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TOPIC: Joker Phillips' contract
OUR VIEW: Difference in money for education, sports
Tuition costs are rising at colleges and universities across the country. So are the fees for room and board, books and student fees. The affordability of higher learning is an ongoing struggle for many.
And then we have college athletics, which over the years has unquestionably become a big business and the face of many schools.
The recent firing of University of Kentucky head football coach Joker Phillips again brings to light the emphasis in athletics placed at schools, even for a downtrodden program like Kentucky’s.
In his third season as head coach, the former Wildcat player has gone 12-23 overall and seats in vast Commonwealth Stadium have become more unfilled with each passing loss.
In the 40-0 setback Nov. 3 to Vanderbilt, a crowd of only 18,885 watched in the 67,606-seat stadium. A day later, in a message on the athletic department website, Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart announced Phillips was fired.
Phillips is owed around $2.5 million for the final two years of his five-year deal when he replaced Rich Brooks.
To recruit a new coach who will fill the stadium back up will come with a hefty price tag. It stands to reason that over the next two years, Kentucky will spend more than $5 million on its head coaching position — for the new coach and to pay off Phillips.
That’s a lot of money to pay out to lead a floundering program, but in the business of college athletics, hefty salaries are viewed as an investment to put more people in the seats at stadiums with victories on the field.
Coaching salaries are especially uncomfortable when schools are struggling to improve professors’ pay, build modern student facilities and keep the cost of higher learning from increasingly moving too far away from students and families to afford.
A successful athletic program is a nice bonus for students in college, but it hardly compares to the intent of higher education.
For instance, the president of UK, Eli Capilouto, earns $500,000, well below what Phillips or the new football coach will make.
And then there’s basketball coach John Calipari, the highest paid coach in his sport who earns $4 million per season.
High coach salaries while colleges struggle to keep an education affordable happens everywhere, not just at UK.
In defense of the high coaching salaries, football and men’s basketball financially support the other sports at each school that bring in little to no revenue.
There’s no way around it: College athletics is big business.
This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise's editorial board.