Perhaps Butler basketball Coach Brad Stevens is breathing a big sigh of relief right now. He can go on vacation with a 12-year
contract extension and a fat raise in his back pocket.
But Butler’s board of trustees should just be feeling the heat like a craps player betting on box cars. Well, their odds with Stevens and athletics director Barry Collier at the helm are probably better than that.
But on local TV this morning, I heard a "Butler expert" say the discussion about Stevens' contract extension at Butler should have been "an easy discussion to have." I strongly disagree.
Butler's strategy of using basketball as a major marketing tool and using Brad Stevens as the primary rainmaker for the entire athletic department, if not university as a whole, has major ramifications. And I think it's safe to say that someone whose salary is about 10 percent of your entire athletics budget is in fact a program's chosen rainmaker. They certainly better make it rain and the harvest better be long and green.
Stevens’ big-dollar contract extension shows Butler officials are all-in in a high-stakes game that could take the school to new heights or plunge into a world of the escalating athletics arms race where there are as many losers as winners—financially speaking.
A contract extension for a college basketball coach is more about raising the coach’s annual pay than it is about the length of the contract. The longer the extension, the higher the pay raise. My estimates tag Stevens’ base salary at more than $500,000. That’s close to the base pay IU is paying basketball coach Tom Crean. Be assured, Stevens has other incentives in his contract that could and likely will take that amount higher—potentially much higher.
But consider this. Butler has about 45,000 living alumni. IU has 495,000. Now I know some fine and relatively wealthy Butler graduates. But let’s be honest, Butler doesn't have sugar daddies like Bill Cook, John Mellencamp and Mark Cuban that IU can lean on when the athletics department beast needs feeding.
And no matter how many fans Butler packs into Hinkle Fieldhouse, it only holds about three-fourths of what IU’s Assembly Hall or Purdue’s Mackey Arena holds.
That’s why Butler has an athletics department budget ($11.2) about one-fourth the size of IU and Purdue, and 10 percent the size of mighty Ohio State.
And the discussion doesn't merely begin and end with Stevens' salary. It can't possibly. Though Collier insists
being competitive isn't all about money in college, cash is certainly a big part of the equation. Already, Butler is trying
to raise $10 million or more to improve Hinkle Fieldhouse.
The next question will be about the recruiting budget. Butler's is about $75,000. That's 286th out of 345 NCAA Div. I schools. Can you really expect Butler to compete with the likes of Duke, which has a $769,464 annual recruiting budget. IU's is $526,772.
Gotta compete! As the school's supporters begin to become more demanding, Butler trustees will be asking 'what can we do next?'
Collier is confident the cash to support Stevens’ contract will come in as well as more than $10 million needed to improve 82-year-old Hinkle Fieldhouse—for now.
But what the future holds, and what Stevens’ agent demands, during the next round of negotiations is anyone’s guess.
It should be pointed out that another small school has traveled this path. Gonzaga University raised its men’s basketball coach’s pay from $200,000 a decade ago to $851,000 last year. School officials told me during that time that enrollment grew by 20 percent and donations to the school by more than 10 percent.
That kind of payoff, of course, is not guaranteed.
That’s why they call it a gamble.