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NCAA coaches see incomes skyrocketing

Ron Cooper last year got the use of two Ford Explorers, a Dodge Stealth and memberships to the Hurstbourne Country Club, Oxmoor Country Club, Wildwood Country Club and Caritas Health Fitness Club for being head football coach at the University of Louisville.

Not bad for a coach whose record for the last three years is 13 wins and 15 losses.The outside income for Michigan basketball coach Steve Fisher - not including money from the university - includes $250,000 a year from Nike, $73,000 a year in basketball camp revenue and $84,000 for TV-radio shows.

Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson owns or has options on 80,000 shares of Nike stock, worth an estimated $4.2 million, and the shoe company paid Thompson's company $368,000 this year for "services rendered pursuant to an endorsement contract," according to a Nike prospectus.

In a system where some college athletes have needed food stamps and most athletic programs are money losers, big-time NCAA coaches rake in the revenue.

"There aren't 10 basketball coaches in this country that make a difference, and yet we pay them extraordinary fees," said Larry Gerlach, a University of Utah sports history professor and former NCAA Council member. "Why do we do that? It's image. It's keeping up with institution A or institution B."

Lute Olson, who led his University of Arizona basketball team to a national championship last season, agrees: "There is no question we are overpaid."

Then Olson, whose university compensation is at least $523,000, adds: "All I know is that when I came here, the basketball budget was in the red, and last year, after all expenses, we were somewhere around $3.5 million on the plus side."

But even though Olson and others play a huge role in making programs successful, the NCAA has fretted about the flow of cash to coaches.

"Philosophical questions arise when coaches receive total compensation far in excess of that received by any member of the faculty or staff, including the president," said a June 1993 NCAA committee report.

But in the same report, the committee noted: "The committee does not believe it is possible or appropriate to develop specific guidelines or legislation to address staff compensation."

Not possible, at least, in the case of highly paid head coaches. The NCAA later thought it appropriate to try to limit the pay of some assistant coaches, a move still moving through federal court. The proposed salary cap? $16,000.

Some coaching benefits also stretch the NCAA's own constitution, which says: "Student athletes should be protected from exploitation by professional and commercial enterprises."

Logos on game jerseys and shoes, though, make for great loopholes. The 1997 Final Four was a perfect example.

Three of the four teams, including national champion Arizona, literally swooshed up and down the court as TV cameras zoomed in on their Nikes.

"If you had to buy all of those in 30-second spots, at 2-3-4-$500,000...," said Steve Miller, Nike executive and former director of collegiate sports marketing, "the cost would be unbelievable."

So Nike has deals with at least 200 NCAA coaches.

When the reform-minded Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics issued its report in 1991, it urged a ban on coaches' getting money directly from shoe and apparel firms.

"Coaches are selling something they don't own - the university's name and image," Kit Morris, director of the Knight Commission, told The Boston Globe in 1995. Morris said that if a school's purchasing agent did the same thing, "he would be led off in handcuffs."

Morris now works for Nike.

Chase Peterson, University of Utah president emeritus and former Knight Commission member, said shoe economics merit more discussion.

"More than we gave it, quite frankly," he said. "The underbelly of that empire really deserves some scrutiny."

The Knight Commission recommended that shoe deals be made directly with colleges, not with coaches. The NCAA never adopted it.

Even so, the Big Ten passed the rule for its conference. "There was a sense by some of our member schools that dollars were flowing inappropriately to coaches," said Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney.

At this year's convention, even the NCAA Council, a now disbanded oversight body, agreed with the Big Ten approach for all member schools. Delegates referred the matter to the Division I Management Council, which took over in August.

Few expect any action, but many individual schools now serve as the funnel begood that some are now incorporated. SSM Inc. was set up by Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder, and RWW Enterprises is owned by KU basketball coach Roy Williams.

Although they are tax-supported, neither of those two Kansas universities would release outside income for coaches. Neither would the University of Arizona.

"Nobody wanted to know what my income was when I made $3,200 a year," Olson said, "so why should I discuss it now?"