UC coaches could get bonuses based on athletes' grades

University of California may tie coaches' bonuses to athletes' academic performance and graduation rates

SAN FRANCISCO -- The University of California is moving to link student athletes’ academic grades and graduation rates to the bonuses of team coaches, but some UC regents on Wednesday expressed concerns that the bar would be set too low.

Most UC coaches currently receive bonuses based solely on whether teams won championships and other measures of how well athletes perform on the field or court -- not in the classroom.

UC President Janet Napolitano has wanted to change that and appointed a task force to develop standards for teams’ academic success along with incentives and sanctions for coaches if those goals are not met.

The panel and Napolitano recently adopted the same complicated point system and minimum standards, including retention and six-year graduation rates, that the NCAA already requires for teams to compete in championships. The task force said that new coaches and those whose contracts are up for renewal will be denied all incentive bonuses if their teams’ averages do not meet those NCAA academic levels.

All but one UC team -- UC Riverside's men's basketball squad -- already meet the goals, noted several regents, meeting in San Francisco Wednesday. They asked whether the standards should be set higher as a way to goad the teams further.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, for example, said that the regents should “set a more ambitious direction for the University of California and ensure that these students receive a solid education in addition to their athletic experience.”

Regent John Perez, the former Assembly Speaker, who said he is a UC sports fan, said he wants to ensure that teams’ athletic success does not come “at the expense of their academic success.”

Task force members and athletics officials said the standards were meant as a minimum and that the nine undergraduate campuses could adopt higher ones.  They say the new incentives could have a significant financial impact on coaches.

For example, UCLA’s head football coach Jim Mora will be paid about $3.2 million this year and could earn an additional $930,000 in bonuses overall depending on the team’s record and other matters. If his contract was new or up for renewal, all those bonuses could in theory be at risk under the proposed policy. 

The matter is expected to be discussed further by the regents Thursday.

Some regents also are upset about a proposal to allow quicker approval of coaches’ hiring and contracts without the usual review of big-ticket salaries by the full board of regents. The plan calls for the regents to delegate most authority in that area to Napolitano and the chairman of the regents’ compensation committee, with subsequent reporting to the full board.

Athletic directors say they fear losing good recruits if the top coaching contracts need to wait for regents’ actions, which can take months. But some regents resent what they see as a move to take away some of their responsibilities.

Twitter: @larrygordonlat 

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times