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December 11, 2009 - Western Kentucky notes need for competitive balance despite increasing salaries and expenses

At Western Kentucky University (WKU), the most recent member of the NCAA's Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), a keen eye on the bottom line is  impacting its decision making.  A recent article by the WKU Herald looked at how high salaries demanded by football coaches affects the institution's hiring decisions.  It noted the recent presidential survey from the Knight Commission found that four of five presidents of FBS member institutions felt the ability to sustain coaches’ salaries was a problem at their own university, and collective action was necessary to make changes.

“We just simply have to understand our own limitations and live within them and find ways to be competitive,” said WKU president Gary Ransdell said. “Not necessarily competitive in the job market but within our program. I’m more interested in addressing WKU problems than those that affect 119 other institutions. We can’t pay for what we can’t afford."

Presidents must ensure market-driven salaries in an athletic program don’t come at the expense of the overall budget. Said Ransdell: "We just have to understand our revenue profile, live within it and do the best we can to have talent, skill, loyalty, passion and character embodied in our coaches, be it football or otherwise. I think we can do that within our salary structure.”

WKU Athletics Director Wood Selig said the only concern he has about the study’s findings is Western remaining competitive despite not having the financial means of bigger universities. “Any time your expenses increase in any area, that’s cause for concern,” Selig said. “My initial concern is if we can afford and retain the best coaches."

But Ransdell said successful coaches could demand larger salaries. Selig said Western experienced that problem with the recent search for a head football coach. “One coordinator was making $800,000 a year and came here asking much more,” he said. “We just had to walk away and look elsewhere. Some were making more than they would here and were willing to take a pay cut in order to be a head coach.”

According to the paper, Selig said the university was prepared to walk away from new football Head Coach Willie Taggart if his asking price was too high, even if they felt he was the right candidate.