Q&A with Clemson's James Barker
Prior to last week's ACC football championship game, Clemson president James Barker sat down in Charlotte with The Post and Courier's Travis Sawchik to discuss a number of topics related to athletics, including the escalating compensation rates for football coaches, the concentration of power in the offices of head football coaches, and whether Clemson is open to change.
Here is part of that conversation:
What are your thoughts on a study of 44 major universities from 1986-2010 that found head football coaches' compensation increased 750 percent and college professors' pay increased 32 percent during that time?
"It's out of whack. There's no question about it. But there's also the reality that drives markets … and it would be the same thing for an English professor. If you're trying to keep the best English professors, what would you have to pay? Their salaries are different than an engineering professor's. Theirs are higher. One doesn't really influence the other. English professors compete with other English professors around the country.
"Here's a coach like (Clemson offensive coordinator) Chad Morris, who four years ago was in high school, probably helping mow the grass on the field and picking up tackling dummies. And now he's sitting with the opportunity to make more than that. You can either say this is crazy and we refuse to play that game anymore, or you can say America is a great country and here's an Horatio Alger story.
"I would say that we recognized this and we are building contracts which have incentive clauses as opposed to automatic things. (Coach) Dabo Swinney's first salary contract has increased because of what he's earned ... I think his first salary was $800,000, and had incentives built in. The thing that bothers me is to assume these coaches will be successful. Let's see what they've earned as opposed to beginning so high."
What did you learn from your review of athletic director Terry Don Phillips last year?
"I found the biggest need on a list of about 12 criteria -- including integrity, compliance, financial health, and facilities -- was we just needed to be more competitive on the field, and we have been. Dabo made some really serious decisions and increased the quality of the staff significantly, and I think we are seeing the benefit of those hard decisions that were made."
Are athletics and academics at odds?
"We are not going to choose between one or the other. We are going to be strong in both, and, in fact, where one is strong, it helps make the other strong. The number of applications this year are up and hopefully attributed to our success academically, but I'm fairly sure some factor in that is a result of the football team. Applications are up five percent. They were up last year, too, but not that much … Our Facebook fans number at 84,000 and increased 1,000 per week during football season. That gives us some idea of the exposure football gives to us ... I think success between the two is linked together."
How do you avoid having too much power consolidated in the head football coach's office? How do avoid having that office becoming too isolated?
"Frankly, what you have got to do is embrace a culture that puts as much value on change as it does on tradition. Tradition is what can kill you. The tradition of loyalty, and to a certain extent, of not speaking out becoming a tradition. You have to embrace change in equal portion so there is some sort of symmetry there. You have to sense that and sometimes you are part of it. Sometimes you have to slap yourself and say, 'I'm part of this tradition and culture and power base when that's not the way it should be.' It requires some self-examination. It's why we need new people coming in to say, 'wait a minute I'm not sure why we're doing it this way.' "
How has Clemson done in balancing change and tradition?
"I think we have to work harder at change than we do at tradition. Our natural tendency would be to put more emphasis on tradition. Part of my job is to make sure that the traditions we do keep are the ones that have value and meaning and substance. And make sure we are embracing change at an equal amount and try to create that with our deans and department chairs and everything else. But it's a daily challenge. I spend more time thinking about things to create change to balance tradition than the other way around."
You are leading a committee tasked with slimming down the NCAA rulebook. Talk about that process.
"I have the very challenging task of leading a group of presidents, ADs and staff members of the NCAA to essentially examine the 500-page rulebook that exists and fix it. That challenge is enormous with an April deadline to present a new rulebook to the board of directors, one I'm confident will be considerably smaller. It will be driven more by principles than details. (Details include) whether you can have cream cheese on a bagel; that's an example of what's in the rulebook … I'm convinced the rule rulebook is broken."