No, Stanford Should Not Give Jim Harbaugh More Money

Posted by at 12:04AM

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.

The most recent calls for paying Harbaugh more have come from Hoover Fellow Alvin Rabushka, as well as an online petition echoing similar claims. Rabushka claims:

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?

This chart speaks for itself. "Piled Higher and Deeper" by Jorge Cham

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.


47 Responses to “No, Stanford Should Not Give Jim Harbaugh More Money”

  1. Vamsi says:

    First of all, Stanford football is not disproportionately funded: the athletic department funds itself, and football and basketball largely fund the entire athletic department. They do not receive funding from the rest of the university budget.

    There are several high-paid positions at Stanford, whereby a notable faculty member is paid several times the “average” salary. There are a few professors in the school of medicine that are paid more than $2 Million. If someone is elite at their position, they are paid market value for their contributions.

    Stanford chooses to compete at an elite level athletically, unlike the Ivy League schools. We already disadvantage ourselves by competing while maintaining rigorous academic standards. I find this to be a point of pride. But there is no need to wantonly exile an excellent coach, whom we are employing at significantly below market value. The attention and additional income that comes with having an excellent football team, as opposed to the morass of Buddy Teevens – Walt Harris 1-11 type seasons, cannot be undervalued.

  2. Avi says:


    Your argument is naive. Nothing in life is “free,” and some things are more valuable than others.

    If the arts were generating the amount of money and attention that football is, you can be assured that the amount they were funded would proportionally increase.

    In a sense, the football player _does_ deserve more than other students at the university. He is getting a scholarship to play for Stanford in exchange for bringing the university an inordinate amount of money. If the coach is furthering that end, he deserves some of the fruit of his labor.

    This is the same reason that people are appalled by factory conditions in China. These people are sweating blood and earning a (comparatively nice) living that is enough to support themselves and their families, yet they are working on products that are making their companies billions of dollars. One would hope that they were compensated more fairly for the wealth that they create. If someone else was willing to pay them more, they would immediately jump at the offer.

    A football coach is not a factory worker in China. However, he needs to be paid commensurate with the amount of money he brings in. To be competitive, you need to pay market value. Such is life. What you are hoping for is some sort of utopia where the football coach (or any other paid position at Stanford) would work for less than they were worth.

    This has been tried and it failed. See: the USSR.

  3. Josh says:

    Thanks for the replies. A few rebuttals:

    @Vamsi–I would not consider paying $1.25 million per year “wantonly exiling” anyone. As for other professors at Stanford who make that kind of money, I would not support this for similar reasons. However, I would argue that, being put head to head, academics should take precedence over athletics because this is a school. I also am under the impression that the improbably high medical salaries come from performing crazy surgeries and not a baseline salary.

    @Avi–I may be naive, but is college not the place to do that? Stanford has a chance to buck the trend and declare that athletics coaches should not be paid exorbitant sums just because others are doing so. I would also not compare a $1.25 million salary to that of a factory worker in China.

    As for football players reaping the rewards of their labors, there are two issues here. One–that the funds only go back to the athletic department. Two, that if value is determined by increased revenue to the school, and that football players therefore are more valuable than other students, you are immediately confronted with all of the problems associated with employing workers without paying them. The only way to avoid the ethical issues surrounding making a profit off of football players is to treat them as students like any other.

  4. John O says:

    It is nerds like this that are the reason our stadium is half-empty and people give Stanford fans a hard time. Get yourself out of Meyer library and realize that football is what matters in college sports – nothing else. Lets take the money we waste on swimming and tennis and put it to a true American hero – Jim Harbaugh

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  6. Eric says:

    To the author.
    Two things. First, reread the points in the comments about the Athletic Department. Being self sufficient means that all the proceeds go back into the org, yes. IT ALSO MEANS that the org is paying for Harbaugh. Second, before you graduate, take an economics class. This is the basis for our modern Western society. The market determines the value of things. In the case of coaches, the market has determined that the value of a coach who can build a sustainably competitive football program is more than $1.25M. Whether that is little or a lot to you is irrelevant – it all has to do with the market.

    To John O – dude, transfer somewhere else. I’m all for having a better fanbase and rewarding Harbaugh for his success, but crapping on other (very successful) sports and being rude to the author because you disagree is below Stanford standards. If your post is satire, then fine — but do better next time, you’re toeing the line too close to “dickish.” PS – our school is the best athletic school in the nation 15 years running. This is awesome, not worthless.

  7. Joe G says:

    I think you’re missing a lot of the intangibles that come along with the football excellence Harbaugh has brought to this school. Consider what is does for publicity and alumni relations. (Consider the $19 Million football has brought in through bowl money alone the past two years.)

