The Highest Paid State Employees

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.

  • Francesc

    Besides publicity, I guess

  • lorimakesquilts

    Despite the fact that participants in college football and basketball are anything but exemplars of good character or virtue.

    • SirKnight

      That is a gross overstatement

  • Ders

    While I’m all for science, this isn’t something to get worked up over. Most of these coaches work 80 hour weeks in very high-stress environments where their results are constantly monitored and their job security is basically non-existent. You could make comments like this about basically any entertainment-related job, but the truth is that people will pay a lot of money to be entertained. Maybe we in the science fields should take a page or two from their playbook.

    • Malby

      Not sure what other fields you’ve experienced but MANY of us work those hours in high-stress environments.

  • Michael

    My understanding is that coaches usually make so much money because they bring far more into the school. This certainly applies to private schools, and it may also apply to many of these public schools.

    Why do sports attract so much money? Maybe “character” has something to do with it, but I would guess it has much more to do with their entertainment value. I honestly don’t think this is something to get worked up about.

    • Noelle

      Yeah. I always figured it was because sports brought in so much money and publicity for the school. A good coach is a smart investment. I’m guessing states where a different university employee won out for highest are states that don’t have hugely popular sports programs.

  • Brian K

    It was pointed out that in almost every case, coach salaries are not paid directly by the States. Alumni fundraising is a bigger part of it. Plus, football and basketball programs, sad as it may be, generate a positive cash flow.

  • Brian K

    Keep in mind that in many cases state governments don’t pay the whole salaries. Boosters clubs and alumnis contribute susbtantially, along with ticket sales and merchandise sales. So…it is not like these salaries are being paid for by the taxpayers or general funds.
    Not a fan of sports, but it can be argued in many cases the big sports represent a net positive cash flow.

  • Kenneth Polit

    I’m from Pennsylvania. Until recently the highest paid state employee was Penn State football coach Joe Paterno…so much for character.