SPRINGFIELD – To find the highest-paid public employees in Illinois, look no further than the nearest state university athletic department.
College coaches are bringing home paychecks that not only are the envy of fellow university employees, but also for most taxpayers who help foot the bill for their salaries.
While public university athletic departments generate revenue, they remain dependent on taxpayers and tuition checks from students to pay coaching salaries and expenses of athletic departments, an investigation by Illinois News Network has found.
Consider these salaries:
* University of Illinois: Football coach Tim Beckman, $1.6 million; basketball coach John Groce, $1.4 million
* Northern Illinois University: Football coach Rod Carey, $375,000; basketball coach Mark Montgomery, $300,000
* Western Illinois University: Football coach Robert Nielsen, $117,711; basketball coach James Molinari, $206,892
* Eastern Illinois University: Football coach Dino Babers, $170,000; basketball coach Jay Spoonhour, $160,000
* Southern Illinois University: Football coach Dale Lennon, $216,456; basketball coach Barry Hinson, $250,000
* Illinois State University: Football coach Brock Spack, $220,008 (2011); basketball coach Dan Muller, $401,200
Coaches and other college athletics staff members receive a slice of the revenue college sports generate because they are seen as driving it. College football and basketball in particular draws big money through ticket sales, television broadcasts and the advertising that comes with it.
But, with big money come even bigger costs. In the case of public universities, those costs are subsidized by the university and ultimately taxpayers.
Of course, the Legislature isn’t directly writing the coaches’ checks. The universities themselves do it. But the universities support the athletics departments, and taxpayers support the universities.
Smaller universities, such as Western Illinois University, require the most financial support.
According to National Collegiate Athletic Association documents obtained by INN, Western subsidized its athletic department by more than $4.5 million. Southern Illinois University also reported more than $4.5 million. Across the state, Eastern Illinois University provided a little more than $7 million.
It is the same story for Illinois’ other public universities. Northern Illinois University’s NCAA disclosure revealed that they received about $8 million in institutional support. Illinois State University reported a subsidy of more than $3.5 million.
Even the University of Illinois in Champaign reported about $1 million in direct institutional support in their NCAA disclosure, despite $78.7 million in athletic department revenue in 2012.
Among expenditures such as team travel or recruiting, almost $23.6 million went to coaches, staff and administrative salaries and benefits at the U of I. By comparison, less than $10 million went to “tuition aid for student athletes.”
Athletic departments are not likely to perceive any of what the NCAA calls “institutional support” as subsidies. “We [U of I’s athletics] have been in the black for almost 20 years,” said Kent Brown, spokesman for University of Illinois athletics.
“It’s very hard to pinpoint whether college athletics programs are self-sustaining because budgets are murky,” said Neal McCluskey, associate director for Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom. “There are often questions about who pays for the utility bills, or who covers the costs of tutors. Even some nonrevenue-generating sports' coaches are paid from other places, like general funds.”
Public universities require a lot of financial support. According to the governor’s 2014 budget proposal, more than $1.2 billion was appropriated to state universities this year; U of I alone requested $662.4 million for the next fiscal year.
And what universities can’t raise from the government they have to raise in tuition.
In-state tuition at the University of Illinois has risen 120 percent in the past 10 years, according to the university’s athletics development Web page. In all, more than $1.8 billion in tuition and fees was collected by the universities themselves in 2012.
Some of this money is making its way to college athletics departments and into the pockets of coaches.
Of course, college athletics departments make a case for why high-profile coaches are worth their price tag.
“We are the front porch for the University [of Illinois] and the most visible to media,” Brown said. “When athletic success is there, it drives development and support ... and applications to the institution go up. ... People know the university through the basketball or football program.”
The perceived effect of successful athletic programs extends across the spectrum of schools.
“Athletics do play a role in the success of smaller universities,” said Brenda Major, who works for Eastern Illinois University Admissions. “We have recently seen some dramatic success in football and it has made a difference when recruiters go to the high schools.”
“Athletics are very visible, so it is easy to overestimate their impact,” said Ryan Munce of the National Research Center for College and University Admissions. “So is the quality of the dormitory or the program an individual is interested in studying. It’s a very complex process with lots of factors, and for each individual, you never know what will be the trigger.”
Chuck Walz, associate director for recruitment at Northern Illinois University, agreed.
“I would not exaggerate its significance,” he said. “There’s more of a short-term impact than a long term.”
There is no doubt coaches’ earnings make other public salaries seem small. Illinois’ governor made $177,411.96 in 2012 by comparison. Of course, most university employees don’t make nearly as much as coaches. But both are entitled to pensions from the State University Retirement System.
In fact, all of Illinois’ public university head basketball and football coaches are enrolled in SURS.
And the benefits can be lucrative to participants, and costly to taxpayers.
For example, Lou Henson, who coached University of Illinois basketball from 1975-96, receives $140,000 annually.
It would be uncommon to achieve that kind of longevity in today’s coaching market.
“If you’re a successful coach, you’re in high demand,” said Vince Thompson of the American Football Coaches Association. “Coaches are changing jobs all the time. They may like where they are at, but then a big program makes an offer they can’t refuse.”