Having Trouble Posting This Morning…

…as I’m still in shock over the idea that LSU may have agreed, as reports out of Los Angeles suggest, to pay its new women’s basketball coach $900,000 a year.

$900,000 for a women’s basketball coach is nosebleed-inducing.

LSU has built a tradition of being very, very good in women’s basketball, and the slide in the program’s fortunes over the past couple of years as Van Chancellor largely retired on active duty was disconcerting. I think it’s important for LSU to be good in women’s basketball, and clearly Chancellor was neither accomplishing that objective nor earning the generous $600,000 in salary the school was paying him.

And when you go from five straight years in the Final Four to not even making the NCAA Tournament, the expectation is that you’re going to try to make a big-name hire to put the program back in the spotlight. I get that.

And I’m happy with the choice of Nikki Caldwell as LSU’s coach. Caldwell has an outstanding background. She was a terrific player at Tennessee, leveraged her charisma and telegenic presentation into a couple of TV gigs, then got into coaching and quickly became a big-time asset as an assistant coach at Virginia and Tennessee before getting the job at UCLA. And in three years she quickly brought that program up – from 19-12 her first year to 25-9 her second to 28-5 this year.

What’s more, I think the fans will like her. A little taste from a YouTube search…

But 900K?

900K for a sport that lost well over a million dollars last year when the old coach was making 600K? 900K for a sport that had trouble half-filling the arena when it was going to the Final Four five years in a row?

Yikes.

The argument is being made that since the LSU athletic department kicks $8.6 million or so a year to the academic side of the university, from an athletic standpoint the cash you don’t spend on coaches gets “wasted.”

I’ll try to put aside the fact that LSU, despite what some think, is actually a university with an athletic department and not the other way around. I’ll try not to blow a gasket at the idea that using non-taxpayer funds to support Louisiana’s flagship university is somehow not a good thing. That’s another subject altogether, and it includes all the typical discussions of how much funding LSU gets or should get from the state and whether we’re doing a good job prioritizing where our higher ed money is spent and so on. I don’t have that discussion in me this morning, because like I said above I’m in shock.

What I will say is that Joe Alleva, the athletic director, is entrusted with the athletic budget. And making that $8.6 million profit is pretty important, because the LSU community at large has determined the school needs it.

What this looks like is that the $8.6 million is now $8.3 million. There’s a real question whether, regardless of how well Caldwell does at LSU, whether attendance and revenue are elastic enough to cover the cost.

There’s also a question whether Alleva – if in fact the rumors are true and LSU is in fact paying Caldwell $900,000 a year – didn’t just blow several hundred thousand dollars he didn’t have to blow on this hire.

Caldwell was working on a five-year, $1.5 million contract at UCLA. That’s $300,000 per year. LSU just tripled her salary if the reports are true. Sure, she was going to get a raise after going 28-5 this season. Was UCLA going to triple her salary? I’d be drop-dead shocked at that idea. Rick Neuheisel, the football coach there, only makes a reported $1.25 million.

I’ve never been one in favor of scrimping on paying coaches. Winning big in a sport where you’re on TV all the time is great PR that a college can’t buy. I’ve complained in the past that Les Miles hasn’t given LSU value for his gargantuan salary as the football coach, though I think he remedied that last year by going 11-2, but my criticism was based on the product on the field and how the salary and results compared to other coaches. But if you can deliver championships, then you’ll have my support for whatever salary they can come up with for you.

But Caldwell hasn’t won a championship at LSU yet. And Alleva just tripled her salary to coach a program that loses over a million dollars a year. That means if she brings the program back to prominence she’s going to expect a raise, and she’ll be making four or five times what she was making at UCLA. She might even be making more than the $1.2 million a year Trent Johnson makes to coach the men’s team – though if Johnson doesn’t deliver a lot better product than he’s delivered the last two years my complaint will be that he’s drawing a salary at all, not that the women’s coach outearns him.

The whole thing is pretty shocking. Nosebleed-inducing, in fact. Scuse me while I go for the Kleenex.



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