Ray Melick, sports columnist for the Birmingham News, wrote an article on the contract game played between coaches and athletic departments, in which I am quoted:
"That is part and parcel of the craziness of college athletics," said Marc Isenberg...
"It's amazing to me how contracts operate in college athletics. If there was a true governing body of college athletics, a true commissioner, then buyouts would not be in the picture because as long as a player or coach is under contract, they would not be free to negotiate with anybody else. If there was a commissioner, there would be no tampering or negotiating.
"As it is, if a coach signs a five- or 10-year rollover deal, that deal is only as good as long as another, bigger program doesn't come along courting him."
A few more thoughts on the subject of college coaching contracts:
1) College coaches are really the only true free agents in sports. The only barrier to sign with another school is whatever buyout a coach negotiates and accepts. When Curt Flood and the MLBPA fought for free agency, it was -- and still is -- a modified free agent system where players earn the right to become a free agent after a certain number of years of service. Both players and management recognized the need for some type of orderly system whereby teams can recoup its investment in a player (aided by the fact that contracts in the early years are artificially set below the market), then eventually allow players varying degrees of economic freedom. I don't begrudge coaches who exploit this favorable marketplace. I just question how this system serves the interests of both schools and student-athletes. Let's not forget: amateur scholarship athletes do not have the right to move freely among schools.
2) College sports would be better served with a commissioner. I am somewhat loathe to give the NCAA broader powers, but in situations like this I think college sports would be better served if the NCAA president had the ability to act in the best interest of the game and its stated mission to serve student athletes. I would venture that the 32 NFL owners understand the benefits of free markets (after all that's how most of them acquired large fortunes), but they also recognize how the League as a whole is strengthened by working together. Think about the absurdity of a NFL system that allowed the worst NFL teams to poach the best coaches off the best teams -- without regard to a legal contract.
3) The marketplace is flawed. Good coaches win more than bad coaches, so logically athletic departments pay great coaches more. But not always -- this year two of the highest paid coaches in college football history combined for just 9 wins. Still, many college presidents and athletic directors are resigned to the market forces driving up coaches' salaries. Said LSU Chancellor Sean O'Keefe, who just raised the ante to retain Les Miles: "Is this a favorable trend? The answer is: Of course not. That said, it's also market dynamics. The value of things is determined by the demand that exists. There's nothing unfair about that."
--Marc Isenberg (email@example.com)
12/10 UPDATE: Another view: Sporting News writer Mike DeCourcy e-mails: "However, you also have to look at the other side of it. One reason colleges like this arrangement is it makes easier to fire them when that time comes. That's why coaches get fired or forced out for so many nonsensical reasons, right down to ''We don't like him.' (Houston Nutt, for instance). So long as the market is fluid, colleges can be that juvenile and still be assured there's a steady supply of coaching talent to fill the voids they create."