Since Stanford football coach Jim Harbaugh took the Cardinal from a lowly 1-11 to a bowl-bound, #4 ranked powerhouse, Stanford fans have been worried that he will take his coaching elsewhere. The NFL or other schools, such as his alma mater Michigan, are willing to pay him very large salaries to take the helm for another team. As such, supporters of Stanford football and pro-Harbaugh advocates have made clear the position that Stanford should do what it takes to keep Harbaugh as Stanford’s coach–or, in other words, give him more money with a big new contract.
This is the wrong thing to do. Harbaugh is an excellent football coach, but that does not mean Stanford should give him more money.
Paying millions to a football coach, even one of the top three in the country, is not in keeping with Stanford’s educational values, even though Stanford football competes against top national programs. Don’t the players deserve the same first-rate instruction in football that students receive in the classroom?
While this argument certainly has merit, I believe it is founded on an assumption that is actually a misconception. Yes, Stanford tries to excel in everything it does. But giving a larger contract to Jim Harbaugh actually runs contrary to this aim.
If Stanford were to excel equally in all aspects, and adding more money to the football program–i.e. paying Harbaugh more than his current salary of $1.25 million per year, or nearly twice the salary of President Hennessy and 13 times as much as the average associate professor at Stanford–did not take away from any other piece of the University, then the argument rests on different grounds. But the university does not excel in all different aspects and there is already a huge disparity in the amount of attention, value, and funding given to some parts of the school over others. Giving more to Harbaugh would make the discrepancy even worse and reaffirm the idea that some students are more worthy than others.
The football program at Stanford already gets substantially more money than any other area of the university. While other programs struggle desperately for enough money to stay afloat–be they arts, extracurriculars, smaller academic departments, etc.–Stanford athletics, and particularly football, receive an enormous amount of funding while others do not. This is not to say that our football players and coaches do not deserve this funding; rather, it is to ask whether other parts of the university should also be deserving. Is a football player more valuable than a musician? A philosopher? Any other person on campus?
It cannot be argued that there are many areas of the university that would benefit from more funding. As a student, I see this every day. To give Harbaugh more money, then, would be to explicitly state that football has more value than other parts of the university, and therefore that Stanford is not about excelling in all areas, just some. If Stanford is an institution that values itself on excelling in all areas, as Rabushka’s argument states, this allocation would not be justifiable.
A possible counterargument here is that football should be valued more than other aspects of the university because it brings in more money for the school. The football program does make money, and large quantities of it–at least some of which is used to fund other sports on campus (but not other parts of the University). Besides the whole host of ethical issues inherent in using unpaid workers to make money, using this counterargument means accepting that football does have a greater value. It means that a football player deserves more than a musician, philosopher, or any other student. Again, this idea runs contrary to the main tenet of Rabushka’s argument and any supporting argument based on Stanford’s breadth of excellence.
On top of this, Rabushka writes:
When a professor receives an offer from another university, Stanford usually tries to match or beat that offer. Stanford tries to attract the best students by matching or exceeding financial offers they receive from other schools. But Stanford does not treat its football coach the same way.
This claim brings up another important reason why Harbaugh should not get more money. When a professor receives an offer, Stanford tries to match or beat that offer only if it is reasonable for Stanford to do so. When a prospective student receives a financial aid offer from another school that is better than Stanford’s, Stanford will reanalyze the situation and see why the other school made that offer. There is absolutely no guarantee that Stanford will make any effort to match the other offer. Take, for example, a real life situation: a friend of mine (let’s call her Mary) received a much better financial aid offer from Yale. Mary could not afford Stanford’s original offer. Upon reevaluation, Stanford improved Mary’s offer, but only up to a point–it would not match Yale’s offer, but did improve its own offer slightly. In this situation, Stanford clearly designated a maximum amount of aid it would be willing to offer. Even if another school offered more, Stanford’s valuation would not go past a certain amount.
Similarly, just because USC and Michigan and the San Francisco 49ers are willing to offer Harbaugh many millions of dollars per year does not mean that Stanford should automatically match that price. There is, and should be, a level past which Stanford should not be willing to pay a football coach, no matter how good. Where this line is is certainly arbitrary, but given all of the reasons outlined here, among others, it seems difficult to believe it is anywhere near the multimillion dollar salaries likely offered by these other teams. I find it hard to argue that this line should even be as high as it is now, especially when so many other people at Stanford who bring enormous amounts of value to the school are paid way less. Look at the chart above, for one thing. Stanford is an academic institution with a football team, not a football team with an academic institution. A five million dollar football coach at Stanford cannot, in my mind, be justified within reason.
I am not trying to argue that we should try and have a bad football team–that is certainly not the case. When our football team takes the field in whatever BCS bowl we end up in, I’ll be rooting for our team. But being a fan of Stanford football does not mean Harbaugh should get more money. If he is driven by money and someone else is offering him way more, then we should let him go and get someone else.