Head coaches Geno Auriemma and Kevin Ollie, the University of Connecticut’s resident basketball rockstars, have been signed through 2021. But their contract extensions come at a time of state fiscal troubles. These budgetary concerns are at least one possible explanation for why the unveiling of the decision to do so was handled so poorly.
The people of Connecticut did not learn of this call from Athletic Director David Benedict until February 2017, months after the initial signing (Auriemma, October 2016 and Ollie, November 2016), according to the Hartford Courant. As Auriemma and Ollie are the highest-paid state employees in Connecticut, per the Courant, hiding their latest windfall from the public exhibits a characteristic lack of transparency on the university’s part.
From the UConn Foundation to administrative pay raises to the mishandling of funds, UConn commonly neglects to make information public and often releases important information, such as tuition increases, the day before a scheduled vacation.
The confusion this time is that one would expect UConn to be excited to announce the most decorated coach in the history of basketball and an NBA coaching prospect are under contract for even longer.
To add to the bewilderment, at the point the extensions were discovered, Kevin Ollie was at the helm of a disappointing 14-16 men’s basketball team. Granted, injuries ravaged Ollie’s squad this year, but in Storrs, basketball coaches don’t get extensions for being mostly without offensive acumen and missing March Madness and the NIT. It seems odd to not inform the public of the new contract negotiations and deal even as the men’s team welcomed a celebrated recruiting class and preseason No. 16 national ranking.
The best conjecture is that signing these two men to a combined $31 million doesn’t look so good when you’re lobbying for money at the Capitol. As to whether or not doling out money for high-profile coaches is worth it, Connecticut was dealing with a similar budget shortfall in 2009 when a freelance reporter asked Jim Calhoun what he thought of being the highest paid state employee. We all know where he stands on the issue:
“Not a dime back!”
Ollie won a national title in 2014 and Auriemma can’t seem to stop winning, so the extensions make some sort of sense. But it is inexcusable that fans, students and the general populous had to find out about the new contracts due to a Freedom of Information request from USA Today, since the publication was putting together its yearly coaches’ salaries list, Jeff Jacobs, a columnist for the Courant noted.
There is no indication that UConn would have made a formal public announcement regarding the contracts had it not been for USA Today.
Having the salaries of athletic coaches dwarf those of professors and every other Connecticut state employee occupation is an ethical debate that depends upon the deeply held values of our society, but that’s for another day. All we’re asking is for a little respect, and maybe a heads-up.