The news is rather shocking.
Not too long ago, the newspaper reported that only about 20% of NCAA football programs paid for themselves. That is, their ticket sales, booster club contributions, TV cut - all that didn't meet their costs. The reason is clear: everyone is trying to keep up with the Joneses.
As a local example, USA Today reported in March that the Clemson University 10-man coaching staff compensation increased 56% (http://www.usatoday.com/sports/college/football/2010-03-09-coaches-salaries_N.htm) despite running a deficit and taking state-ordered furloughs. That was before Head Coach Dabo Swinney got his bump-up from about $800K to $1.75million this year. From the best data I could winkle from Google, that's about SEVEN times what Clemson's President, James Barker, makes. And that's just the guaranteed money; he can earn bonuses like the half-mil he landed last year.
Swinney's pay doesn't take him up but to about the median of big-school salaries for head coach.
Why are we paying the head jocks like this? A University is an institution of higher learning, but it seems that it is becoming an annex of the NFL. The usual defense for expenditures like these are hard to quantify. The University of California-Berkely says its sports program "adds to campus spirit and unity, provides free advertising for the campus, helps in branding, and provides a link and outreach to alumni." Woohoo. Here I was thinking that people attend U-CAL to get a degree and that its record in producing peer-respected graduates is what attracts new students. This pap about "branding" says the Marketing School is taking itself too seriously!
USA Today (as printed in The Greenville News) asserts today that colleges are meeting their deficits in the sports programs by instituting and raising mandatory student fees. "Students were charged more than $795 million to support sports programs at 222 Division I public schools during the 2008-9 school year." Six schools in Virginia each charged over $1,000 per student per year in fees to support athletics.
And athletic programs are so fond of dumping scholarships on skilled athletes that the NCAA has found it necessary to institute minimum standards for the percentages that actually achieve a degree. Does anyone need to be told: scholarships are funded by other people's money?
To my mind, it's not surprising that other countries are producing more of the people who will make the world run than the US these days. We seem to be going for a lock on entertainment.