UB Athletics spends most money in the MAC
But not the most money on coaches
The University at Buffalo’s athletic department spends more money than any other school in the Mid-American Conference – but its coaches are making less money than most other coaches in the MAC.
The department’s money – $31,134,149 – goes to athletic scholarships, administrative salaries, coaching salaries, marketing, team travel and team expenses, according to NCAA statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Education.
UB is also tied with Miami Ohio for the most head coaching positions of the 12 MAC schools. Both schools have 18 head coaching positions, but some coaches at Buffalo coach more than one sport.
Despite the large number of coaching positions, UB coaches make less money than most of their counterparts in the conference. UB has 14 “full-time” coaches, who make an average salary of $114,790, compared to $156,430 by coaches at Akron and $155,798 by coaches at Ohio – the two largest averages in the conference. The numbers put UB as the ninth lowest out of 12 schools for total head coaching salaries in the 2013-2014 fiscal year.
The Spectrum obtained this information via Freedom of Information requests, sports data compiled by USA Today and the U.S. Department of Education.
Allen Greene, Buffalo’s deputy director of Athletics, attributed the lower salaries to a lack of championship seasons. This year, for example, marked the first season the basketball team won the MAC Championship and went to the NCAA Tournament.
“I think for a long period of time, we have not been successful, so compensation doesn’t come along also,” Greene said.
Still, UB Athletic Director Danny White made more money than any athletic director in the conference, with a school pay of $301,625 for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, according to USA Today. The next highest in the conference, Northern Illinois’ Jeff Compher, made $17,625 less than White.
White was ranked No. 76 of 113 A.D.’s listed by USA Today, and No. 14 among non-BCS schools. White’s base salary was set at $225,000 for 2013 – according to UB Athletics’ payroll sheet.
White also received one of the largest pay increases in the Athletic Department in the past year. He did so without gaining a new title. His 2014-15 base salary will be $254,760, which is a 13.23 percent increase from 2013-14. Greene declined to discuss White’s contract and White declined to speak to The Spectrum about this story or any budgetary issues.
“Decisions that are made for Danny and his compensation come from the president, so us as an Athletics Department have no barring,” Greene said. “We have no input and no barring on what happens with him.”
President Satish Tripathi said via email that White’s raise was “all contractual.” Tripathi also said that ticket sales, athletic sponsorships and philanthropic giving have all increased with White as the Athletic Director.
Buffalo ranked third in the conference in athletic student aid and game-day expenses.
Buffalo led the MAC in recruiting expenses and expenses “not allocated to a specific sport.” UB Athletics led this category by more than $1 million. UB spent $10.98 million on these allocation compared to second-ranked Kent State’s $9.17 million.
Greene said this money goes toward the “operational side and salaries” within the athletic department. Besides staff salaries, this category cost more than $700,000 for team travel and more than $1 million for fundraising, marketing and promotion costs. UB Athletics also spent more than $2.8 million on direct facilities and maintenance and rental costs and “other operating expenses” – including printing, subscription, leases and non-team travels not reported elsewhere. Indirect facilities and administrative support, which includes areas like institutional administrative costs, maintenance, facilities and security, accounted for more than $2.2 million.
Buffalo’s revenues outgained its expenses by $143,831 in the 2013-14 fiscal year. Greene said Buffalo wasn’t planning on ending the season with excessive revenue, but he said a portion of the money would go toward funding capital projects – like a new field house Buffalo hopes to build.
According to numbers compiled by The Spectrum, Buffalo head coaches combined to make more than $1.695 million in annual institutional salary in the 2013-14 reporting year – spanning from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014. The Athletic Department spent more than $9.25 million in staff salary during this time for 175 positions.
But base salary is only a portion of the money college coaches make. Coaches and athletic department staff get bonuses and perks just like professional athletes. These benefits include car stipends, country club memberships, speaking fees, radio and television income and housing allowances. Buffalo head coaches made nearly $1.779 million in such benefits.
Even with these bonuses, UB head coaches move up only one spot, to No. 8, for total income – and that’s without factoring other schools’ coaches’ bonuses.
John Affleck, the Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society at Penn State and who worked for the Associated Press for 22 years, said there are “various things that can account for” Buffalo’s No. 8 ranking for head coaches. Some factors he listed included the longevity of coaches’ contracts at UB and an increased market for new head coaches.
“That might be a sign that the school’s not investing in coaches, but it also just might be a sign that they locked people in to long term deals a while back,” Affleck said.
Of UB’s 18 listed head coaches for the 20 varsity sports, only 14.77 coaches are considered “full time.” Buffalo, like more than half of the MAC conference does, has coaches who run multiple programs. Vicki Mitchell is the head coach of both men’s and women’s cross country and track teams and swimming coach Andy Bashor heads both the men’s and women’s teams. The track team has two head coaches who are considered “part time.”
White’s hired 11 Buffalo 14 full-time head coaches since he was hired in May 2012, including Tuesday’s announcement of new volleyball head coach Blair Brown Lipsitz.
Buffalo ranked No. 10 of 12 MAC schools for average salary per full-time head coach ($114,789.91), leading only Northern Illinois and Bowling Green.
The head coaches of Buffalo’s men’s teams made nearly 1.07 million while the women’s team’s head coaches made $627,039 in the 2013-14 reporting year. These numbers rank eighth and 12th (last) in the MAC. Bowling Green’s women’s team’s coaches rank No. 11 at $638,370.
