Open-records report | 20 things to know about Big Ten athletic director contracts

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By Chicago 14 Min Read

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University of Illinois Athletic Director Josh Whitman was honored by the Boy Scouts Prairielands Council as its 2023 Distinguished Citizen award winner earlier this month at the Colonnades Club.

Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette

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This past July 1, the University of Illinois added a third member of the seven-figure compensation club when eighth-year athletic director Josh Whitman’s annual pay rose from $975,000 to $1.025 million — trailing only football’s Bret Bielema ($6.5 million) and men’s basketball’s Brad Underwood ($4.7 million) across the UI system.

It was the first time an Illinois AD crossed the $1 million mark but no less than the sixth time a Big Ten athletics boss did so; the league leader — Ohio State’s Gene Smith — surpassed $2 million in 2021.

While nowhere near the $10 million-plus Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and USC are shelling out this season for their head football coaches, AD pay is on the rise, too — with Wisconsin’s Chris McIntosh and Whitman both reaching million-a-year status this year and Purdue’s Mike Bobinski on deck.

Part 6 of Editor JEFF D’ALESSIO‘s ongoing explanatory series on the business side of college athletics provides a look at other provisions and perks in Big Ten AD contracts, obtained by The News-Gazette via open-records request.

Gene Smith

Smith

Ohio State

1. Here’s how 12 of the conference’s 14 ADs stack up in annual compensation — before retention bonuses, retirement contributions and incentives are factored in. Excluded: NORTHWESTERN (as a private school, like future Big Ten member USC, it’s not subject to the Freedom of Information Act) and RUTGERS (see item No. 6).

1. Gene Smith, Ohio State: $2.06 million

2. Pat Kraft, Penn State: $1.285 million

3. Warde Manuel, Michigan: $1.25 million

4. Mark Coyle, Minnesota: $1.050 million

5. Josh Whitman, Illinois: $1.025 million

6. Chris McIntosh, Wisconsin: $1 million

7. Mike Bobinski, Purdue: $975,000

8. Damon Evans, Maryland: $845,000

9. Trev Alberts, Nebraska: $800,000

10. Alan Haller, Michigan State: $800,000

11. Beth Goetz, Iowa: $650,000

12. Scott Dolson, Indiana: $626,000

Alan Haller

Alan Haller

Michigan State

2. Fundraising is the name of the game in this job, particularly in the conference with more than 5.5 million living alums. While other Big Ten AD deals include modest bonuses for meeting broad goals — MICHIGAN STATE‘s Haller can earn up to $25,000 if school President Teresa Woodruff determines the year to be a financial success — Whitman’s contract calls for bonuses for hitting eight specific fundraising targets:

— Total dollars raised in fiscal year exceed $20 million: $10,000.

— Total dollars raised exceed $30 million: $25,000.

— Total dollars raised exceed $40 million: $40,000.

— 10 percent increase over previous year’s I-Fund annual gifts: $20,000.

— 20 percent increase in I-Fund annual gifts: $40,000.

— At least five major gifts of at least $1 million each: $25,000.

— At least five major gifts of at least $5 million each: $30,000.

Beth Goetz

Beth Goetz

3. Title IX obviously doesn’t apply to the position of athletic director, as male-dominated a line of work as they come. In the Big Ten, only one woman holds the title — and IOWA‘s Beth Goetz’s has an “interim” in front of hers as the Hawkeyes search for a full-time replacement for the retired Gary Barta.

Other Power 5 conferences don’t have much to brag about, either: Women lead athletic departments at three of the ACC’s 14 schools (DUKE, PITT, VIRGINIA), two of the SEC’s 14 (MISSOURI, VANDERBILT), one of the Pac-12’s dozen (USC) and not a one of the Big 12’s 14.

Josh Whitman and Barb Wilson

Then-interim chancellor Barb Wilson reintroduced Josh Whitman as AD in 2016, 16 years after he wore No. 87 as an Illini tight end.

File photo

4. Seven years after hiring Whitman while ILLINOIS‘ interim chancellor, Barb Wilson will soon select the next AD at IOWA in her role as university president. In a May letter thanking former BALL STATE AD Goetz for taking the job (with a $360,000 pay raise) on an interim basis, she noted: “You will be encouraged to apply” for the permanent position.

5. If Goetz gets the job, the Big Ten would likely have at least two female athletic directors come fall 2024, when USC and first-year AD Jen Cohen are set to join.

Pat Hobbs

Pat Hobbs

X/@PatHobbsRU

6. No one was happier to hear about recent raises for his counterparts at ILLINOIS and PURDUE than RUTGERS‘ Pat Hobbs. The Big Ten AD with the most unique backstory — he’s a former New Jersey tax attorney, not an ex-jock, whose previous job was dean of Seton Hall’s law school — Hobbs also has the most unique compensation arrangement.

His annual pay changes from year to year and is determined by calculating the median “guaranteed compensation” of at least nine Big Ten ADs (excluding NORTHWESTERN).

But “in no event,” his contract specifies, “will Hobbs’ (compensation) be less than the prior year.”

7. The conference’s most handsomely paid AD has cashed his last hefty retention bonus check. The retiring Smith, who presided over a department that won 115 Big Ten team titles in 18 years at OHIO STATE, will clock out on June 30, 2024 — one day before he’d be due a $325,000 annual retention check.

Mike Bobinski

Mike Bobinski

The Associated Press

8. Long an added sweetener in college football and basketball coaching contracts, retention bonuses are becoming more and more common in AD deals, as well, with PURDUE‘s Bobinski the latest recipient. The Boilermaker-in-chief’s new deal, made official this month, calls for a $250,000 check if he’s still on the job in July 2026 and another $250,000 in July 2028.

