At Clem­son, ACC suc­cess means bal­loon­ing salaries

USA TODAY US Edition - - COLLEGES - By Steve Berkowitz USA TO­DAY

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.”

By Mark Cram­mer, AP

Lu­cra­tive sea­son:

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