Though a Sparty Icon, is 3.5 millions dollars too much?
Let me preface this article by stating that I'm a huge Tom Izzo fan.
As a life-long Michigan State fan, I remember all too well the years of mediocrity, growing up in the 80s when there was seldom a reliable brand of excellence displayed by Spartan athletics.
Yes, I was alive when Magic Johnson led the 1979 team to a title over Larry Bird and the Indiana State Sycamores in what became perhaps the most important moment in college basketball history.
But I was five and have a hard time remembering it.
And yes, as a teenager, I remember fondly heading out to Pasadena with my grandparents in 1988 to watch Bobby McAllister, Percy Snow and Andre "bad moon" Rison win a nail-biter over Rodney Pete and the USC Trojans in the Rose bowl.
It is the last indelible image of my grandfather I see when remembering him.
And I have much respect for the Scott Skiles and Steve Smiths of my time, as they provided more unforgettable moments that further expanded the tendrils of fandom in my growing brain.
But it was Tom Izzo that took the Spartans to the next level.
It was Tom Izzo that made MSU a national basketball power.
Has compensation for top level college coaches gotten out of control?
It was Tom Izzo that made the Spartans recognizable by their Mascot "Sparty," made the Breslin Center and the "Izzone" one of the most formidable places to play in all of college basketball, and brought the preseason rankings, the tournament runs and the national respect.
He did it all with class, integrity and the blue-collar work ethic of a true Northern Michigan man.
And he did it all with recruiting classes that would be considered down years for the North Carolinas, the Dukes and the Kansas of the world.
Though that is starting to change.
So yeah, I'm a big Tom Izzo fan, but the news that he has just received a $500,000 raise and use of the Universities private jet in severely economically depressed Michigan is a bit hard to swallow.
To put that in perspective, the university president makes roughly $570,000 per year and has use of a state car.
Izzo's raise to nearly $3.5 million plus winning incentives puts a dramatic explanation point on the money being generated in collegiate athletics and makes the "compensation" paid to athletes that more quixotic by comparison.
And though Izzo's salary is well within the range of other top college coaches in America, and the argument could be made that few deserve it more, the truth of the matter is that he's a coach responsible for the performance and well being of a handful of student-athletes.
The university president is responsible for the performance and well being of over 47,000 students.
And in no other realm is the performance of the student so undervalued.
An engineering student attending the university on an academic scholarship still retains the intellectual property rights to any piece of work he/she patents.
A musician attending the university on a musical scholarship still retains the rights to any piece of music he/she composes.
A writer attending the university on a writing scholarship still retains the rights to any book he/she publishes.
Only the athlete, attending the university on an athletic scholarship, is forced into an arrangement of indentured servitude whereby their marketable product remains the sole possession of the school.
And all the while their coach is getting paid $3.5 million, and the university is collecting the rest.
The question is not really whether Tom Izzo is worth the salary, because successful programs produce much more revenue than they receive. The question deals with the manner in which profitability is generated and distributed.
This is a labor issue that wouldn't pass even the most fundamental test of workers rights in America.
And this is not entirely a market issue, as State run universities are "non-profit" organizations in-part funded by the taxpayers, while the players (or workers) are subject to terms not seen in this country since the industrial revolution.
Room and board, some betterment and the threat of an axe should you not meet expectations.
Some coaches (such as Izzo) use their power as a benign dictator, endeavoring to do right by players within the constructed framework.
Many others do not.
And with the recent revelations surrounding Reggie Bush and Cam Newton, it's not to hard to suppose that the black market created by the flush of cash and the lack of worker compensation is a problem that not only surely runs counter current to the academic mission of the NCAA's member universities, but one that is just as surely created by them with their blind refusal to recognize the backs on which these large athletic revenues are created.
The problem is that the solution to this situation is not exactly clear-cut:
If you pay players based on their market value, you'll end up with collegiate bidding wars, with large and wealthy alumni groups soliciting the nation's top players.
If you enact a revenue sharing philosophy by which players are paid a percentage of the member schools total revenues to mitigate inter-school differences, you're left with a system in which some players are being paid well more than their worth, while others are receiving significantly less.
A straight stipend system incurs some of the same problems but might be the easiest to enact fairly.
Or maybe baseball has it right. If you want to be a professional head to the minors, but if you want to go to college, you have to stay for awhile.
As you can see I'm not exactly offering any solutions and would be interested to hear reader takes below.
But what I am seeing is a coach making $3.5 million off the sweat of some young men paid in cafeteria food and a 10-by-20 shared room.
I love Tom Izzo, but if that's what is meant by sweat equity, then I'm not so sure our universities are teaching lessons from the 21st century.