Former football head coach Jeff Quinn had a $250,000 base salary in 2013 – one of the lowest in the MAC for that season. But when Quinn and the Bulls finished 8-5 and played in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, he finished the year making $338,000. In total, the Athletic Department paid $398,317 for Quinn and his benefits, according to the NCAA Membership Financial Reporting System. The Spectrum has reported on these benefits, which included cars, tickets and bonuses for victories and fan attendance.
Is donor money the answer?
Men’s basketball head coach Bobby Hurley was the second-most expensive Buffalo head coach for the reporting year. Hurley’s base salary was $250,000 – second highest base salary in the Athletic Department – but earned $336,669 including benefits and bonuses paid by the university and third parties. Hurley’s original contract included $50,000 in additional compensation and 25 percent of ticket sales after $300,000 in gross sales.
Steve Hawkins, who led Western Michigan men’s basketball team to the 2013-14 MAC Championship and NCAA Tournament, earned $312,000 last year, according to USA Today. Hawkins is currently in his 12th season with the Broncos. Akron men’s basketball head coach, Keith Dambrot, earns $400,000 a season. Dambrot has coached at Akron since 2004 and has two trips to the NCAA Tournament. Ohio University’s Saul Phillips currently leads MAC basketball coaches with with a $550,000 base salary.
Buffalo has a deal in place to make Hurley the highest paid basketball coach in the conference. The offer came shortly after the men’s basketball team’s first appearance at the NCAA Tournament in program history. Hurley hasn’t signed the new contract with Buffalo – which is largely support by donation money.
Dr. Welch Suggs, an associate professor of journalism at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at University of Georgia, said it’s risky to have donors raise money for a specific head coach because the donors could lose support for the coach over time.
“If they get mad at the coach but the AD doesn’t want to fire him or her, what happens if the donors stop giving?” Suggs said via email. “Many universities now endow coaching positions so that donors are giving to a permanent endowment that generates interest income that can be used to supplement salaries or program funds, so that makes sense, but if I commit [$50,000 per year] to help pay a basketball coach and then he doesn’t measure up to my expectations, is the AD going to try to force me to keep paying? Not going to happen.”
Greene said following the postseason basketball success, Buffalo donors rallied to raise money to increase Hurley’s base salary in hopes he wouldn’t leave for a position at a different university. Greene said the use of donor money could help keep coaches in Buffalo at a price that works for the Athletics Department.
“The less burden we could put on the institution in order of financial resources, the easier it is for us to retain some of these coaches,” Greene said.
Affleck said “donors frequently at the collegiate level donate for a specific thing” and “it’s a way to have a more concrete sense of where your money’s going.”
A change in coaching spending
Only four varsity teams – football, rowing, men's swimming and diving and women's tennis – have won conference championships before this season. This year, however, the women’s soccer team won its first MAC Championship. During the 2013-14 fiscal year, Burke was an assistant coach on the women’s soccer team.
Burke’s head coaching salary shows an increase in salaries among Buffalo coaches. Previous women’s soccer head coach Michael Thomas, who current University of Connecticut Athletic Director Warde Manuel hired in 2008, earned $59,581 in his final season as head coach. Burke earned $66,100 in his first season as head coach after earning $37,873 in his final season as an assistant. UB Athletics paid Burke 11.2 percent more than Thomas as head coach.
Former volleyball head coach Reed Sunahara, who has more than 15 years of head Division-I head coaching experience and worked as an assistant for Team USA, made $92,050 in 2014, compared to former head coach Todd Kress’ $79,160. Softball coach Trena Peel is due to make $86,850 after earning $80,000 in 2013.
Sunahara left Buffalo to take the same position at West Virginia University, where he will reportedly earn around $120,000 a season.
“The reality of this business is you have some success and you are attractive to other people, and to people who have a little bit bigger pockets than we do,” Greene said.
Greene said as coaches begin to win more at Buffalo, it makes sense for their earnings to rise.
“I think with our increased success that we’ve had an increase in compensation for our coaches and I’d say that’s pretty broad and pretty consistent with how athletics departments operate around the country,” Greene said.
In 2013, 175 Athletic Department employees combined to make $9,258,441.69. In 2014, 165 employees combined to make $9,115,438.84. There was a 47-employee turnover after 2013 that resulted in 37 new hires the following year.
The average employee made $55,245.08 in 2014, and 126 of 128 returning employees received a raise in 2014 – the two exceptions being one graduate assistant and Quinn.
Greene spoke about the difficulty in balancing and operating within the budget with the want to bring in the best coaches, staff and personnel possible.
“That’s a challenge. It’s an absolute challenge,” Greene said. “We have to make some very tough decisions in order to compensate some coaches and we make decisions to ensure the student-athlete experience remain constant.”
Greene said Buffalo doesn’t use a “one size fits all” technique when looking for new head coaches. Since White was hired at Buffalo in May 2012, he’s made 11 head coaching hires in less than three years. All 11 of White’s hires were former college athletes, with nine playing at the Division I level. Women’s soccer coach Shawn Burke and football coach Lance Leipold are the only two who aren’t former Division I student-athletes.
Information for the 2014-15 budget was not available.
This story has been corrected to reflect that Buffalo had four MAC Champions entering this season.
Owen O'Brien is an investigative sports reporter and can be reached at email@example.com