Big salaries part of the game

Other than wringing their hands, there's little people can do about the financial realities of college sports.

Reflecting on the size of a generous new contract for the school's athletic director, University of Illinois Trustee James Montgomery spoke for many last week when he expressed reservations.

Montgomery called athletic director Mike Thomas' near-million-dollar annual compensation package "pretty big," an understatement to be sure. In doing so, Montgomery suggested it's too big.

"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. And I know it's not just us, it is the entire collegiate football and athletic business," Montgomery said.

Who would disagree with Montgomery's assertion?

Then again, if Montgomery had spoken five years ago about the prevailing rates then for coaches and athletics directors, he could have said the same thing. Or even 10 years.

The undeniable fact is that since the advent of television and its voracious appetite and willingness to pay for programming, salaries for professional athletes and coaches in the major sports have gone straight up.

It won't be long before a college football coach will be making $10 million a year. Several already are approaching that figure. This revolution eventually will bring salaries for collegiate athletes into play.

Everyone else's salary goes up along with the highest earners. What do assistant college and professional coaches make these years? Far more than they did 20 years ago.

Montgomery's suggestion of a colloquy on the subject is a reasonable one, but what is there to say?

The marketplace sometimes sets values, particularly in entertainment and sports, that strike many people as excessive?

That was the point that UI Provost Ilesanmi Adesida made about Thomas' salary and benefit package.

Adesida said "we are not out of line at all compared with our peers."

The average Big Ten AD earns $989,000, and that number says two things: The current crop of ADs at major universities are lucky dogs and these salaries reflect the realities of the marketplace.

From an economic point of view, it's reality, even if it strikes many people as more evidence of misplaced priorities.

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