Mostly True
Moran
"We have a system now where in 40 states, the highest-paid public employee is the state university’s head football or basketball coach."

Jim Moran on Saturday, November 22nd, 2014 in a Facebook post

Jim Moran says college coaches are the highest paid public employees in 40 states

U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-8th, is ending his 24-year congressional career with hopes of reforming big-time college sports.

Moran, who will retire Jan. 3, recently introduced legislation that would create a congressional commission to look into policies of the NCAA after myriad scandals involving misconduct by coaches and athletes, academic fraud and under-the-table payments.

The resolution calls for the panel to make recommendations to improve "the interaction of athletics and academics" on campuses. That includes examining the graduation rates of student athletes, rules restricting athletes’ abilities to earn money, and the wherewithal of universities to finance broad athletic programs.

"We have a system now where in 40 states, the highest-paid public employee is the state university’s head football or basketball coach, and yet only 20 schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision have athletic departments with revenue exceeding expenses," Moran said in a Facebook post.

Today, we’ll take a look at the claim that coaches top the payroll in 40 states. We’ll come back soon with a Truth-O-Meter on Moran’s statement that only 20 big-sport universities have athletic departments that make a profit.

Moran’s spokesman, Thomas Scanlon, sent us an email with three articles on coaches’ salaries.

One, an op-ed in U.S. News and World Report, merely repeated the 40-state statistic as fact. The other two are graphics created by USA Today and Deadspin, a sports website. USA Today compiled salary information for head football and basketball coaches at major Division I schools.

Deadspin’s graphic was published in 2013 and uses data from the 2011-12 school year. Reporter Reuben Fischer-Baum considered the public employee pay information for each state and media reports on coaches’ salaries. He found that 40 of the states had coaches at the pinnacle of the pay pyramid among public employees -- 27 were football coaches and 13 were basketball coaches.

We ran our own check and also found that coaches, when all of their annually guaranteed compensation is totaled, are the highest-paid public workers in 40 states -- often by a longshot. We compared the 2014 football and basketball head coaches’ salaries listed in USA Today -- showing 107 of them are making at least $1 million a year -- with either salary data bases or the most current news report we could find on each state’s payroll.

But there’s a caveat to these raw figures. Many states don’t list coaches as their top earners, even though the coaches’ guaranteed pay may be many times higher than the next-highest paid public employee. That’s because, as a general rule, only a small portion of coaches’ earnings comes from taxpayers or a university’s general fund. The lion’s share comes from money raised by school-affiliated athletic foundations, personal appearance fees, product endorsements, broadcasts and cuts of team revenues. In addition, most coaches are eligible for sizeable bonuses based on their team’s performance.

For example, although Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer’s $2.6 million base salary outstrips anyone on the state payroll, he was not included in a list of top-paid public workers published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch in September. The reason: Beamer receives no state money and is not in the state salary database of public employees.

Virginia’s highest-paid state employee, according to the database, is Ronald Schmitz, chief investment officer of the Virginia Retirement System. He made $786,596 in salary and bonuses during the budget year than ended on June 30. Two years ago, George Mason University basketball coach Paul Hewitt topped the salary list, receiving state pay of $744,750.

As for some other high-profile coaches in the state during the last budget year::

  • University of Virginia football coach Mike London was paid $330,750 by the state. But his total salary, according to USA Today, was $2.3 million plus a possible $700,000 in bonuses.
  • VA basketball coach Tony Bennett’s guaranteed salary was $1.8 million -- $300,000 of which came from state coffers.
  • Virginia Commonwealth University basketball coach Shaka Smart was paid $1.2 million -- $400,000 of which came from the state.

We should note that there are other state employees, often hospital physicians, who whose total pay packages are also supplemented by outside earnings.

Identifying the top earner in each state is tricky because of inconsistent and incomplete data. Moran and Deadspin, using guaranteed compensation packages to coaches, found 40 states whose highest-paid public employee ran a football or basketball team. The number drops to at most 34, we determined, if only direct state compensation to the coach is considered. The number could be lower because, in most states, we were unable to find online data breaking down the taxpayers’ share of their coaches’ guaranteed pay.

Here’s some interesting information we turned up about taxpayers’ direct contributions to the salaries of star coaches in other states:

  • University of South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier’s guaranteed salary is $4 million -- $350,000 of which comes from the state.
  • Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo is paid $3.9 million, including  $399,870 from the state.
  • University of North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams is paid $1.8 million, including $337,500 from the state.

Our ruling

Moran said that "in 40 states, the highest-paid public employee is the state university’s head football or basketball coach." The congressman is correct if we focus on the guaranteed total pay of coaches.

But there’s a caveat: State taxpayers usually pay a small share of coaches’ salaries at large universities. Most of the money comes from school-affiliated foundations, endorsements, broadcast contracts and the like. If we only consider the direct taxpayer subsidy to salaries, coaches are the highest-paid public employees in at most 34 states -- and likely less.

So we rate Moran’s statement Mostly True.