Some private colleges and universities have a lot of money. Out of the (approximately) 69 American universities and university systems that have reported endowments of over one billion dollars, 44 of those are private research universities. Among that group, a little more than half (24) also happen to sponsor athletics at the Division I level. That doesn't mean that they make those big endowment dollars available for athletics, however.
In fact, Villanova isn't even in the Billion-Dollar Club and the Wildcats manage to scrape together more money to pay their basketball coach than all-but-two of those schools. When it comes to private schools dishing out cash to coaches, Jay Wright, at around $2.5 million, comes behind only Georgetown's John Thompson III ($2.7 million) and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski ($9.7 million) -- according to a recent report in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Krzyzewski is a big outlier on the list. His compensation includes $5.6 million in bonuses that were paid out in 2011, putting his base salary a little over $4 million. That is still more than practically every private university President, however. Wright earns more than all-but-three of those executives.
Why Duke is willing to pay Coach K so much is probably not a conversation most people need to have. His track record at the North Carolina blue blood puts most coaches across the country to shame and he has lasted there for 33 years.
Just 30 head coaches in football and basketball made more than $1 million in compensation in 2011 at private universities. When Football coaches are included, Wright's paycheck drops him to fifth.
If you really want to get rich coaching college sports, however, you probably need to become a state employee. While Duke puts a lot of basketball coaching salaries to shame, most private schools aren't cutting big checks to their coaching staffs. Public universities, however, are a different story according to the Chronicle, where many of the highest-paid coaches and athletic directors reside.
Among public school coaches, Kentucky's John Calipari makes over $5.4 million before bonuses, while Louisville's Rick Pitino makes close to $5 million as well -- making the Commonwealth one of the biggest spenders on college hoops coaches. Kansas's Bill Self is also not hurting for cash, with a paycheck that is also nearly $5 million before bonuses are calculated.
That doesn't even factor in football coaches salaries, that reach sky-high (~$7 million) for the likes of Nick Saban. The top-paid private school football coach is TCU's Gary Patterson ($3.1 million).
Big business and big revenues mean big salaries for coaches hired to shepherd these showcase programs. For the athletic departments, that also often means spending big money to lock down great athletic directors. It is no shock then, that only three private schools pay their AD's over a million dollars per year (USC, Vanderbilt and Notre Dame) -- all of them sponsoring BCS-level football programs.
Athletic directors at most of the big spenders are charged not only with hiring coaches and settling schedules, but with marketing, branding and sales that can grow revenue and support the large salaries being paid to key personnel. For schools that skimp in the front-office, they may not be able to hire or retain the type of business-savvy AD who will grow department revenue enough to make these sort of super-salaries feasible for coaches.
Even so, schools don't need to turn a profit to cut big checks, they just need enough revenue. Villanova doesn't turn even a small profit, according to filings with the Department of Education (though, arguably, basketball alone does), but they manage to scrape up more than all-but-two private schools for the services of their head men's basketball coach. Wright's compensation was still just the 10th-highest in last season's NCAA Tournament, where the average coach's pay was $1.47 million -- a number much higher than most private schools pay out.
Private universities, by and large, have not been competitive spenders in college athletics. It is a positive for both Villanova and the Big East to see big spending on salaries for Wright and JTIII, but can these schools keep up with the Commonwealth of Kentucky? Revenues must continue to rise, which means television dollars, higher attendance figures and merchandise sales need to be the focal points for the athletics officials.
While Villanova ignites change, the athletics department needs to be stuffing it into their piggy bank at a faster and faster rate.