College basketball is big time in the mid-Atlantic and southeastern United States. In North Carolina alone, there are 4 major universities with strong basketball traditions: Wake Forest in Winston-Salem; the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill; Duke in Durham and North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Of these four, UNC and Duke are consistently top-ranked teams, Wake isn’t quite as consistent and NCSU…, well, they’ve been struggling lately. Their last NCAA tournament appearance was in 2006 with a second round loss and the last time they made it to the Sweet Sixteen was 2005. It hasn’t always been like this. In 1974 and again in 1983, they were national champions. Going back even further, under Everett Case in 40’s and 50’s, the Wolfpack was a perennial power with multiple ACC and Southern Conference championships and (perhaps most important of all) 15 consecutive wins over arch-rival UNC. The good folks on Hillsborough have hungered for this kind of success quite a while.
To that end, they’ve hired Mark Gottfried as their new basketball coach. Gottfried, an alumnus of the University of Alabama and former coach of the basketball team there, seems like a good catch for NCSU…, on paper at least. His lifetime record is 278-155, leading Alabama to multiple SEC championships and appearances in the NCAA tournament, advancing to the round of eight in 2004. His fortunes declined after that, with losses in the first and second rounds in the next two years, a first round loss in the NIT in 2007 and no bid offered to either tournament the next year. In 2009, he resigned after some problems with recruiting and the controversial departure of one of his star players and has worked as an analyst for ESPN since then. I suppose time will tell if this is good hire for NCSU. They’re certainly happy about it. But, then again, they were ecstatic about Sidney Lowe and look how that went.
Gottfried signed a contract for $1.2 million a year for 5 years with an automatic 2 year extension if the team gets to the NCAA tournament in either of the next 2 years. 1.2 million dollars for 5 years. That adds up to total of 6 million bucks. Which is a lot of money. State is not alone in this; UNC’s Roy Williams makes 1.6 million a year and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski pulls down a cool 1.5 million (I don’t include Jeff Bzdelik’s salary at WFU because they won’t say what it is). Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but I have to wonder if this is the best place to spend this money. After all, the $1.2 million yearly salary State is paying Gottfried would provide a full four year education for 15 students. Spread over 5 years, almost 78 kids could get a degree and improve their lives exponentially. That’s just salaries; what if we included all the other expenses that go toward college sports? Like multimillion dollar arenas, travel budgets and the rest.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying college athletics are a bad thing; I’m saying our priorities are screwed up. We throw tons of money at sports figures while 14.3% of Americans live in poverty, the highest it’s been since the 1960’s. To put this in perspective, while the coaches I’ve mentioned make an average of $1.43 million, 43.6 million people live below the poverty line. That’s around $25,ooo for a family of four. It gets even worse when you look at professional sports. Alex Rodriguez makes $37 million a year for playing baseball and that’s small potatoes compared to Tiger Woods, who took in over $90 million last year. Millions and millions of dollars for playing a fucking game while people are starving to death? That’s just obscene. And, who’s to blame for this? We are. Whether it’s putting money directly into their coffers by attending games or indirectly by watching them on television, we enable this behavior. Enable? no, we encourage it. Remember that next time you want to buy that jersey from your favorite team.