Does big-money sports make sense at Cal?

Memorial Stadium

The relationship of big-money sports to the university will be the focus of next week’s Academic Senate meeting at UC Berkeley. The Chronicle published a front-page analysis of the debate the other day, and the university has just released Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour’s 22-page question-and-answer document.

Some facts from Barbour’s FAQ that I wasn’t aware of:

  • The three most highly compensated coaches (football’s Jeff Tedford, men’s basketball’s Mike Montgomery and women’s basketball’s Joanne Boyle) all voluntarily agreed to at least 10% cuts in their base pay this year, because of the university’s financial straits.
  • Athletics self-generates 89% of its budget.
  • The funds from the chancellor and student registration fees that make up the other 11% go to women’s sports and financial assistance.

Barbour’s document clearly is an effort to put intercollegiate athletics in the most favorable light, but I thought it was admirably honest and straightforward. It confronts the most emotive number — that Tedford is the university’s highest paid employee, by a mile — directly:

It’s a legitimate question to ask why a head coach should earn so much more than a Nobel prize-winning professor. Whether we like it or not, we cannot ignore market forces when so much hinges on the success of our revenue-producing programs. To the same extent, market forces are not, and cannot be ignored when it comes to determining compensation levels for faculty. But, that doesn’t mean we enter these markets with a “what ever it takes” attitude. In a manner consistent with everything everyone does at this University, we carefully analyze cost and benefit, seek the highest possible value for our money and hold those we recruit to extraordinarily high standards in terms of their team’s athletic and academic performance.


The other side of the argument is concisely stated in the resolution before the Academic Senate calling for an end to any and all subsidies and preferences provided to the athletics program and athletes. Some of the statistics in the Academic Senate resolution directly contradict statistics in Barbour’s FAQ. I suspect much of the debate will center on whose figures are right and whose figures are wrong.

Go Bears?

Photo by Hitchster on Flickr