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Elizabeth Sherman

Elizabeth Sherman

Assistant professor of American Politics at American University; founder and former director of the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

An Open Secret

The entire question of economic inequality is now on the agenda in every forum, including sports. Certainly the outrage over the bonuses at AIG shows that the simmering anger, at the "haves," which was partly channeled in a positive direction during the Obama campaign has become extremely intense. Average citizens believe they have been ripped off and that the system is rigged against them. The idea that you get what you deserve through hard work and effectiveness was called into question as wheelers and dealers -- Wall Street titans and Capitol Hill lobbyists and those who receive their largesse -- are equally castigated.

March Madness puts the spotlight on the millions made by basketball coaches and that can be shocking. It's one thing for coaches in professional sports to get such compensation, but there remains a veneer that college sports are a world apart and designed for intercollegiate amateur competition. Truth be told, with television pay outs, March Madness is big business and highly profitable for universities, especially in a time of economic downturn.

Having a winning coach may require salaries of in the millions but the returns are well worth the investment if a competitive, and especially a winning team, results. To achieve that goal not only requires a huge investment, but players who have talent, dedication and willingness to spend most of their time honing their athletic skills. The coach presides over a complex enterprise and to make it work successfully, he or she has to be a leaders and have the knowledge, experience and the motivational skills to produce a positive outcome.

Let me share one story with you. My son graduated from a great university with a fabulous basketball team. One day he went to the ticket office with his friends eager to get tickets for a game. No dice, all sold out. "But, I'm a student!" he asserted. The reply from the ticket window said it all "Let's get something straight. That's the college," the ticket master said pointing to the campus. "This is a business." And that's the simple truth.

College sports is big business, the stakes are high, the potential financial payoffs are tremendous for the entire institution from alumni giving to enrollments, and the very best talent among coaches and players on the court or the field is required to achieve those outcomes. Would it be appropriate for the coaches to decline these million-plus salaries? Probably not, because not all will, but the press needs to offer the public more details on an open secret. It's a business.

By Elizabeth Sherman

 |  March 17, 2009; 12:11 PM ET
Category:  Compensation Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Pay Cuts for All | Next: Method Behind the Madness

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