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Huge performance bonuses commonplace for NCAA basketball coaches

Kansas head coach Bill Self reacts to a

Kansas head coach Bill Self reacts to a call during the first half of an NCAA tournament college basketball game against New Mexico State in the Round of 64, Friday, March 20, 2015, in Omaha, Neb. Credit: AP / Charlie Neibergall

Forty-five basketball coaches from public universities in the NCAA Tournament will collect a total of $1.38 million in bonuses just for earning a spot in the 68-team field.

And that's only the beginning of the extra cash available to coaches this month.

As the lack of compensation for college athletes is receiving intensified scrutiny, records obtained by Newsday show how their coaches benefit financially from players' performances in college basketball's showcase event.

The NCAA Tournament, known as "March Madness," is among the nation's most popular sporting events, bringing in $740 million just in TV revenue, according to the NCAA's most recent financial filing. Millions of Americans fill out brackets in an effort to predict which of the teams will advance through the six rounds of single-elimination games to become champion.

Duke University economics professor Charles T. Clotfelter, who has studied the rise of coaches salaries over the past 25 years, said the bonuses are an extension of "an astounding out-of-bounds growth rate for coaching salaries that doesn't look very sustainable" for higher education, which has struggled with declining admissions and increasing tuition.

"If you look at the mission statements of these universities, you're hard pressed to find one that mentions winning or even sports at all," he said. "They talk about research, teaching and service. They don't talk about this."


There are 351 colleges, universities and service academies with Division I men's basketball programs. Newsday contacted each of those schools requesting a copy of the men's basketball coach's contract. Newsday obtained the information from 229 public universities and service academies through public record requests.

The 122 remaining schools are not required by law to release such information.

Public universities in Pennsylvania and Delaware are not required to release employee contracts or pay information. The five schools with Division I programs in those states refused Newsday's request.

Private universities and colleges also are not required to release employee compensation information. None of the 117 private schools complied with Newsday's request.

In the bonus

When R.J. Hunter hit a 30-foot three pointer with four seconds left to lift 14th-seeded Georgia State over third-seeded Baylor Thursday, the victory triggered a $50,000 bonus for his father and Panthers coach, Ron Hunter. The Georgia State coach, whose salary is $475,000, already had earned a $25,000 bonus for making the tournament.

The highest bonus for qualifying for this season's tournament went to University of Texas coach Rick Barnes, who received a $125,000 payout.

Some coaches receive more money if they receive an automatic bid by winning their conference tournament as opposed to an at-large bid, which is determined by the NCAA's selection committee.

For example, Barnes would have received $187,500 instead of $125,000 if Texas won the Big 12 championship.

Texas, a No. 11 seed, finished the regular season 20-13 and was considered to be on the bubble to make the tournament. Texas' 56-48 loss to Butler on Thursday cost Barnes an additional $30,000.

Tony Bennett, coach of No. 2 seed Virginia, earned $50,000 when the Cavaliers qualified for the tournament. If Virginia were to win the national championship, Bennett would make an additional $1 million, the highest potential bonus in the contracts reviewed by Newsday. Bennett's salary is $1.92 million.

Kentucky's John Calipari and Oklahoma State's Travis Ford were the only coaches of the 45 tournament teams whose contracts are public record without tournament-related bonuses. Two other coaches did not receive qualifying bonuses but can make additional money based on their team's performance.

Bill Self of Kansas would earn $150,000 if his team reaches the Final Four and another $200,000 if the Jayhawks win the national title. Self is paid $3 million in salary and will receive a $2.6 million retention bonus this month.

Louisville's Rick Pitino is paid $3.9 million in annual salary. Though he did not get a bonus for making the tournament, Pitino would receive $50,000 for making it to the Sweet 16, another $50,000 for reaching the Elite Eight and $75,000 for getting to the Final Four. If the Cardinals win the championship, Pitino earns an additional $150,000, which would bring his NCAA Tournament bonus total to $325,000.

"I've found it to be a good way of seeing that achievements are rewarded," Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich said. "Obviously everyone wants to be in the NCAA Tournament and everyone wants to win those games, but not everyone can. We should single them out."

Calipari, whose team entered the tournament with a 34-0 record, will be paid $6.55 million this season, which is the highest salary among the contracts reviewed by Newsday. Though unrelated to the tournament, Calipari can get a $50,000 bonus if his team scores a 950 or above in the APR (academic progress rate), which is the NCAA's system for tracking academic success.

Tournament-related incentives were removed from Calipari's contract last summer when he signed a seven-year, $52.5-million deal.

"Coach Calipari did not want to incentivize the success of his players," said University of Kentucky spokesman Eric Lindsey. Neither Calipari nor athletic director Mitch Barnhart would comment.

Ford's 10-year, $24-million contract, signed in 2009, has no bonus clauses. Athletic director Mike Holder did not return messages seeking comment.

The smallest bonuses for making the tournament -- $2,000 each -- went to Coastal Carolina's Cliff Ellis and Eastern Washington's Jim Hayford. Both teams won their conference tournament to make it in.

Extra income

Coaches can supplement their salaries by an average of 29 percent based on making the tournament and how far their team advances, according to a Newsday analysis of 229 coaches' contracts.

