URBANA — University of Illinois trustees on Thursday expressed support for a plan to boost the athletic director's total compensation to nearly $1 million.
At the same time, one trustee called for a future discussion about big salaries in collegiate athletics.
The proposal, which goes to the full UI Board of Trustees for approval later this month, calls for increasing Mike Thomas' base salary to $554,321 and extending the contract by two years. Thomas' current salary is nearly $504,000 and the contract is set to expire Aug. 28, 2016. According to the proposal, it will be extended another two years.
In addition, he will eligible to receive up to $300,000 extra each year he meets certain goals related to the performance of the UI's sports teams, raising money for the programs and achieving benchmarks related to academic achievement of athletes.
If he stays for five years, he's also eligible to receive $100,000 a year for a total of $500,000.
Those numbers are "pretty big," said UI trustee James Montgomery.
"I understand there is an athletic enterprise that produces the revenue. Nonetheless, from a public perception point of view we sometimes pay more for athletics than academics. I thought that's a dialogue that at some time we have to talk about," Montgomery said. "And I know it's not just us, it is the entire collegiate football and athletic business. But that's a lot of money."
The average base salary for an athletic director in the Big Ten is $603,967, according to a university document. Taking in other bonuses, the average total direct compensation for an athletic director in the Big Ten is $989,673.
The total value of Thomas' total direct compensation is currently $838,330. According the proposal, that number would increase to $988,723.
"We are not out of line at all compared with our peers," UI Provost Ilesanmi Adesida said.
Ask columnist Tom Kacich about AD's contract here
Thomas was hired in 2011 from the University of Cincinnati. As AD, he has fired several coaches, most notably Bruce Weber, Ron Zook and Jolette Law, and he has hired John Groce, Tim Beckman and Matt Bollant.
At Thursday's meeting, none of the trustees mentioned the football team, which finished the season 4-8. But they did praise Thomas for securing State Farm's $60 million commitment for the renovation of State Farm Center and for his focus on academics.
Thomas, Adesida said, has demonstrated leadership in developing successful student-athletes in "the field and in the classroom."
"When you look at what Mike has done, the successes of our students, in bringing in gift funds but also looking at all the Olympic sports, in total he's done very well here," he said.
"There's room to improve always," Adesida added.
"I definitely support the recommendation," Trustee Pam Strobel said. "I'm not about to judge how he's picked coaches or anything like that. From what I can see, we have a good athletic director and I'm happy to see the contract extended."
When Thomas started at the UI, his base salary was $475,000. His current contract also had made him eligible to receive annual bonuses worth up to $200,000 for meeting specific goals.