From Deadspin: “You may have heard that the highest-paid employee in each state is usually the football coach at the largest state school. This is actually a gross mischaracterization: Sometimes it is the basketball coach.”
(click to get to the original post, where they explain their methodology.)
How do we explain this? Part of it is – speaking very broadly – religion.
For a very long time, American universities were supposed to educate their students in the virtues that made them good citizens. Courses on the classics would civilize them, regular attendance at chapel would instill them with humility and piety, and a final course in moral philosophy – traditionally taught by the head of the university – prepared them to go out in the world.
Everything came down to character.
As time went on, the various academic disciplines became professionalized. That means the disciplines became answerable only to themselves, rather than to some broader notion of social order. Science stopped being a way to exalt the creator of nature and became the understanding of the natural world. History stopped being the depiction of the virtues of great men.
Knowledge and technical skill became more important than character.
The last bastion of character at the university was the sports program. Coaches insisted that competitive sports taught the virtues of discipline, teamwork, drive and persistence. They pitched themselves the same way that the university as a whole used to pitch itself. They instilled character.
One of the reasons that athletic programs began to command so much respect and so many resources is because they now had a monopoly on character. This idea still lingers on, despite the fact that we rarely use words like “virtue” or “character” today.