Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Iowa AD: Paying Players Is Too Complicated For Me And My $450K Salary

Illustration for article titled Iowa AD: Paying Players Is Too Complicated For Me And My $450K Salary

From a piece on the Iowa and Iowa State ADs' opposition to athlete unionization comes this doozy from Iowa's Gary Barta:

Barta suggests a pay-to-play system would force schools to put a monetary value on the different levels of competition in all collegiate sports.

"And I'll probably choose to do something else for a living if we ever had to go that route because it's so complex," Barta says. "Do you pay the Division III football player as an employee? Do you pay the tennis student athlete as an employee?"


According to a database maintained by The Tennessean, in 2010-11, Gary Barta earned $456,992 ($3,000 in non-university compensation), and had the opportunity to earn another $140,000 in bonuses.

So here is a man who earns over $400,000 per year, possibly over $500,000 with bonuses, and his job is to run the athletic department at the University of Iowa. Among his duties in this capacity is determining how much to pay each coach for the various men's and women's sports teams. Here is a list of how much those men's coaches made in 2009-10, according to Iowa's own financial reports.

SportCoach's salary
Baseball $148,298
Football $3,718,417
Golf $157,076
Gymnastics $123,660
Swimming $63,982
Tennis $105,607
Track & field+Cross country[1]$112,554
Wrestling $298,514

So, somehow Mr. Barta is able to figure out that a football coach is worth 58 times more than a swimming coach, and that a wrestling coach (wrestling is a big deal at Iowa) is worth about a quarter of a basketball coach (basketball is a big deal pretty much everywhere), but he would rather give up his $456,992 than figure out whether, in the absence of a nationwide, collectively agreed-upon cap on compensation, Iowa would make a common offer to all athletes or instead make different offers to different players of different sports.

What's interesting is that Iowa does this very thing already! From the same 2009-10 data, here's how much Iowa paid each male scholarship athlete on each team in terms of the listed value of his scholarship:

SportListed value per scholarship athlete
Baseball $11,316
Football $27,093
Golf $11,788
Gymnastics $16,611
Swimming $10,869
Tennis $12,404
Track & field+Cross country$10,202
Wrestling $9,081

So Barta already knows enough about compensating athletes to pay a football player, on average, about three times as much as a wrestler, despite the relatively higher performance of Iowa wrestling than Iowa football. (I suspect this has a lot to do with the way the NCAA rules cap compensation for both sports, and also the lack of competition Iowa faces—comparatively speaking—in recruiting wrestlers vs. football players.) He can even make similar valuations within a sport. For instance, he drops $27,093 apiece on 88 scholarship football players while giving nothing at all to 21 walk-ons.

Anyway, Gary Barta says figuring that out is too hard for him to do in exchange for a mere $456,992 in salary and $140,000 in bonuses. I know that if I ran a major state university and one of my department heads told me he was not smart enough to figure out how to pay the people who generated his department's revenue, I'd probably see whether my $456,992 could maybe find a different person who could.


[1] Note that the Iowa reports combine these two running sports, each of which had a separate head coach so the number reported here is the total compensation of the two coaches combined.

Andy Schwarz is an antitrust economist and partner at OSKR, an economic consulting firm specializing in expert witness testimony. Follow him on Twitter, @andyhre.