Money for nothing

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ATLANTA – Here at the Final Four, one of the great reformers of the National Collegiate Athletic Association sounded troubled with the rapid rise of coaching salaries. He thinks it's excessive, out of line, and wonders when the leaders of higher education will restore order.

"It's mind-boggling," Jerry Tarkanian said Friday afternoon. "How in the hell are the presidents approving that?"

Down the hall at the Hilton Hotel, the coaches in the lobby are buzzing about Billy Donovan and the Kentucky job. Three and a half million dollars a season, maybe four, is what Kentucky's boosters are willing to pay for Donovan. Kentucky is the Alabama football of college basketball, and they're waiting to sign a blank check to get their Nick Saban. As soon as Donovan gets his money to stay at Florida, or leave, there will be a long line of coaches from Durham, N.C., to Chapel Hill, from Memphis to Louisville to Westwood, demanding they get bigger raises too.

"My college president got pissed off because I was making more money than him," Tarkanian said. Tark doesn't have so much trouble with the elite coaches getting the monopoly money because ultimately they win titles, pack arenas and feed the monster. He's right. His thing is this: "How many bad coaches are out there, guys who can't coach at all, who make over a million a year?"

Let the gym teachers get what they can on the market. But here is what I never want to hear anymore: Coaches complaining about the unfair expectations, about the boosters, the fans and intense message boards. You think all those people are crazy and suffocating and making your life a living hell? Well, all that interest is why you get paid like a CEO.

So now, live the way a CEO does. He has a bad quarter, and he gets fired. No more using your television apologists to shill for you, insisting that you're getting a raw deal, that you unjustly have been held to an unfair standard. Those days are done.

Now it isn't even basketball schools that are spending like crazy to build winning programs. Until Billy Gillespie arrived three years ago, Texas A&M's chancellor didn't know the Aggies had a basketball team. Just Friday, they announced his new $1.7 million-a-year contract. "While it's embarrassing for me to be compensated so well to perform my passion for a school I love …" started a statement from Gillespie, and well, he really isn't too embarrassed, is he?

More than Kentucky paying $3 million a year, it's Quinnipiac paying $300,000. Connecticut's Tom Moore had been an assistant for Jim Calhoun for 12 years and turned down a lot of small Division I jobs along the way. Before him, Moore watched Calhoun's assistants get DePaul and George Washington. He no sooner would have taken the Quinnipiac job than tell Calhoun to sit down and shut up as he berated his coaches on the bench.

Well, Quinnipiac built a $55 million gym, and just guaranteed Moore $1.5 million over the next five years, so there he was, working through the Hilton lobby Friday, leaving the Big East for the Northeast Conference.

"I was obviously pleasantly surprised when they started talking about figures in that vicinity," Moore said. "I think it's great for the whole league because every time a school in the league sets the bar high, I think everyone else tries to raise their level, too."

Is the world a better place if St. Francis (Pa.) and Monmouth want to ante up on winning programs? Really? Moore interviewed for five openings last year and heard two university presidents ask him: "How can we become the next George Mason?"

Here's the answer: You don't, so get over yourself. This is the voodoo economics of college basketball, the trickle down from Kentucky to Quinnipiac. NCAA president Myles Brand threw up his hands this week and said that the NCAA could do nothing to stop the runaway salaries in his sport. As history has shown, the bigger the rewards, the bigger the corruption. Cheating never has been so sophisticated in the sport, and the money changing hands has never been worse. Ask any coach in a private moment and he'll just shake his head and sigh. Most know they're living in a house of cards, and it all can come crashing down at anytime.

But they'll run the risk because one guaranteed contract, and maybe one extension, makes them multimillionaires for life. Billy Donovan doesn't need to leave for the NBA to get pro money, and Tom Moore can take conference road trips to New Britain, Conn., and Loretto, Pa., for the next five years and pocket three times what Jim Calhoun made in his first five seasons at UConn.

For one, Tark was shaking his head at the Final Four, sending out word to his old friends in the ivory towers that they ought to take back college basketball. "I don't understand how the faculty people put up with this," Tark said. So that's where we are today, Tark going tsk-tsk-tsk on the state of college basketball coaching and then smiling when he says, "Yeah, what would I be worth today?"