A Win for the Athletic Department, A Loss for Education

December 31st, 2010 by under The University in the Future, The University Today. No Comments.

This week brought a huge win for Maryland’s football team in the Military Bowl in a game that turns out to be the last one for football coach Ralph Friedgen. The Maryland Athletic Director, Kevin Anderson, evidently made the decision to buy out Friedgen’s last year of his contract. According to the Web site www.ncaafootball.fanhouse.com Friedgen was asked to leave after the coach-in-waiting, James Franklin, accepted the head coaching job at Vanderbilt.

The site reports that 1) Friedgen was earning about $2 million a year as head coach and 2) in 2009 Franklin was promised a $1 million payment if he stayed at Maryland and for some reason did not become head coach in 2012.

For faculty members who are responsible for achieving the two major purposes of a University, educating students and conducting research that contributes to society, these numbers are staggering. The best-paid faculty do not come close to the coach’s salary. If the numbers are correct, Friedgen made about four times the salary of Maryland’s outgoing President, Dan Mote.

For the last three years the faculty has had furlough days and no raises. For some of us the unpaid furlough days have added up to 25 over three years. Spending $2 million to buy out a coach’s contract is in extremely poor taste under any circumstances, and much worse in today’s economic climate.

Yes, I know that the state does not pay the coaches’ high salaries, but those millions could be put to use for education. To do so would require that alums and other donors value the educational mission of the University over varsity athletics. Fortunately there are a few of these people, like the late Robert H. Smith who generously endowed the Business School and whose wife contributed heavily to the performing arts at Maryland.

In an earlier posting I described what a university of the future might look like. One component was to franchise the University’s name to private sports organizations that would be financially independent of the University. These organizations would field varsity football and basketball teams for the University. The events of recent days have convinced me that such a mechanism is a necessary first step in fixing American higher education. Let a private sports company operating like a baseball farm club be responsible for recruiting players, paying coaches and selling tickets. Athletes could apply to attend the University, but would not have to be students to play. The University could then dismantle its elaborate recruiting and tutoring systems for athletes. We can stop pretending that someone playing two or three basketball games a week is actually able to get a college education at the same time. The University should negotiate a high fee for this Club calling itself the official team of the University of Maryland and using the Terps trademark.

It is time for universities, their students, alums and administrators, to remember why we exist and that athletics should only be a small part of what we do.