As if it hadn’t already in the form of dragging ticket sales and slowing sponsorship money, the worsening economy showed up in the sports world again this week.
First, Jim Calhoun, men’s basketball coach at the University of Connecticut, went ballistic on a blogger after being questioned about his income while the state faces a nearly $100 million shortfall. Then multimillionaire pro golfer Greg Norman suggested the PGA cut prize money as a show of "sensitivity" to us peasants scrounging for pittance in the real world.
So is it fair that grown men in short pants and funny uniforms make gazillions of dollars for playing a game? Is it fair that their coaches make half a gazillion?
If all were equitable with regard to salaries, the noble among us — teachers and sports journalists (it was worth a shot) — would live much more comfortably.
But there are a lot more qualified teachers and reporters in the world than there are coaches who can win 800 games or guys that regularly come in under par.
And nobody’s dropping $500 for front row seats to a really killer history lecture. It’s as simple as supply and demand.
The point is, while coaches at state universities are state employees and always among the highest paid, they’re not overseeing charity cases.
Calhoun, for example, is set to make $1.6 million in 2009-10, but as he screamed in a postgame press conference last Saturday, "We turn over $12 million (a year) to the University of Connecticut!"
Well, sort of. As I understand it, most of that revenue stays within the athletic department.
But isn’t that the point?
The UConn basketball team, as well as every other major sports program in the country, is a self-sustaining entity. It’s not as if these coaches are lighting cigars with $100 bills, laughing while orphans are forced to eat porridge. The state’s economic woes have nothing to do with their contracts, which by the way, are dictated by market forces. If it wasn’t profitable for schools to pay a highly successful coach millions of dollars per year, rest assured, they wouldn’t be doing it.
Still, there wasn’t much reason for Calhoun’s behavior. He is, after all, one the state’s best compensated employees. And the dude asking the question is just that: some dude. He’s irrelevant. If you don’t like his line of questioning, move on.
So, moving on.
Norman’s heart was probably in the right place when he suggested golfers take a pay cut, and most of them can afford it, though not many as easily as Norman could.
"Prize money’s being scaled back in Europe," Norman told the Australian Broadcasting Company this week. "I wouldn’t be surprised if prize money’s scaled back in the U.S. just out of respect to every citizen and taxpayer over there who’s suffering dramatically."
That’s nice, Greg, but we’ll take your putts over your pity.
It’s easy for Norman to sit back and tell other golfers to play for smaller pots, because he’s rarely among them anymore. Instead, he’s kicking back Down Under, watching the profits roll in from his multimillion dollar clothing line.
Don’t get me wrong, if the PGA wants to trim back purses (the 2008 average was $5.8 million) that’s fine by me. But they shouldn’t do it as a token to the poor little guy.
Is it really going to make good old Joe SixPack feel any better than Ernie Els is earning $1.2 million instead of $1.4?
If they make that decision, it should be because that’s the smartest decision for their business. And when it is, they will.
But if Norman is still so worried about the taxpayers of America, here’s a suggestion: Cut us a discount on those $85 polo shirts.
Or better yet, how about taking those profits and donating them to Connecticut?
See, now everybody’s happy.
Brent Holloway is the sports editor for The Times. His columns appear each Friday.