The average salary for the 229 coaches at public universities this season is $737,392, and on average they can make an additional $215,032 based on their team's performance in the tournament, the Newsday analysis shows.

Jim Haney, the executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, says that coaches are so focused on winning games that the bonuses never enter their minds.

"Most of our coaches are very competitive," Haney said. "The incentive turns out to be an afterthought."

Newsday's review of the contracts also revealed:

Incentives are common practice. A total of 213 of the 229 coaches whose employment information was obtained by Newsday have language in their contracts based on financial bonuses surrounding the team's performance in the NCAA Tournament. Big-time payoffs: There are 65 schools that compete in what's commonly referred to as the NCAA's five power conferences: the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and Pac-12. Newsday obtained the contracts for 51 of those coaches through public-records requests. Their average salary is $2.1 million -- and they can supplement it with an average of $427,000 in tournament-related bonuses if their team wins the championship.

Florida State's Leonard Hamilton could have almost doubled his $2-million salary with $1.8 in tournament-related incentives. Florida State finished the regular season 17-16 and did not make the NCAA Tournament.

Stony Brook's last-second loss to Albany in the America East championship game cost the Seawolves an NCAA Tournament berth and coach Steve Pikiell a $10,000 bonus. Pikiell, in his 10th year at Stony Brook, makes $372,550 and will receive a $50,000 longevity bonus on April 1. Albany coach Will Brown received a $7,500 bonus for earning the tournament bid. Brown is paid $295,000 in base salary.


Administrators say these bonuses are a way for coaches to share in the economic boom that accompanies a deep tournament run.

Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said winning in the tournament "helps you with contributions, helps you sell season tickets for next year, helps you with selling licensed merchandise and there's also a benefit that's hard to put a price tag on in that it brings tremendous visibility and recognition to the institution.

"When you have a coach who can achieve that level," Foley added, "I think you have to reward them."

Critics say coaches' tournament-related bonuses are another sign of a broken collegiate sports model in which the school and coaches benefit from a team's success but the people most responsible for the achievement -- the players -- do not.

"I think it's fine for a coach to share in the economic success of a team advancing to the championship and winning the tournament, but not while they are simultaneously excluding the players from similar benefits," said Ramogi Huma, executive director of The National College Players Association, a nonprofit advocacy group for athletes' rights.

An NCAA spokeswoman said the basketball coaches' bonuses tied to the tournament are "institutional decisions" and referred all questions to school administrators such as "athletic directors/presidents."

Not just the men

The contracts of coaches at top women's basketball programs are structured in the same way as the men's coaches' pacts, rewarding them with financial bonuses for making the tournament and advancing.

Geno Auriemma, coach of perennially top-ranked Connecticut, is paid $2.075 million in guaranteed compensation this season. He received $50,000 for making the tournament and can get an additional $133,333 if his team wins the championship, which the Huskies have done eight times since 2000.

Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer, who is paid $700,000, triggered a $100,000 bonus for qualifying for the tournament and stands to earn more money with each additional win. She gets $50,000 for first-, second- and third-round victories, $100,000 for a fourth-round win, $50,000 for fifth-round and another $100,000 for a national title.

Kentucky women's coach Matthew Mitchell is paid $1.1 million in salary and can make $220,833 if the Wildcats win the national championship.

The modern marketplace

Athletic directors say these bonuses have become commonplace because of the competitive marketplace.

But it's not just the coaches that benefit. At North Carolina State, athletic director Debbie Yow said performance bonuses have worked in the school's favor at the negotiating table.

"N.C. State might not be in position presently to pay coach [Mark] Gottfried $3 million dollars because we don't know how the season is going to go," she said. "If ticket sales fell off because we didn't have a good year I would still have to pay him the $3 million and we wouldn't have the revenue we need to justify that."

Instead the school pays Gottfried a salary of $2 million, which is about the middle of the pack in the ACC. But N.C. State sweetens the deal by offering him another $812,500 in bonuses based on the NCAA Tournament.

This season, N.C. State went 20-13 and lost in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament. But N.C. State made it to the NCAAs as an eighth seed, triggering a $62,500 bonus for Gottfried.

"The better he does, the more he makes," Yow said. "It works for our side as well, because the better he does, the more people come to the games. There's an equity to that, a fairness. The equation seems to make more sense that way."

This explanation exposes the flaw in the NCAA description of athletes as amateur, according to critics. As in, how could these basketball players be considered amateurs if they're making so much money for so many other people besides themselves?

"The bonus system is basically inherently wrong because the bonuses are derived from the ability of the players," said longtime sports marketing executive Sonny Vaccaro, who has worked for Nike, adidas and Reebok. "I don't know how they defend this. This is where you can directly connect the kid on the field and the money."

But athletic directors see it differently.

"Obviously you're not going to be able to do it without them," said Jurich, the Louisville AD. "But I can promise you they're certainly not going to do it without coaching, either."

Yow looks at it from a job security perspective.

Although the coach is benefiting financially from the players' performance, he also can get hurt by it, too. She said the coach's job status often depends on what happens on the court.

The athlete's scholarship status, she said, does not.

"Bottom line, if they miss a foul shot or they win a game, whatever, they are in no danger here of being quote-unquote fired," Yow said. "They're coming back, we want them to get their degrees, no matter how many different mistakes they make. We are going to stand by them."

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