9. It’s not the $500,000 due Underwood if he’s still the ILLINOIS men’s basketball coach every April 30, or the half-a-million Bielema gets if he’s still the football coach every July 1, but Whitman’s deal also includes a retention bonus — three $200,000 lump-sum payments if he remains continuously employed through June 2024, June 2026 and June 2028.

10. Best golf plan: Hands down, it’s Smith, whose OHIO STATE deal includes “two full family memberships at mutually agreed-upon local country clubs, a social family membership at a mutually agreed-upon local country club and a full membership at the Columbus Club,” a highfalutin hangout for movers and shakers that was founded in 1886 and, as it proudly proclaims on its website, “remains to this day by invitation only.”

11. Worst perks package: MARYLAND‘s Damon Evans, whose spouse can travel on the university’s dime for select out-of-town games and fundraising events provided she has “a business role” on such trips. The lone Big Ten AD with a cell phone allowance in his contract — $120 a month — Evans is eligible to receive the princely sum of $5,000 if half of the Terrapins’ 20 varsity teams qualify for NCAA postseason competition in any given year.

12. For comparison’s sake, RUTGERS‘ Hobbs gets an extra $25,000 if the men’s basketball team earns a spot on the March Madness bracket, $15,000 if women’s basketball makes the field of 68, $10,000 if any other Scarlet Knights team qualifies for the NCAA tournament and $1,000 for each of the first five Rutgers athletes who qualify for NCAA postseason competition in men’s track, women’s track, wrestling and women’s swimming and diving.

The rate drops to $750 per athlete for Nos. 6-10 and $500 for every participant beyond 10.

13. Should Shauna Green’s No. 23 Illini knock off No. 10 NOTRE DAME next month in South Bend, Whitman would be eligible to collect $5,000. That’s the size of his bonus every time the football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball teams beat an opponent ranked in that week’s AP Top 25 poll.

Trev Alberts

Trev Alberts

The Associated Press

14. Should NEBRASKA football win its first conference title since 1999, when it called the Big 12 home, Alberts would receive a $100,000 bonus. (For comparison’s sake, ILLINOIS‘ first conference championship since 2001 would mean an extra $25,000 for Whitman).

Warde Manuel

Warde Manuel

The Associated Press

15. Should No. 2-in-the-land MICHIGAN go on to win its first national title since 1997 80 days from today in Houston, Manuel would likely be among the biggest beneficiaries. This being Year 3 of the contract extension he signed in 2021, Manuel is up for a “review of your overall compensation with reference to updated market conditions,” former President Mark Schlissel wrote in a memo labeled confidential and included in Michigan’s response to our open records request.

“We both agree to negotiate in good faith at that time to potentially increase your overall compensation in light of your performance and the market comparison and potentially extend the term of your appointment as DIA,” wrote Schlissel, who retired a year later and was succeeded by Santa Ono.

In addition to being the Big Ten’s third-highest-paid AD, Manuel receives $350,000 a year in his retirement account and up to $150,000 annually for meeting unstated performance incentives.

Chris McIntosh

Chris McIntosh

16. He’s not the Big Ten’s tallest AD — WISCONSIN‘s McIntosh stands 6-6 — but the 6-4 Whitman is the only one with a clause in his contract that allows him to be reimbursed for “seats with additional legroom during business-related commercial air travel.”

Jim Harbaugh

Jim Harbaugh spent half of his 14 NFL seasons with the Bears, finishing with more interceptions (56) than touchdowns (50).

17. Big Ten AD fun fact: While none were exactly Dick Butkus, the conference has more athletic directors with NFL playing experience (four) than football coaches with pro pasts (three).

The ADs: NEBRASKA‘s Alberts (29 games), WISCONSIN‘s McIntosh (24), MICHIGAN STATE‘s Haller (12) and Whitman (four).

The NFL players-turned-college coaches: MICHIGAN‘s Jim Harbaugh (177 games, 140 starts, 129 TDs, 117 interceptions), MICHIGAN STATE interim coach Harlon Barnett (99 games) and MINNESOTA‘s P.J. Fleck (one game).

Missing the cut: Bielema, who spent the 1994 season playing nose guard for the Arena League’s Milwaukee Mustangs after being cut by the Seahawks in training camp.

18. The poor Buckeyes staffer who’s charged with determining this bonus should get at least half the haul. Try to follow along: Smith receives $25,000 if 85 percent of all student-athletes “who have graduated during the preceding spring or fall semesters, and who have returned OHIO STATE‘s graduation survey, are employed in a position for which a college degree is required or preferred, are in the military, are pursuing additional education or are engaged in a similar career-oriented pursuit as calculated by May 30 of each year.”

If that figure hits 90 percent, Smith pockets $35,000; 95 percent is worth $50,000.

19. Being a Big Ten AD means never having a car payment. Every conference school provides at least one vehicle (or a considerable vehicle allowance), with ILLINOIS, MICHIGAN and WISCONSIN offering two each.

20. Whitman is among six Big Ten ADs employed by their alma maters, joining MICHIGAN‘s Manuel, NEBRASKA‘s Alberts, WISCONSIN‘s McIntosh, MICHIGAN STATE‘s Haller and INDIANA‘s Dolson.

Two schools count a pair of current Big Ten ADs as alums: INDIANA (Dolson and PENN STATE‘s Kraft, a Libertyville native) and NOTRE DAME (OHIO STATE‘s Smith and PURDUE‘s Bobinski).

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