled to $50,000 in “discretionary incentives” as defined by the UK president. It’s not known here if he’s collected on this feature. If he has, that’s at least another $150,000 to help stay above the poverty level.

Barnhart is entitled to yet another $100,000+. As is often the case in sports operations, Barnhart skipped out on his contract with Oregon State to come to UK, but was required to pay OSU that amount for the privilege. To ease his pain, UK agreed to “loan” him that amount for five years at a “commercially reasonable” rate. However, if Barnhart stays five years (until 2007), the whole loan plus interest is forgiven. At four percent compounded annually, that works out to about $121,665 that Barnhart will never have to repay. It’s just money in the bank. The university also antes up for his membership in the exclusive golf/country club of his choice, but shouldn’t any self-respecting AD expect to go first-class? On his salary, how could anyone expect him to pay his own dues…or even drive his own cars? What a contract…plus the extension!!!!

This sounds zany…and it is. And it happens this way all across the country. While UK stretches for top-20 status as a research institution, this is the kind of stuff that demoralizes the faculty/researchers/staff, especially when faculty and staff are hard-pressed to make ends meet. In the 90s, UK paid football coach Bill Curry $600,000 to quit; a few years later UK paid football coach Hal Mumme $1,000,000 to quit and threw in a coupla cars for a while. In 1999, the football coach at the University of Louisville, Ron Cooper, was paid a cool $1,000,000 to quit. The University of Cincinnati paid its basketball coach, Bob Huggins, a cool $3 million to quit a year or so ago, as did the University of Arkansas in behalf of its coach, Nolan Richardson, a few years ago. When athletic departments can get away with this kind of irresponsibility, one wonders at the tuition increases placed on students who must borrow money to stay in school and then spend years paying off the loans.

Top-20? Not likely as long as the priorities are where they are. Notwithstanding the fact that UK won two NCAA basketball championships in the 90s, plus all kinds of other conferences/tournaments in other years while practicing in Memorial Coliseum, a new practice gym costing multi-millions (some even kicked in by the state) is now being built so the team can be “great.” Imagine the scholarships and tuition decreases that could be made with that kind of dough. And the athletes? Well…they play out their eligibility and line the pockets of athletic directors and coaches…they may or may not graduate. Disgusting!