THE ABSURDITY OF incentive bonuses for college coaches is being played out this week at the Papajohns.com Bowl. According to his contract, Steve Spurrier will receive a $100,000 bonus for leading his South Carolina team to what is considered the bottom rung of SEC bowl games.
Normally, Spurrier would receive a $50,000 bonus for USC playing in a lower-tier bowl game. But the double-bonus kicks in, according to his contract, because the Papajohns.com Bowl is played on Jan. 1 or later.
Spurrier and Eric Hyman, USC's athletics director, have not discussed the matter. But it is clear both recognize the absurdity of it all.
"A lot of people have moved bowl games around," Hyman said. "The spirit of (the bonus) was more of a New Year's Day bowl. It wasn't like the Papajohns Bowl or the Liberty Bowl or something like that. When we did that, it was more of the higher-level bowl (we were trying to reward).
"Since that time, the bowls have changed. When that was done, there weren't bowls after Jan. 1. The spirit of it was a New Year's Day bowl."
When Spurrier's original contract was written in 2005, there were 28 bowl games, including eight on Jan. 1 or later. This season there are 34 bowls, including 14 on Jan. 1 or later. Among those played after New Year's Day are the Papajohns.com, International, Liberty and GMAC bowls.
"We were kidding about that the other day. I don't know what Mr. Hyman's going to do about that," Spurrier said with a laugh. "Those (bonuses) are either for the BCS or the Capital One, Outback, Jan. 1 bowl games. Now, ESPN, they'll put (bowl games) anywhere they want to.
"I don't know what he's going to do about that. What do you think he's going to do about that?"
When informed that Hyman does not intend to pay the additional $50,000, the coach again laughed.
"That's what I figured he'd say. I know that," he said. "It's not supposed to be for bowls like this."
Spurrier easily could have been speaking of bowl incentives in general. They are not supposed to be paid for bowls such as the Papajohns or Music City. Truth is, there is a great inequity in bonuses paid to college coaches.
Spurrier can collect $50,000 for producing an average football team. Meanwhile, his men's basketball counterpart, Darrin Horn, gets $25,000 for producing an exceptional team - one that qualifies for the NCAA tournament.
The same holds true at Clemson, where football coach Dabo Swinney and basketball coach Oliver Purnell receive essentially the same reward - 1/12th of their base salaries - for accomplishments that are not equal.
Simple mathematics shows how much more difficult it is for a coach to lead his team to the NCAA men's basketball tournament than to a college football bowl game. Yet football coaches earn bonuses equal to or greater than those basketball coaches receive.
Of the 120 teams at the FBS level of college football, 68 (56.7 percent) play in bowl games. The minimum qualification for a team to play in a bowl game is to win half of its games. Compare that to men's basketball, in which 65 of the 347 Division I teams (18.7 percent) reach the NCAA tournament.
Please, don't roll out the tired argument that football coaches produce more revenue for their respective athletics departments. Revenue is not the issue here. It is about bonuses based on performance.
History also tells us the road to the NCAA tournament is much more difficult to navigate than the smooth sailing one has to reach a bowl game. USC has been to six bowl games this decade. The men's basketball team has been to the NCAA tournament four times since last winning a tourney game, in 1973.
Yet Horn will receive a mere $25,000 for reaching the NCAA tournament and another $10,000 for winning a tournament game.
"There's no perfect way to do this. It's a matter of trying to get a sense and a feel for where the program is and what some of the industry standards are," Hyman said. "There are a lot of different ways to do it. Obviously, Darrin thought it was fair and we thought it was fair."
Nonetheless, here are a few suggestions to eliminate the bonus inequities at USC and Clemson:
- Football coaches receive a $100,000 bonus for reaching a BCS bowl. Otherwise, no bonus.
- Basketball coaches receive a $100,000 bonus for reaching the NCAA tournament.
- Basketball coaches receive an additional $50,000 bonus for every game their team wins in the NCAA tournament
As for that additional $50,000 Spurrier could receive for USC playing in the Papajohns.com Bowl, I am certain there are many charities in the Columbia area that would gladly accept a check in that amount.