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Opinion

College basketball still fails to give proper compensation to women’s coaches

April 18, 2018

Recently, in the midst of some feverish online scrolling, my eyes zeroed in on a story about basketball, of all things. The specific story that managed to pique my scant sporting interest was the news that basketball star Lindsay Whalen had accepted the head coaching position for the University of Minnesota’s women’s basketball team. I’ll admit that her acceptance of this position was not groundbreaking to me. That is, until I kept reading and came across her salary.

The Star Tribune reported on April 13, one day after Whalen’s coaching announcement, that her contract to coach “begins with a base salary of $400,000” and will increase each year until the final fifth year of her contract to $547,391. This amount seems laughably low to me given the knowledge I have on the exorbitant amount of money that male college coaches make.

One quick Google search was all I needed to do to investigate the salary of Whalen’s counterpart – the University of Minnesota’s head coach for the men’s basketball team. Spoiler alert, Richard Pitino makes much, much more than Whalen. Yet people still say that the gender wage gap is a myth.

USA Today published an impressive chart that ranks college basketball coaches by how much money they earn. The top spot is taken by Duke’s head coach, who makes about $8.9 million. Pitino sits at number 49 with a total pay of $1.9 million with a “max bonus” and “bonuses paid for 2017-2018” of $600,000 and $200,000. Adding those two bonus options to his total, Pitino’s salary now goes into the $4 million range. Meanwhile, college athletes of both sexes still remain unpaid.

Before we dive into the analysis, let’s get some definitions out of the way; according to this USA Today pay chart, total pay refers to the “sum or school pay and income listed on the coach’s most recently available self-reported athletically related outside-income report.” But careful, do not confuse “total pay” with “school pay,” which is different.

School pay is “a coach’s base salary; income from contract provisions other than base salary that are paid or guaranteed.” But wait, there’s more: while maximum bonus is “the greatest amount that can be received if the team meets prescribed on-court performance goals.”

Bonuses paid, of course, is the actual amount that a coach was paid from “July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017 for meeting personal performance or team-performance goals.” These similar categories of payment do not reflect all of the money that these male basketball coaches make, however.

USA Today further explained that even the salaries detailed in their chart do not reflect all of the money or benefits that these coaches take in. In addition to sponsorships, speaking arrangements and more, which are not reflected in a coach’s total pay, the school pay amount does not include:

“Health care or the value of potentially taxable items such as cars; country club memberships; game tickets for the regular season, postseason and other sports; the value of stadium suites; travel upgrades; spouse/family travel and game tickets; amounts connected to transactions related to buyouts owed by coaches for terminating a contract with a prior employer.”

I do not pretend to know the reasoning behind coaches’ salaries, but am I the only one who finds it disconcerting that one of Pitino’s bonuses is more than Whalen’s entire coaching salary?  The plot thickened even more when I took a deeper dive into the background of Pitino and Whalen, thinking that might be a way to uncover whether Pitino did deserve to make millions while Whalen did not.

Interestingly, Pitino started out as an assistant coach for the College of Charleston in 2004. Whalen began as a first-year WNBA player for the Connecticut Sun, also in 2004. What a coincidence. While Pitino has had a long coaching career, his biggest achievements come in the form of winning the NIT Championship in 2014 and being named the Big Ten Coach of the Year for 2017.

Whalen, on the other hand, has achieved such success that I cannot mention it all here. Some of her biggest highlights have been to achieve Olympic gold on two occasions, gold in two World Championships, and all of her many WNBA career highlights where she has been an assists leader, a peak performer and an all-star, to name just a few categories.

Whalen will also keep playing in the WNBA this summer while she starts coaching. WNBA players’ salaries, by the way, range from just $50,000 to $110,000, which, combined with Whalen’s coaching salary, is still lower than Pitino’s. It seems that collegiate basketball’s problem of not paying their players for their work now extends to their female coaches as well.

Lauren Simenson is a student at UW-River Falls.

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