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Billy Reed: Through coronavirus lens, still seeing that compensation for college coaches is way out of line


As I’ve followed the scary Coronavirus story on TV and the internet, I’ve been looking for stories about how football and basketball coaches, both college and professional, and pro athletes have been stepping up to help fight the crisis.

After all, entertainers in America – and I’m including rock musicians, movie stars, and TV personalities with the sports-world folks – are among the wealthiest people in the world. We throw millions and millions at them just to entertain us.

As I’ve said many times, their compensation packages are far out of line with their importance to society. As we are seeing now, we can function without athletes, coaches, and entertainers. The trouble is, we pay them a lot more than we do doctors, scientists, teachers, and many others whose value has becoming painfully apparent in the past few weeks.

What’s happened in pro sports doesn’t bother me as much as what I’ve seen from the college world. When a football or basketball coach makes more than the History and Psychology departments combined, there’s something seriously wrong with our values. When four assistant coaches at Ohio State make more than $1 million each annually, it’s nothing less than obscene.

Billy Reed is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame and the Transylvania University Hall of Fame. He has been named Kentucky Sports Writer of the Year eight times and has won the Eclipse Award three times. Reed has written about a multitude of sports events for over four decades and is perhaps one of the most knowledgeable writers on the Kentucky Derby. His book “Last of a BReed” is available on Amazon.

Here are the highest-paid college coaches from the 2018-’19 season:

1. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke basketball, $8.9 million per year.

2. Nick Saban, Alabama football, $8.3 million

3. Urban Meyer, Ohio State football, $7.6 million

4. Jim Harbaugh, Michigan football, $7.5 million

5. Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M football, $7.5 million

6. John Calipari, Kentucky basketball, $7.1 million

7. Chris Holtmann, Ohio State basketball, $7.1 million

8. Gus Malzahn, Auburn football, $6.7 million

9. Kirby Smart, Georgia football, $6.6 million

10. Dabo Swinney, Clemson football, $6.2 million

In order to get a rise out of those who believe athletics are more important than academics, I sometimes refer to coaches as “glorified gym teachers.” They are more than that, of course, but not much more in the grand scheme of things.

But now, due to the Coronavirus, all these overpaid coaches, athletes, and entertainers have an opportunity to give back to the fans that have made them wealthy beyond belief. Surely the media would be full of reports about these fine folks donating millions out of their own pockets to open hospitals, pay for tests, buy ventilators and other equipment that’s in short supply, and support the medical community.

Let’s consider Cincinnati Reds’ first-baseman Joey Votto, who has been working on a contract that pays him $225 million per year, which makes the college coaches’ salaries look like peanuts. Surely Votto would give a significant amount of cash to the Cincinnati community to use as the mayor sees fit.

Alas, however, I haven’t seen it.

I should stop here to say I’m not picking on Votto. I mentioned him only because he’s the wealthiest hero in my neck of the woods. I also admit that maybe he’s done something significant and it has escaped me. If so, I would appreciate knowing about it. And, by the way, his contract is only the 13th largest in baseball. What are the top 12 doing?

Like most of us, it appears that sports and entertainment icons are better at taking than giving. That’s a shame because their serious participation in the Coronavirus war would be more important than anything they’ve ever done on a field, a court, or a stage.

To be fair, several NBA owners have volunteered to pay the salaries of arena workers until the date the regular season was due to end. Baseball players such a Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves, Jason Heyward of the Chicago Cubs, and George Stringer of the Houston Astros have made modest contributions to one group or another (when you’re making $10 million a year, I think $100,000 qualifies as “modest.”)

Still, when you consider all the millions that have gone to professional entertainers for the last 10 or 15 years, they seem to be reluctant to give much back. And at this unprecedented time in our history, a time when a disease has literally stopped the world, that’s unfortunate, to say the least.

I look forward to the day when I can go to games or the movies again. Sports and entertainment have been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember. But I also hope the Coronavirus causes us to change our values and give more to society’s real heroes – doctors, scientists, first responders, etc. – and less to people who can contribute no more than dunks or home runs and touchdowns.

All that’s at stake is the future of our planet.


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One Comment

  1. Joe Dunkum says:

    point one If from this plague, America could realize how less important sports is to our well being, we will have progressed.

    point two I’m 78. Retired and feel as if i contributed to society. And I’m grateful that I got to live my life at a really great time for America. And that includes you and Mohamed Ali (he was more than a sports figure) and Dwight Eisenhower etc and on and on.

    Just saying

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