POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Aug 10, 2010
LAST UPDATED: 2:25 a.m. HST, Aug 10, 2010
As dean of Western Athletic Conference football, Pat Hill is often looked up to by his fellow coaches.
In 14 seasons -- and 100 victories -- with the Bulldogs, the 59-year old Hill has set the standard in several areas, from scheduling to salaries.
He was the first WAC coach to aggressively court TV with his "anybody, anytime, anywhere" schedules and a front-runner in attempting to crack the Bowl Championship Series exclusion of mid-majors, and he became the conference's first million-dollar coach.
But these days, Hill is the foremost example of the new austerity rolling through the conference. In recently accepting a new contract that could result in a 28 percent drop in base pay in 2011, he reflects the financial challenges that have slammed the conference.
He is not alone. In the last 12 months, the three highest-paid football coaches, Boise State's Chris Petersen, Hawaii's Greg McMackin and Hill -- the so-called "Millionaire Three" of the WAC -- have accepted terms that will either significantly reduce or slow down the pace of their salaries.
It is believed to be the first time in the 48-year history of the conference that its three highest-paid coaches have all had their contracts readjusted down.
Before the cuts, the salaries of the three have doubled -- and in some cases tripled -- those of some of the other six coaches in the conference, reflecting the revenue the programs produce.
Hawaii -- which led the WAC in average turnstile attendance at 37,018 last year -- Boise and Fresno are the only schools in the conference averaging more than 30,000.
WAC FOOTBALL COACHES SALARIES IN 2010
Source: Star-Advertiser research
*New salary begins Jan. 1, 2011.**McMackin's salary, with the cut, is lower by $77,000 per year.
"People are finding out that, in these tough economic times, you can't have high fixed costs," said Jim Donovan, UH athletic director. "People are going back and trying to lower their fixed costs."
According to UH officials, salaries and benefits for coaches and their staffs account for more than 20 percent of spending on a $28 million budget.
Last fall McMackin voluntarily agreed, according to school officials, to a 7 percent pay cut for 22 months. That was on top of the one month's salary he was docked for offensive remarks made last summer at a WAC media event.
When the voluntary cut -- which was in line with those taken by several administrators, including then-UH president David McClain, Manoa chancellor Virginia S. Hinshaw and Donovan and senior athletic administrators -- ends June 30, 2011, McMackin will have given up $141,174 in salary, according to UH officials.
Petersen, who has led Boise State to two BCS appearances and three WAC titles in four years, will receive $1.289 million in base salary this year, but had been scheduled to make $1.3 million.
Moreover, what was to have been a 56 percent escalation over three years, according to the Idaho Statesman, will now be a 20 percent climb over five years.
Petersen's deal "wasn't technically a pay cut, but it definitely put restraints on how fast his salary can grow," said someone with knowledge of the situation in Boise.
The trims come at a time when UH, Fresno and Boise, owners of the three biggest budgets -- all between $24 million and $28 million -- in the nine-team WAC have had to slam the brakes on spending and deal with deficits.
UH has been running a $2 million annual deficit the past two years and Fresno State was projecting a $300,000 deficit for the fiscal year that ended June 30 and may have to tap its foundation endowment to help underwrite scholarship costs.
"From a strictly business standpoint, sports (expenses and revenues) are variable depending on how the teams perform," Donovan said. "Your revenue can be up considerably or revenue can be down considerably, all depending on how the team is doing."
For years, as marquee schools blessed with BCS money and more lucrative TV deals have upped the ante on coaching salaries in the so-called "athletic arms race," the WAC has raised salaries.
Donovan said, "At what point does it become feasible to keep up with the Joneses?"
Increasingly, schools say they are reducing the base salary and tying pay to meaningful incentives. For example, Hill's base, which had been approximately $850,000, will become $650,000 on Jan. 1, 2011, when the new contract becomes operative, according to the Fresno Bee.
Commissioner Karl Benson has for some time maintained, "Nationally, I think, they (escalating coaching salaries) have to come to a screeching halt."
In the WAC, as the conference prepares for the 2010 season, you can hear the brakes being applied.