At Clemson, ACC success means ballooning salaries
Clemson enjoyed a terrific football season in 2009. Now, the athletics department has to figure out how to pay for it.
When head coach Dabo Swinney led the Tigers to the 2009 Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, he triggered a contract provision resulting in a massive increase in his annual compensation. After the season, several assistants, including defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and co-defensive coordinator Charlie Harbison, drew interest from other schools. Steele and Harbison stayed at Clemson, and athletics director Terry Don Phillips got them substantial raises without exercising the school’s contractual right to lower Swinney’s increase by a commensurate amount.
The raises were announced Tuesday after being approved by the Clemson board of trustees’ compensation committee. Clemson increased the guaranteed compensation for its 10-man football coaching staff by more than 56%, from $2.6 million last season to $4.055 million.
In filings to the NCAA, Clemson’s athletic department reported annual budget deficits in 2008 and ’09. During the 2008-09 school year, all university employees, including those in the athletic department, had to take five furlough days because of state budget cuts.
That means the football salary increases could have political ramifications for the athletic department on campus and financial consequences for the department internally.
“We are blessed to have a good, solid financial situation,” Phillips said, referring to the athletic department’s $8,593,864 operating reserve, built from years in which it had annual surpluses. He spoke prior to the raises being approved. “But we are fast arriving at a point — particularly with
By leading Clemson to the ACC football title game in 2009, coach Dabo Swinney, left, had his salary escalated to the conference median. our compensation escalating as fast as it has — where in the next several months, depending on ticket sales, what the economy is doing and how the conference is going to fare with the next TV contract (a deal that is being negotiated), we’ll have to look within our department to see where we can find savings. If we don’t, it won’t take too long to erode our good financial base.”
Clemson might end its current fiscal year with a decline in total athletic expenditures compared with 2009, but in the previous 10 years of figures at hand, it never has had a year-overyear decline, according to senior associate athletics director Katie Hill.
Bill Surver, a biology professor and president-elect of Clemson’s faculty senate, said he spent time with Steele during a football team road trip on which several faculty members were invited. Surver also said he understands that when it comes to comparing general university spending and athletics spending “you’re dealing with separate budgets.”
Ste ele ’ s s ala r y in c r e a s e of $200,000, to $575,000, nevertheless makes him wince.
“I like Steele a lot,” Surver said. “He’s a nice guy. I hear good things about him from the players. The players seem to interact with him well. But, dammit, where does this end?”
Swinney replaced Tommy Bowden on an interim basis after Bowden resigned in October 2008, less than a year into a new seven-year contract. Bowden had been guaranteed about $1.8 million for the 2008 season, and he received a $3.5 million buyout for the remaining six years of his contract.
When Clemson lifted the interim tag in December 2008, Swinney’s contract included $800,000 in guaranteed compensation for 2009 but also included the provision that Swinney’s guaranteed pay would be increased to the median total compensation for ACC head football coaches (roughly $1.9 million last season) if Clemson made the ACC title game. A caveat to that provision was Clemson’s right to reduce Swinney’s increase by “a sum not to exceed” any increases in football staff payroll, whether through raises or the hiring of additional staff, as long as Swinney approved those increases.
Phillips chose not to exercise that option, but he said Swinney agreed to have his guaranteed pay based on the 2010 ACC median rather than the 2009 figure. That will save about $160,000, Phillips said, because Florida State’s Bobby Bowden and Virginia’s Al Groh have been replaced by coaches who will be making less money. Also, Phillips said, “according to the information we had,” Tennessee had offered Steele “in the neighborhood of $800,000” a year.
Coaches’ increasing salaries “creates a very significant dichotomy on campus — not only our campus, but all campuses,” Phillips said in a telephone interview before approval.
“But because of the antitrust laws, we can’t engage in collusion with other universities.
“There’s going to have to be one university out there that says, ‘ We’re going to be fair, we’re going to be competitive, but there is a point we’re not going to move over.’ It could be tied to net revenue off what football or basketball does. ...
“The problem is if you’ve got a very successful, highly popular coach, you’ve got a problem with the people that support that program.”