A $100,000 bonus paid to head football coach Craig Bohl for the University of Wyoming Cowboys’ season-opening win over Missouri has rankled at least one state lawmaker, and rightfully raised eyebrows among some UW and state employees.
Cowboys fans can celebrate the victory – the school’s first over a “Power Five” team since 2008 – but also question why the athletes play for free while the coach standing on the sidelines makes a bundle.
One can argue that since most players earn scholarships, they are being compensated. But providing that academic benefit is a relatively low expense for college sports programs, since it essentially amounts to some lost revenue from students who might attend UW anyway.
Yes, strong athletic programs help pull the state together, give UW regional and national attention and attract students from other disciplines to the Laramie campus. Everyone wants to be associated with a winner.
But it’s the athletes who risk injury on virtually every play, and their efforts that help make their universities millions of dollars in revenue from ticket sales, donor contributions, merchandising and TV rights.
“My issue has more to do with the NCAA in general than in Wyoming,” Rep. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie, said. “But if we’re spending millions and millions of dollars a year on infrastructure and many other things on what is essentially the farm system for professional football, we ought to look at that.”
Pelkey noted that scholarships “can be yanked out from [players] the minute they get too hurt to play.”
“I used to think of football players as pampered, but now I think of them as exploited,” he added. “I think it’s just a horrible national system, but we can start raising hell locally, too.”
The NCAA’s entire way of doing business is out of whack. College football alone is a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry – to say nothing of basketball and the rest of NCAA sports – and it’s propelled coaching salaries to ridiculous heights. When his original contract was extended in 2017, Bohl signed a seven-year deal that, with incentives, is worth a total of $11.95 million.
The $100,000 for a regular-season win against a Power Five school is only one of the bonuses available in the coach’s contract. He is awarded additional monies over his guaranteed $1.4 million annual salary if his squad gets five Mountain West Conference wins, $100,000 if UW sells 10,000 season tickets and $25,000 if he’s named the MWC coach of the year.
Still having his job on March 1 got him a bonus check worth $625,000, and he’ll get the same amount if he’s employed as UW’s head coach on March 1, 2023.
None of Bohl’s figures are out of line with typical coaching salaries for MWC schools. UW officials decided long ago that they wanted to play with the big boys of the college sports world, and that’s what it takes these days to do it.
But since UW’s unexpected win over Missouri, I’ve heard some complaints about the fairness of Bohl’s compensation, questions about why university and state employees’ achievements aren’t also rewarded with bonuses and remarks about how the money could be used in other ways.
Here’s a sampling from Facebook posts:
“That $100,000 could give a few adjuncts [professors] a raise.”
“Maybe help a few low-income students get an education.”
“Does anyone have stats on the bonuses for instructors, administrators, counselors, food service workers, security workers [all UW workers] and students who do their job well?”
The state matches dollar-for-dollar the first $4 million raised by the Cowboy Joe Club, a private booster organization, every year.
Like Pelkey, I was irked a few years ago when lawmakers approved $8 million for a sports nutrition program at UW while simultaneously cutting funding for suicide prevention, substance abuse treatment and other programs.
“Yes, a good time was had by all on Saturday, but should taxpayers carry the cost of that good time while we in the Legislature are struggling to maintain funding for health care, education, mental health, highways, corrections, wildlife management, etc.?” Pelkey asked.
The debate about whether college players should be paid for their labor will continue, both here and nationally. Ironically, they would be if the university was operated like a private enterprise, as so many lawmakers are fond of saying it should be.
“We’d all still wear Brown and Gold, but it wouldn’t be taxpayers supplementing the cost,” Pelkey said of such an arrangement.
For many years, I’ve watched Wyoming legislators hustle through the session agenda on game days in time to go over the hill to the Double A in Laramie and catch a UW basketball game. It’s funny – and kind of sad – how a strong season can make some lawmakers kinder to the university when it comes time to mark up the budget.
That situation probably isn’t unique to Wyoming, but it’s a good illustration of why lawmakers and fans are willing to accept over-the-top coaching salaries and athletic facility price tags while academic programs are starving.
Whether the state’s public university is adequately funded shouldn’t depend on wins over teams in higher-ranked conferences, no matter how exciting they are.