Urban Meyer and Ohio State: Questions About Money and Ethics

Let’s hope there is a clause in Urban Meyer’s $4 million a year head football coaching contract at Ohio State that requires ethical and legal conduct. Said another way: Wouldn’t it be great if the same standards of conduct expected of university faculty and staff applied to football and basketball coaches and others who spend much of their careers wearing shorts with a whistle around their necks?

We’ll see. Clearly Meyer needs to win football games, but he also needs to clean up the mess left by Jim Tressel. If he manages to do that while restoring some integrity to Ohio State and Ohio State football, then good for him.

Yet I still believe that at a time when money is tight at most universities for education-related expenses and students are taking on more and more debt to attend classes it’s hard to justify the emphasis placed on sports and the excessive compensation packages given to coaches at the football and basketball factories.

One of the issues worth considering these days is the growing salary gap in businesses between those at the top and those anywhere else, from middle to bottom. Anyone share a similar concern about the gap between what Meyer will make at OSU  (and his counterparts elsewhere) and let’s say a classroom instructor at any public university (or in any public K-12 school district, for that matter) in Ohio?

OK. I know that successful football and basketball programs bring in big bucks from alumni and generate brand recognition that extends to student and faculty recruitment. And admittedly, it’s a rare Saturday afternoon in the fall when 100,000-plus will show up for a lecture on let’s say the principles of public relations.

Yet here’s an interesting NYT article that highlights some of the issues with Meyer’s contract and with college football in general these days, “For New Coach at Ohio State, It’s First Down and $4 Million.”

Ohio State University hired Urban Meyer as its football coach Monday, giving him one of the richest contracts ever in college sports — the latest indication that the big business of college football is undeterred by the nation’s broader economic woes or by concern about the prominence of sports on campus.

The contract includes $4 million in base salary, bonuses — for everything from players’ graduation rates to playing in a national championship, up to $700,000 annually — and lump payments in 2014, 2016 and 2018. The deal is worth more than three times the $1.32 million that the university’s president, E. Gordon Gee, made in 2010, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Mr. Meyer and Ohio State reached the lucrative deal amid a chaotic year in college athletics. The University of Miami was rocked by a report that a donor lavished football players with gifts for years; and longtime assistants for the Penn State football and Syracuse men’s basketball teams are facing allegations that they sexually abused young boys. Several other prominent programs are being investigated by college athletics’ governing body, the N.C.A.A., for myriad violations.

Even the Buckeyes await potential N.C.A.A. sanctions because players traded memorabilia for cash and tattoos, which led to the ouster of Jim Tressel as their coach six months ago.

Still, the college football arms race shows no signs of slowing. To replace Mr. Tressel, Ohio State will invest at least $26.65 million over six years in Mr. Meyer, 47, who won two national championships at Florida. That will include an annual automobile stipend, a golf club membership, 50 hours of private jet use and 12 tickets to each home game.

“It’s symbolic of the condition we’re in,” said William C. Friday, the president of the University of North Carolina system from 1956 to 1986. “There’s an unrestrained salary march, where universities are trying to superimpose an entertainment industry on an academic structure. Any salary in that range is excessive.”

Even Mr. Gee, the university president who hired Mr. Meyer on Monday, has described the system as broken. In an interview with The New York Times in August, he said: “College athletics has gotten beyond itself. Do I think it’s broken? Yes.”

On Monday, Mr. Gee called Mr. Meyer’s contract “a mark of our dignity and nobility.”

“I’m not certain I’ve ever made as much as a football coach,” Mr. Gee said in a telephone interview. “We live in a world of markets and opportunities. A number of surgeons here make more than I do. I’m about having the best physics faculty, the best medical school faculty and the best football coach.”

OK. Fair enough. But let’s suggest to Prez Gee that it might be in the best interest of Ohio State and everyone connected to the university if Meyer turns out to be not just “the best football coach,” but also the most ethical one.

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