Indiana University Athletic Director Fred Glass has sold himself on his football coach, Kevin Wilson.
He’s also managed to sell IU President Michael McRobbie and the school’s board of trustees on Wilson.
On Monday, IU announced it signed Wilson to a six-year contract extension that pays the coach $2.55 million annually through 2021. The deal nearly doubles his annual pay—which was $1.31 million in 2015.
Now all Glass has to do is sell the IU fan base that his idea of retaining the so far mediocre—that’s being kind—Wilson is a good idea. An idea so good that it will prompt IU faithful and football fans to plunk down money to see games.
During Wilson’s first five years, he’s done little to move the needle on IU’s tepid football attendance.
There’s been a lot of crowing about Wilson’s recruiting. It’s even being touted as unprecedented at IU. And we’re told that will pay dividends over the next few years of the Wilson era.
Of course, IU fans have been hearing the “Help is on the way!” hue and cry for years. You can understand the skepticism, which stretches from Bloomington to Indianapolis.
This is what we know about Wilson’s ability to drive interest in the football program. The average attendance at the 52,929-seat IU Memorial Stadium during Wilson’s five years is 43,283. The high water mark was 2012 when attendance hit 44,802. This year, attendance during Wilson’s bowl run was 44,314.
That is an uptick from the Bill Lynch era. During the four years Lynch was IU football coach, the Hoosiers had average attendance of 38,143. Attendance during Lynch’s last two years—2009 and 2010—was nearly 42,000.
Keep in mind, Lynch’s salary—$250,000 annually—at IU was about a tenth of what Wilson is making now.
I understand Wilson’s salary is in the bottom half of the Big Ten. Nevertheless, it would seem logical that Glass—with this new contract he just gave Wilson—would want to see something he hasn’t yet seen since joining IU as athletic director in early 2009; A dramatic increase in football attendance.
Yes, television rights fees in general and the Big Ten Network in particular drive a lot of revenue to IU. Still, ticket sales remain a linchpin of a program’s success. Not only is the ticket revenue a key part of a program’s financial success, but it drives numerous other revenue streams. It’s also a key indicator of fan and alumni support.
Fans vote with their feet. And IU fans haven’t voted—in a significant way—for Wilson yet.
Maybe they’re out there, but I haven’t met or talked to too many Hoosier fans—Glass not withstanding—that are overly excited about a long-term extension of the Wilson era.
Or course, all that will turn on a dime with an actual winning season—or two. And Wilson would surely be in line for another big raise.