Barry Alvarez will get an extra $118,500 for one month's work. That's on top of his annual salary of $1 million.
Barry will get the extra pocket change because he agreed to coach the Badgers football team in the Rose Bowl after the departure of coach Brett Bielema for greener (as in the color of money) pastures at Arkansas. Bielema's base salary was $2.7 million, and so Barry will get one-twelfth of that to prepare the team for the game on New Year's Day.
If that seems like a lot of money to anyone working through the implications of Act 10 for the family budget, keep in mind that even nearly $3 million a year wasn't enough to keep Bielema a badger instead of a pig. (I don't mean that in a derogatory way; the Razorback is the official Arkansas mascot.) Bielema left for something like three-quarters of a million dollars more every year.
Barry Alvarez might actually be worth an extra $118,500 for a month's work. His return to the field has turned what was a ho-hum third straight Rose Bowl into the exciting return of a coach who knows how to win there. The increase in ticket and Badgers paraphernalia sales and television viewers might be enough to make it pencil out.
But the whole story points up what's troubling at the heart of big-time college athletics: money. As I've pointed out before, the argument that massive revenues are needed to fund other non-revenue-producing sports and to build state-of-the-art athletic facilities goes only so far. What gets ignored is the salaries of coaches and athletic directors. To suggest that the people who run big-time college sports press for increasingly larger revenue sources for their programs without an eye on their own compensation packages just isn't credible.
And it's not just success that gets rewarded. Just as in the corporate world, abject failure is greeted with a large check to make the problem go away. Auburn, for example, fired its whole football coaching staff and was forced to pay $11 million to get rid of them -- and that's just one example. Joe Nocera had a great op-ed about the problem of money in college sports in today's The New York Times.
There is just no reason for the Big Ten (uh 12) to become the Big Ten (make that 14) by adding Maryland and Rutgers beyond the hope that this will add lucrative TV markets to the league.
All of that would be okay if we were talking the NFL here. Professional football is a private-sector, for-profit (actually for a lot of profit) business, and the people who produce the product (the players) are very well compensated. (Although recent studies of brain injury among NFL players makes you wonder if it's worth it.)
But that's not the case in the Division I game. College football gets dressed up with all kinds of solemn statements about student athletes and forming the characters of young men. Maybe that's part of it, but that narrative masks the fact that college football is a massive farm system for the NFL, run by highly compensated professionals.
Meanwhile, 95% of college football players get winnowed out of the NFL's entry point and never receive a dime of compensation for the revenues they helped produce. In the NFL's college football farm system, the vast majority of players never make it to the big leagues, just like in major league baseball. But at least minor league ballplayers make a little money. College football players can get tossed from the team for accepting a pair of free shoes. Talk about unfair labor practices.
There's two ways to go here. We could either make student athletes real by banning them from playing professionally, or we could pay them for the performances we enjoy as we watch them in the stands or on TV. Either system would be more equitable and more honest than what we have right now.
[Editor's note: This item was updated to note that Barry Alvarez will be receiving an extra $118,500 in compensation for taking over coaching of the Wisconsin Badgers football team for the 2013 Rose Bowl. See a University of Wisconsin System press release for more information.]