‘It’s time — it’s been time — for the Power 5 football conferences to go their own way’

By Chicago 7 Min Read

Last week, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics released a report illustrating just how big “Power 5” conference football coaching salaries had gotten — so big that, at nine universities, compensation for the head coach and 10 on-field assistants now exceeds the total amount spent on scholarships and medical expenses for every student-athlete, across all sports.

What should be done to derail a trend that’s projected to include eight of the future Big Ten’s 15 public schools, including Illinois, by 2032?

That’s the question we put to five members of the commission.

Amy Privette Perko

Amy Privette Perko

AMY PRIVETTE PERKOCEO, Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics

“The first step to urgently address the cost spiral of accelerating football coaching compensation must begin with university presidents in each conference directing their athletics directors, conference commissioners and legal counsel to develop a plan for their conference to implement before billions in new revenues are committed.

“The Knight Commission’s September 2021 report, ‘Connecting Athletics Revenues with the Educational Model of College Sports’ — fittingly dubbed the C.A.R.E. Model — outlines possible solutions:

“First, a conference can legally create spending thresholds on categories of expenses, like total coaching salaries in a particular sport, and then impose penalties for exceeding such thresholds. Enforcing financial penalties for non-compliance with other types of conference policy, like fans ‘storming the field or court,’ is common practice for DI conferences and could be used effectively in this context.

“Examples of penalties are ‘luxury taxes’ on excessive compensation, similar to those in professional sports, or withholding a portion of the conference financial distribution.

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Knight Commission report

“Another path to addressing exorbitant football coaching compensation is to add this issue as a top priority in the NCAA’s ongoing pursuit of help from the federal government. The government could change the application of not-for-profit taxation rules to address excessive compensation for college athletics staff. The favorable nonprofit tax status college athletics programs enjoy is related to their ‘educational nexus.’

“Reasonable college athletic staff compensation should be defined — as a function/multiple of faculty compensation, or a function of athletic spending that benefits college athletes directly — and then excessive compensation could be treated as non-deductible, and subject to federal income tax.”

Arne Duncan

Arne Duncan

Andy Goodwin

ARNE DUNCANFormer U.S. Secretary of Education (2009-16), CEO of Chicago Public Schools (2001-08)

“It’s time — it’s been time — for the Power 5 football conferences to go their own way.

“Let the other sports at those schools, and all sports at every other school, forge a path forward not based on a professional model where increasing revenue drives every decision, but based on what’s best for the health, safety and well-being of collegiate student-athletes.”

Judy Olian

Judy Olian

Mark Hanauer

JUDY OLIANPresident, Quinnipiac University

“I am in full agreement with the Knight Commission’s long-held recommendation that FBS football become a separately management entity that is distinct from the NCAA for the myriad of reasons.

“And the other recommendation, which is likely very difficult to achieve, is a cap on football coaches’ salaries. As crazy as that sounds, we do have salary caps in some pro sports.

“I recognize the free market arguments and the legal restrictions, but boy, these few escalating coaches’ compensation packages create a very skewed image of the entirety of the collegiate sports enterprise which, in the overwhelming majority of Division I programs — like ours at Quinnipiac University — are very much in the amateur realm where students’ education takes precedent, and coaches have very normal salaries.”

Jon Alger

Jon Alger


JON ALGERPresident, James Madison University

“Many presidents across the national landscape are concerned about the escalating costs of intercollegiate athletics. The system needs clear principles and better guardrails to help institutions refocus on their educational mission, and to ensure that athletic programs are structured and integrated so as to reinforce that mission and to promote the educational benefits of athletics.

“The Knight Commission has sought to provide such principles and to offer concrete, practical suggestions for reform. I hope that these ideas will spur serious discussion among all the relevant parties.”

Kim Harmon

Kim Harmon


DR. KIM HARMONSports medicine section head, professor and head football physician, University of Washington

“Exorbitant spending on football coaching salaries only underscores the need to devote substantially more resources to athlete health and safety. As a former college athlete and a medical professional with more than 35 years of experience in sports medicine, I can attest that college athlete physical and mental health should be the top priority for leaders when allocating the coming billions in new and currently uncommitted revenues projected to flow into Football Bowl Subdivision programs.

Our new report projects that if well-established spending practices continue, billions in new revenue from expanded #CFP and escalating #D1 conference media rights contracts will dramatically accelerate the cost spiral of exorbitant #FBSfootball coaching compensation.

— Knight Commission (@KnightAthletics) September 8, 2023

“One way to better protect athlete health, safety and well-being, as recommended by the Knight Commission, is to add at least one independent medical expert to both the NCAA Division I and College Football Playoff governing boards as soon as possible.

“It is remarkable that there are no provisions for medical experts on those governing boards.”

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