WASHINGTON — Four of college football’s six powerhouse conferences paid their top executives $1 million or more, an Associated Press analysis of tax records shows, far eclipsing the compensation of most university presidents.
A review of 2009 IRS returns, the most recent available, shows that Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was the highest paid, receiving total compensation valued at $1.6 million, followed by Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford ($1.1 million), Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive ($1 million) and Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe ($997,000). The other two commissioners each started in July, 2009, so their compensation figures are only for the last six months of the year: PAC-10’s Larry Scott ($735,000), and Big East’s John Marinatto ($366,000).
Those figures include base salary and benefits such as health insurance, as well as other forms of pay such as retirement and deferred compensation. On an annual or prorated basis, only Marinatto made less than the median pay of presidents of the nation’s large research universities, which was $760,774 in 2008, according to a Chronicle of Higher Education survey published last fall.
The new data about commissioner salaries comes at a time when, driven by a series of controversies at major programs, there’s a growing chorus about the problems of enforcing amateurism in college football, saying it may be time to rethink the system as everyone but the athletes are making big money.
Indiana University President Michael McRobbie, the Big Ten board chairman, said his conference’s presidents and chancellors believe Delany is worth “every penny” that he receives.
The conferences, which oversee a host of college sports besides football, operate as 501(c)(3) charitable organizations, meaning their operations are tax-exempt. The compensation is generally set by boards of directors made up of the member schools’ presidents and chancellors.
The six conferences, all of which receive automatic bids to Bowl Championship Series games, are among 11 that make up college football’s highest level. The other five — Mountain West, Mid-American, Sun Belt, Conference USA and the Western Athletic Conference — don’t receive automatic bids and receive smaller bowl payouts from the BCS, although those payments have increased in recent years as overall BCS revenue has grown.
AP’s review also found that Slive, the SEC commissioner, received a $1 million bonus in 2008, nearly doubling his pay that year to $2.1 million.
Dave Czesniuk, senior associate director at Northeastern University’s Sport in Society, argued that the figures reflect the over-commercialization of college sports.
“I can’t imagine that the well-being and growth of student-athletes is of paramount importance when there’s that level of compensation,” he said.
The million-dollar paydays for the commissioners still lag far behind some of the nation’s top football college coaches. Texas coach Mack Brown, for instance, makes around $5 million, while Alabama coach Nick Saban earns $4.7 million
The Big Ten has floated the idea this year of paying athletes to cover expenses, and the topic will be discussed at an NCAA retreat in August.