By Peter Mason and Maureen McNabb
ALEXANDRIA, VA. - Before leaving Virginia Commonwealth University for the University of Texas after last season, Shaka Smart, head coach of the men’s basketball team, received a base salary of $450,000 and supplemental income of $1 million per year.
He was one of many men’s head coaches in the NCAA being paid significantly more than any coach in any sport on the women’s side of college athletics. Coaches receiving similar salaries include Frank Beamer, head football coach at Virginia Tech, and Mike Krzyzewski, head coach of men’s basketball at Duke University.
That’s not surprising. At the vast majority of U.S. colleges and universities, men’s head coaches make far more than women’s head coaches, and the difference has been growing over the past decade, according to an analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Education.
Consider, for example, just the larger schools – NCAA Divisions I and II. In 2014, the average salary of the head coaches of their men’s teams was nearly $163,000, data from the department’s Equity in Athletics website showed. Head coaches for the Division I and II women’s teams, on the other hand, had an average salary of about $64,500.
“I think athletics is a reflection of the corporate world,” said Beth O’Boyle, head coach of VCU’s women’s basketball team. “Most successful men’s programs produce revenue, and unfortunately, women haven’t been able to do that yet.”
From 2004 to 2014, the difference in pay between men’s head coaches and women’s head coaches has nearly tripled. While the average difference in 2004 was only about $33,500, it has increased to $98,000 in 2014.
Why the gap? Experts say it’s because men’s teams such as football and basketball generate more revenues than women’s teams.
That trend is clear at VCU, where the men’s basketball team reached a record of 70 consecutive sold-out games at its home arena, the Siegel Center, against Old Dominion University on Nov. 28. The sellout streak began after the 2011 season when the Rams reached the Final Four in the NCAA tournament.
“People actually care to attend the men’s games,” said VCU junior Bryant Drayton. “Not unless the school is a national powerhouse such as UConn or Tennessee. VCU men’s basketball overpowers women’s as the fan base gets excited for fast-paced dunks, glare and athletic ability.”
Drayton said he believes that VCU pays its head coaches fairly.
“Shaka left because Texas had greater athletic funding and was able to pay him more,” Drayton said. “For the money VCU does have to pay, it is very good in comparison to other schools.”
Last year at VCU, the difference in salaries for head coaches was about $230,000: On the men’s side, the average salary for head coaches was close to $353,000, while on the women’s side, it was around $122,000.
“Men’s sports such as football and basketball bring in the most money to the school,” said VCU graduate student and sports leadership major Chaz Coleman. “They are the revenue generators. I think this is the main reason why men coaches get paid more than women coaches no matter how good a women’s coach is.”
Men’s basketball alone brought in more revenue than all other sports at VCU combined.
VCU’s men’s basketball program generated revenues of about $8 million in 2014, and the team’s operating expenses totaled around $5 million. Thus, men’s basketball produced a profit of $3 million while all other sports combined at VCU had more expenses than revenues.
“Ticket sales and just the overall amount of money that the men’s team brings to the school means the head coach will be paid more,” Drayton said. “There’s more pressure on the job as donors and boosters submit most of their money for the team to thrive. Women’s basketball coaches aren’t really held to the same accountability level.”
Despite the gap in revenues and coaches’ salaries, O’Boyle believes women’s teams will have their own successes in the future.
“I think that’s something that women’s coaches keep working with -- to develop a strong following and see tickets,” she said. “And I think as we get more successful, we’ll help build our crowd here, too.”