Friday, March 13, 2009

Jim Calhoun - Hero or A-Hole?!?

You guys know I'm a big college basketball fan, but not necessarily a fan of the college basketball machine. Coaches are in many cases the highest paid gubb'ment employees in their states. The schools make millions of dollars off sponsorships, gate receipts, merchandise, and ticket revenues which are used to pay for everything from academic programs to non-revenue generating sports like lacrosse. Meanwhile, the poor players have a snowball's chance of going pro, and are so taxed by the requirements of the game that they graduate at embarrassingly low rates. Worst of all, since scholarships aren't for a full four years, but renewable each Fall, a kid can be easily discarded if he doesn't fit a coach's plans.

It's a mess that won't get cleaned up anytime soon, but one that could be easily remedied by giving the players some sort of profit sharing. Just open the books and give each scholarship player a set percentage of the program's earnings, deposited into an interest bearing account. The players can only cash out if they graduate within a 5 year period. Players who fail out or transfer get nothing. Schools that make no profits pay nothing. Schools that make out can honestly say they're making an investment (albeit not likely a big one) in the future of the players they've exploited to the tune of millions. Everyone wins.

If you don't reward the players with anything but a substandard education, you're going to open yourself up for scrutiny like what recently happened in Cinco's backyard, at the University of Connecticut.
He is one of the most admired men in college basketball. UConn head basketball Coach Jim Calhoun is already in the Hall of Fame. He just won his 800th game playing at Marquette last week. His Huskies are again headed to the NCAA Tournament, consistently rated number one in all college basketball polls. His leadership, integrity and ethics has been instrumental in his success on and off the basketball court. His leadership has earned the Huskies two NCAA Championships, one in 1999 and the other in 2004.

But last week the Jim Calhoun legacy came undone with one question at a post game press conference. As the state of Connecticut grappled with billions of dollars in red ink for the coming fiscal year, and the University of Connecticut, a state institution, a freelance reporter fired off a question that ricocheted right off Calhoun's chest and back into the hearts and ego's of local and national reporters.

The question came from freelance reporter and UConn law student Ken Krayeske. He asked Calhoun if he would give back some of his $1.6 million salary during a time when the state legislature was vigorously cutting the red ink. Calhoun shot back at Krayeske saying "not a dime", he then went on a tirade that included comments that became fodder on most local newscasts, sports shows and even You Tube.

Calhoun told Krayeske he needed to get his facts straight, Calhoun said he brings $12 million to the university each year from his program. A figure that was not challenged by anyone in the press and supported by the university.
Before anyone says "what's the big deal?", watch the video of the exchange.

I've always found Calhoun a bit too New England B-Daggish for my tastes. But the guy is a winner, and his players graduate and stay out of trouble for the most part. That's about all you can ask for in a college coach. His exorbitant salary is largely warranted. He took a program that wasn't even on the map and turned it into a perennial powerhouse. You could make the argument that the financial success of his hoops teams made the school's successful D1A football team possible. So, it's hard to say that he doesn't deserve the money, given the fact that many other college coaches make even more and don't have a national title to show for it.

On the flipside, with the economy the way it is, something about watching a guy sneer publicly about deserving $2M a year to do something that doesn't save lives comes off as really insulting. I realize the guy who posed the question (a blogger) was sorta trying to trap him, but he really could have handled the situation far better. Instead, he brought even more attention to what was a non-issue, and now he's having to answer to critics who think he should take a pay cut when the state is in fiscal trouble and his salary alone could likely save a few dozen teachers and firefighters their livelihoods.

When (if?) the economy improves, this won't be an issue, but for now, it's difficult to justify a coach making more than any other state employee when the state can barely stay out the red.

Besides, when you lose a 6-overtime thriller, you might need to give some money back just on G.P.

Question: Considering the state of the economy, and the fact that he's a state employee, should Calhoun's salary be reworked, or does he deserve every penny he gets?

Connecticut Governor Calls Jim Calhoun Salary Tirade 'Embarrassing' [AOL]

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