Student Well-Being

Arne Duncan: Punish NCAA Coaches’ Wallets for Poor Academics

By Bryan Toporek — March 21, 2013 2 min read
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In a press call today, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called on postsecondary leadership to restore the balance between academic and athletic priorities in intercollegiate sports.

The secretary highlighted coaches’ roles in this mission, suggesting that the balance between academic and athletic bonuses in their contracts is badly out of whack.

“The vast majority of coaches absolutely want to do the right thing, but today, the incentives are all wrong,” Duncan said.

Duncan cited the work of Tom McMillen, a former Maryland congressman and University of Maryland basketball player, who recently examined the contracts of more than 50 college football and basketball coaches. (McMillen joined Duncan on today’s call.) McMillen found that while many coaches’ contracts included incentives for their teams’ academic performance, the bonuses were dwarfed by athletic performance incentives.

According to McMillen’s research, academic incentives in the coaches’ contracts averaged out to be roughly $52,000 per coach, while athletic incentives were about $600,000 per coach. That’s a ratio of roughly 11-to-1, a detail that the secretary and McMillen hammered frequently in the press call.

“We believe that there should be better balance in these contracts,” McMillen said.

In an editorial for USA Today Sports not-so-coincidentally published today, Duncan and McMillen suggested that “no coach should receive financial bonuses when much of his team is flunking out or failing to get a degree.”

McMillen found that under their current contracts, most coaches can receive bonuses for winning games no matter how their players perform in the classroom.

Ben Jealous, the president and chief executive officer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, suggested during the call that there should be no incentive given to a coach who succeeds on the court and fails off the court.

He cited the University of Connecticut men’s basketball team as a primary example, as the team won the 2011 NCAA men’s basketball tournament but was banned from the 2013 postseason because it did not meet the new academic benchmarks set by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

“UConn is an example of how you can be really good at basketball and a really bad coach all at the same time,” Jealous said.

During today’s call, Duncan acknowledged that it would take “courageous leadership” to make such radical changes to coaches’ contracts, but added, “if you want to change behavior, you have to redirect the money.”

Ultimately, in the secretary’s eyes, coaches and their teams “need to advance the fundamental educational mission” of their institutions.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.