A closer look at Pat's pay

Should Pat Summitt make as much to coach the Lady Vols as Bruce Pearl does to coach the men's basketball team? That's been the raging debate in the Knoxville area since the University of Tennessee announced that Summitt would be the first women's coach to join the million-dollar club.

Summitt will make $1.125 million the first year of the six-year contract, slightly more than Pearl. Over the life of the contract, Summitt and Pearl will each make $7.8 million, an average of $1.3 million.

Pearl has come out in support of Summitt's extension and raise, calling it ``fantastic.''

Mike Hamilton, men's athletic director, said Summitt is being rewarded for her career achievements and helping build the sport of women's basketball. Hamilton did not say whether he agreed with the raise, but he did say it wasn't his decision.

It was the decision of UT president Dr. John Peterson, who told me in March Summitt wouldn't make the same as Pearl. But during negotiations with women's athletic director Joan Cronan, Peterson eventually came to the conclusion that Summitt's years of service and record outweighed the revenue derived by men's basketball and the market value for a men's coach.

Good points can be made on either side of this issue. The majority of callers to SportsTalk on the Sports Animal in Knoxville feel Summitt is being overpaid. Others think Summitt is justified in making not only more than Pearl, but football coach Phillip Fulmer as well.

The arguments for Summitt: 32 years of service, six national titles, good will, graduates players, has been a great ambassador for women's basketball.

The arguments against Summitt: The market value for men's basketball far exceeds women's basketball, men's basketball made $4.4 million in profit compared to $470,000 for the women, nobody else would pay Summitt an average of $1.3 million over six years. And how can you justify giving a coach a $300,000 raise (from $824,500 to over $1.1 million) when the athletic department is having trouble breaking even?

Some have suggested it's an atrocity and a farce and a disgrace to pay Summitt $7.8 million over six years. After all, Summitt hasn't won a national title since 1998.

But since 1998, Summitt has won several SEC regular-season and SEC Tournament titles, and she has been to the Final Four five times. By UT men's basketball standards, that would be a rousing success. By Lady Vols standards, that's ho-hum.

Regardless of what side of the fence you fall, know this: The scrutiny on Summitt will be like never before. She will have her hard-core fans who believe she can do no wrong. But there will be a growing number who feel if she doesn't win a national championship soon, she's overpaid. Anything short of a Final Four crown will draw unprecedented criticism for the all-time winningest coach in Division 1.

You wonder if Summitt realizes that.

You wonder if she cares.

Maybe she doesn't. But already, you've had people question why three Lady Vols transferred from the program within four months and why five left within four years.

Considering how tight the UT athletic department budget is now, you also wonder how it will pay for Summitt's huge pay hike.

The Lady Vols are increasing season tickets to $215 (from $185) because of two more home games. Individual-game reserved seats will stay at $15 but general admission seats might go up from $8. UT has sold 66 courtside seats over a two-year period, raising over $1 million in donations. Cronan said she'd like to sell eight more this season. The men have sold 86.

You have heard and read recently where the Lady Vols made $29,000 in women's basketball. But that just counts ticket sales minus expenses. The more accurate figure is $470,000, which counts ticket sales, concessions, souvenirs, marketing, the SEC tournament, the NCAA tournament, radio and television and donations to the women's athletic department. While not all donations are made for women's basketball, UT officials say about 95 percent is. Thus, I feel comfortable with the $470,000 figure.

While the Lady Vols have come a long way financially, they trail Connecticut, which made $4.1 million last year. UConn has a $1 million a year television package and also charges $22 per ticket across the board. UT's average per ticket is about $12.

Peterson told me he was surprised when he was hired that UT didn't charge more.

It's worth noting that the popularity of basketball has helped raise funds to build a $14 million practice facility and 32 luxury suites. Considering UT had only about six commitments for the luxury suites before the season started, it's safe to say the men's basketball success was the driving force behind selling most of the other 26.

UT will have 16 suites that seat 16 and 16 suites that seat 10. They will go for $50,000 and $35,000, respectively, and the same person or business will use them for the men's and women's basketball games.

So, what's my take on the Summitt raise?

I have the utmost respect for Summitt. She has accomplished more than any coach on UT's campus. She is a great coach and a wonderful person.

But I don't think it was necessary to pay her $7.8 million over six years. If you want to make her the first women's coach to make $1 million, fine. Leave it at $1 million.

But to pay her $1.3 million over six years just because Pearl makes that is hard for me to justify. If UT hadn't given Pearl a raise, you can bet a number of schools would have come after him. But Summitt isn't going anywhere. I don't think there's another school that would pay her close to $1.3 million a year.

While Cronan went to bat for Summitt – as she should – Cronan also turned up the heat on her crown jewel of coaches.

And if Summitt doesn't win a national title within two years, the legion of critics will mount.


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