My first reaction to Gene Taylor’s big fat raise was shock. My second reaction was...well, I can’t really complain. My third: Probably a good deal all-around.
Mr. Taylor on Wednesday got a five-year extension to his contract as the athletics director at Kansas State University. He’ll be paid a base of $925,000 per year, a 32 percent increase over the $700,000 he was due to make this year under his previous deal. Plus, he could make $75,000 in bonuses if his teams win big, and another $250,000 a year in a life-insurance arrangement, depending on how things work out. Put simply, it’s fair to call it north of a million-dollar annual deal.
Getting a 32-percent pay bump, at a time of coronavirus-related budget cuts all across the landscape, is what prompted my initial shock. After all, we had President Richard Myers telling the state Legislature just last week that the university had lost $96 million in revenue due to the pandemic. There have been layoffs, furloughs, cutbacks.
Plus, of course, it’s been a mediocre year in sports. Men’s and women’s basketball underperformed, and football fizzled at the end. It’s a bottom-line business, college sports, and so you have to consider that sort of thing.
But then I started thinking about the context. Ninety miles down the road, KU was paying Jeff Long $1.5 million a year just to foul it all up. John Currie, Taylor’s predecessor, was making $775,000 at the time he left. Mr. Taylor’s base pay in 2019-20 was the lowest in the conference. The guy at West Virginia was next-lowest, at $870,000. In fact, only the guy at Florida State made less than Taylor, out of all the Power 5 Conference ADs in America subject to freedom-of-information laws. (Private colleges are not necessarily subject to that law.)
So what we’re dealing with here, when we give Mr. Taylor a raise of $225,000 to his base pay, is just the market for athletics directors. That market is, by most reasonable standards, completely ridiculous and out of touch with reality.
But it is what it is, and Mr. Taylor is clearly a good athletics director. He has hired good coaches. He runs an operation that clears a profit and does not use any subsidy from the university itself. That’s extremely rare in big-time college athletics. So his pay is not taxpayer money — it’s money generated by the business he runs.
We’re talking about a business that brings in more money and more visitors than any other in Manhattan, many times over. Just the incremental gain from one conference television deal to the next is a bigger bump to the Manhattan economy than any new company the Chamber of Commerce could ever hope to recruit.
While it would be nice to pay the CEO of that business the same as, say, the superintendent of schools, that’s just not the way it works. Not in big-time college sports, and we in Manhattan are playing in that game.
In that sense, Mr. Taylor is a real bargain. Our guess is that KU would gladly have paid him double just to keep them out of the soup they’re currently in. Other colleges with bigger budgets could also try to reel him in.
That first reaction? Can’t help it. But on second thought, given the world we inhabit, it makes good sense.