Quick. Which FBS conference has the highest average pay for its athletic directors?
If you said the SEC — a logical assumption — prepare for a bit of surprise. According to Athletic Director U, which covers all things in the administration of collegiate athletics, it’s the Big 12.
The average pay for a Big 12 athletic director including bonuses, according to data compiled by USA Today and analyzed by ADU, is $1.3 million. The Big 10 is second at $1.1 million, the ACC third at $1.033 million, followed by the SEC at $1.03 million. The Pac12 is the only Power 5 conference with an average of fewer than seven figures, coming in at almost $840,000 per AD.
There are a number of interesting items to be looked at from just this one group of numbers, but before we get started, one note. The numbers used here do not include any of the self-imposed decreases taken by many administrators due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, they provide a very interesting view of what ADs are earning, and what sort of return on investment their particular schools are making.
The Big 12, in achieving its top average, is unsurprisingly boosted by the presence of Texas’ Chris Del Conte ($2,3000,000) and Oklahoma’s Joe Castiglione ($1,733,333). Del Conte is second nationally (behind only Notre Dame’s Jack Swarbrick), while Castiglione is fifth. The shocker, though, is Texas Tech’s Kirby Hocutt, who stands fourth nationally at $1,850,000 per year. All three of the Big 12 top earners make more than any SEC AD.
Two more Big 12 ADs top the seven-figure mark: Baylor’s Mack Rhoades ($1,554,897 – 9th nationally) and Kansas’ Jeff Long ($1,500,000 – 11th). That gives the Big 12 five of the 25 ADs in the nation which make more than $1 million per year.
The rest of the Big 12 includes Mike Holder (Oklahoma State – $950,000 – 28th), Jeremiah Donati (TCU – $938,473 – 29th), Jamie Pollard (Iowa State ($903,000 – 32nd) Shane Lyons (WVU – $870,000 – 39th) and Gene Taylor (Kansas State – $650,000 – 59th).
Out of 130 FBS schools, 13 did not provide information for the survey. As private schools, that group is not bound by FOIA requirement for public institutions. (Baylor was one of those that did.)
A look at the salaries immediately begs the question – which ADs are doing a good job, and which ones aren’t quite delivering on the amount in their paychecks? There are many different ways to measure effectiveness and bang for the buck, though, that make it a difficult judgment. Do you rate the job on conference and national championships? Graduation rates? Success in major sports? Successful coaching hires? The number of sports on campus? Budget and donations? Infrastructure improvements? There are so many factors that could be considered, and so much subjectivity on what should be included, that coming up with a system to grade them all is a bit impractical.
Instead, here’s one view on which Big 12 schools are getting the best return on their investment. There are many factors involved in this decidedly subjective look, which also includes time in the current job and the ability to hire and retain top tier coaches.
Top Tier: Joe Castiglione (Oklahoma), Shane Lyons (WVU), Mack Rhoades (Baylor), Mike Holder (Oklahoma State), Jamie Pollard (Iowa State)
Castiglione heads a powerhouse athletic department that raises money, packs in fans, and competes and wins on a national stage. There’s no question he’s the top dog in the league.
Lyons delivers more per dollar of his salary than any other Big 12 AD. He’s a strong voice on NCAA committees, and has provided excellent leadership and growth from day one of his tenure.
Rhoades supervised the rehabilitation of the shattered Bear program following its sexual assault scandal, and has made good hires during his tenure. He’s getting a lot of money, but he’s earned it.
Holder is a veteran leader who has overseen great success in football and many Olympic sports at OSU, including wrestling, tennis and golf.
Pollard has had excellent success with his coaching hires in major sports, and like Lyons, does a great deal in a geographic region that isn’t exactly overflowing with population or cash.
Good, But Some Questions: Chris Del Conte (Texas), Jeremiah Donati (TCU), Gene Taylor (Kansas State)
Del Conte was excellent at TCU, and it might be puzzling to see him in this group. But he has a lot of work to do at Texas, which is the most underperforming program in the Big 12 overall when looked at in the light of its available money, facilities and support. Will his leadership get UT’s signature teams back in contention for league titles?
Donati is in much the same situation – a bit more time is needed to make a firm judgment on his tenure, which began when he relaced Del Conte. He’s raised some big money and kept teams on the successful road laid by Del Conte, but now has to do it on his own.
Taylor has made some good hires in his three years at K-State, but needs more success from football and basketball to move up to the top tier. Again, his evaluation is as much a wait-and-see question than anything.
Work To Do: Jeff Long (Kansas), Kirby Hocutt (Texas Tech)
Long has an accusation-racked men’s basketball program, a football program that’s among the nation’s worst, and he’s pulling down $1.5 million. Ouch.
Hocutt has seen a resurgence in his men’s basketball and track programs, and baseball is strong. However, football is floundering, and his paycheck seems large in terms of some of the returns.
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Only a few ADS have taken announced salary cuts during the pandemic.
Kansas State’s Taylor is taking a 13% reduction, while WVU’s Lyons and Kansas’ Long are both taking a 10% cut.
TCU’s Donati and Iowa State’s Pollard are taking reductions of an unspecified amount. Tech’s Hocutt will not see his base salary cut, but will not take bonuses he earns in the upcoming fiscal year.
There have been no reported pay reductions for Baylor’s Rhoades, Texas’ Del Conte, Oklahoma’s Castiglione or Oklahoma State’s Mike Holder.