Regents want bigger say in size of U of M coaching deals

New University of Minnesota football coach P.J. Fleck could make $18 million over five years, the largest contract ever given out to a U of M coach. And some members of the Board of Regents think the board should have something to say about spending that kind of money.

Until 1996, the Regents did, just as the financial overseers of eight of the 13 Big Ten schools do.

“The board is the public’s last opportunity to review and ensure that not only the selection, but the compensation … is consistent with our expectations as an institution and as a state,” Regent Darrin Rosha tells Minnesota Daily today.

And Regent Michael Hsu says nobody has indicated how the U of M intends to pay for Fleck’s deal.

“We, as regents, have a fiduciary responsibility to make sure that we understand what we’re approving, and we should be approving large contracts,” he said.

It’s almost as if Rosha could see this coming, having written in April 2016 that the power to oversee and approve fat coaching contracts should be returned to the Regents.

Some express concern that regent approval of coaches’ contracts would get in the way of the experts hired to run the athletic department. Our distinguished chair, Dean Johnson, posed: “If I’m a potential athletic director candidate … and I’m listening to this discussion and doing my homework … I’m going to scratch my head and say, ‘What kind of job am I getting myself into?’ ” This merits consideration.

During my first term as a regent from 1989 to 1995, the board approved coaches’ contracts as it always had from its founding. Even with that oversight, we regents never sought to “micromanage” the terms of the contracts we approved, nor did an AD demand unchecked power to expose the U to unlimited financial risk. To the contrary, they effectively made the case for each contract they brought to the regents for approval.

So, would we discourage good candidates for athletic director if we returned to that level of oversight? No.

Rossa’s essay came last year after basketball coach Richard Pitino got the highest potential buyout in Gopher history — over $7 million — after posting one of the worst records in school history.

Last week, University President Eric Kaler said tax dollars won’t go to coaching contracts and buyouts. But a higher education committee chair at the Capitol says the size of contracts will be the main question of committee members when the U of M lobbies legislators for $350 million.

Related: U of M dance team: an athletic dynasty you might not know about (Star Tribune)

  • MrE85

    It would be interesting to see a coach’s salary, bonuses and benefits tied to his/her student-athletes five-year graduation rates; student conduct and GPA as well as # of wins, conference championships and bowl appearances.

  • Mike

    >>Last week, University President Eric Kaler said tax dollars won’t go to coaching contracts and buyouts.<<

    It's all just a shell game, isn't it? Has there been any accounting oversight to see if this statement is even minimally true?

    If responsibility to approve contracts from removed from the Board in 1995, I wonder what the rationale was? And was any other body given formal supervisory responsibilities over these mega deals?

    The arrogance on display at the U these days is really striking – almost on par with the federal government. The attitude seems to be that nobody can question their decisions. Just shut up and hand over more taxpayer dollars, please.

    • MacGrandGradMN

      Axactly! What suffers: academic quality and rigor that has long been on the decline at the U of M.

  • Rob

    It’s downright obscene that institutions of higher education spend this kind of money for sports-related functions. But I know we have to have our bread and circuses.
    And Bob C., what happened in 1996 that took the U of M regents out of their role in the coaching contract approval process?

    • jon

      If sports brings in more money that it spends, then it’s a net benefit for the school.

      If it spends more than it brings in… then it should be reviewed, and possibly cut if it doesn’t align with the school’s mission.

      What an acceptable ROI is in this situation I can’t say, but I can say that not having an ROI probably isn’t acceptable.

      • Sam M

        I believe I did read somewhere that the athletic department actually cuts a check back to the school general fund for the tuition reimbursement for the scholarships.

        • BJ

          I thought I had read that that school had to pay money that last couple of years to support football….

          • Sam M

            I just looked and the the department as a whole did run at a deficit the last two fiscal years. They did have a surplus before that. I couldn’t find a detailed budget for the athletic department.

            I did notice that the University considers athletics an auxiliary enterprise which means the department is intended to be self sustaining.

  • Al

    Thanks for the shoutout to the U’s dance team. Now THAT’s some stellar athletics.

  • Jeff

    I think I read that this puts them in the middle of the pack for Big 10 football coach salaries. It should be a debate about whether they want to keep up with the big time college football arms race or be a second rate football school. It seems like they are going down the road of the former with the athletes village and all. Like it or not football is a big revenue sport and as of 2013 (a non-exhaustive Google search) was bringing in a lot of money (http://www.bizjournals.com/twincities/blog/sports-business/2013/08/gophers-football-is-big-business.html) which funds other sports mens and womens. I happen to like having a winning football team and entertainment options, but that’s just me.

  • Mike Worcester

    Our state is in the same position as a whole lot of other states, where the highest paid public official is a coach.

    http://deadspin.com/infographic-is-your-states-highest-paid-employee-a-co-489635228

  • Dan

    Regents should have more power, according to Regent.

    • That’s one way of looking at it, although the regents position is closer to “group whose responsibility is to oversee financial affairs of U wants to oversee financial affairs of U.”

      • Dan

        I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other. 8 Big 10 schools do it one way, 5 the other way. Athletic departments, specifically men’s basketball and football, bring in a lot of revenue, so I can see why they’d feel they should have domain over those salaries in particular. Regents having final say introduces a check to stop runaway losses, and the opportunity for PR, politics, grandstanding, etc. Unsurprisingly, Regents feel a particular way on the issue.

      • Dan

        I should add, it would also be unsurprising if the Athletic Director (whose hiring IS approved by the Regents) felt the other way. The argument is really, the AD wants to control the hiring/firings within their own department, and the Regents want to have a say because some of the salaries are really high (and, perhaps, because they are high profile).

  • DavidG

    I don’t see why not. On the academic side of the University, the Board of Regents has final say on all tenure promotions

    • MacGrandGradMN

      Exactly, and when so many departments are being starved for resources it would be nice to know where the money is actually going…