    If you imagine paying 50 cents for every additional time that the word Stanford has appeared in print, online, and over the air as a result of the performance of the football team, that value would quickly add up. At the end of the day, the more Stanford can hold people’s attention, the better.

    In the realm of alumni (and therefore fundraising), this makes Stanford an every weekend topic for those with Farm degrees. Says one alumnus, “I went to more watch parties this season than I did in the previous 10 combined. ” (From the following: . He also brings up the discussion of salary.) Every bowl game is an instant yearly alumni reunion. This means more cash back to the school.

    Paying for these alone seems to be worth it.

    Further, I don’t get a good sense for this article or responses about where Harbaugh’s salary comes from. If they are coming from different pools, I see no reason for direct comparison of salaries. It might be interesting to compare the salaries of professors with the cost of purchasing, maintaining, and running some of the more expensive lab instruments we have. Maybe let’s compare the cost of all of our new building projects. But if they’re from different budgets, its still apples and oranges. Compare the relative budgets, not how each department chooses to use them.

    Further, if there was significant outside donation pay Harbaugh more, why not increase his salary? Alumni choose all the time where to focus their giving. Should stanford redirect its endowment or scholarship fundraising for this? Obviously no. But if a groups of donors show up with the cash, certainly don’t turn them away on some matter of principal.

    If paying Harbaugh more doesn’t mean paying anyone else less, this kind of direct comparison is shortsighted, overlooking the market value for the product that is college football on the national stage.

  8. Blake Campbell says:


    Fuck you, you ignorant sluts.


    Blake Campbell, Class of 1986

  9. George says:

    Jim Harbaugh’s success at Stanford resembles Gary Barnett’s success at Northwestern in being largely traceable to the quality of the entire coaching staff, especially the coordinators and most senior assistant coaches. Harbaugh, a coach’s son, knows this very well and has made retaining assistants a high priority. This year’s success is obviously very much linked to hiring Vic Fangio; Stanford would be no where near 11-1 without him.

    Focusing on how astronomical to make the head coach’s salary misses the main point: that Stanford has improved its ability to attract and retain assistants under Harbaugh. This is always going to be a challenge in such an expensive area, and the University should be relentless in its efforts to compensate assistants well. In many cases, it really amounts to paying nothing more than a decent wage, which the University should be able to afford.

    I’ll bet Stanford Football can retain its national prominence simply by slowing the churn in the assistant coaching ranks. On the flip side, losing coaches such as Vic Fangio would take us back to 3rd or 4th place in the Pac-1o, with or without Harbaugh.

  10. Stanford Alum in NYC says:

    Econ101 — the free market determines value.
    Let’s make sure that admissions goes back to admitting truly well-rounded applicants. Enough of these one-dimensional wanna-be academics that will fail as soon as they get out into the real world.

  11. Recent Alumnus and Football Fan says:


    Your argument is flawed in a number of ways, but I will touch on perhaps the biggest one I can see. You assume that Stanford paying Harbaugh more only helps the football players/team: “Giving more to Harbaugh would make the discrepancy even worse and reaffirm the idea that some students are more worthy than others . . . 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?”

    In actuality, the football team gives benefits to tremendous amounts of students and alumni beyond the football team. The only reason I went to Stanford in the first place was because it combined both elite academics and high-level athletics (especially in football). I wanted to go to a school where I could get an excellent education (one of the best in the world), while also getting to watch my school play in major conference football on Saturdays. As an alumnus, the thing that currently makes me most excited about Stanford is how well the football team is doing. I look back EXTREMELY fondly upon my time at The Farm, but in terms of current goings-on at Stanford, there is not a single thing that gets me as enthusiastic about Stanford post-graduation as the success of the football team (and that includes how many Rhodes Scholarships we win, how many Nobel laureates we have, how many major research grants we get, etc.). In fact, I would be so bold as to say that Stanford’s football success keeps the university foremost in my mind to the point that it makes me more likely to give money/time to the university in the future.

    I also know that I am not alone or unique in that perspective, which is where your major mistake lies. You seem to assume that disproportionately funding the football program somehow only provides meaningful benefits to football players, coaches, and staff, and perhaps a very small portion of the student body/alumni network. This assumption is dead wrong. The only part of Stanford Stadium that has consistently been full this year is the student section of 4,000 people; thus, it seems fair to conclude that a large part of the student body also clearly derives some joy from having an elite football team.

    The football program clearly means something different to you then it does to me, many of those 4,000 students, and tens of thousands of alumni, and that is fine. But with an annual operating budget in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and given the fact that a top-notch football program on a year-to-year basis is self-sustainable economically (and can frequently even fund other athletic programs), I have absolutely no issue with giving Harbaugh a raise. Your point about “using this counterargument means accepting that football does have a greater value” is also based on a specious argument, i.e. that having an elite football team and having elite/properly-funded academics are mutually exclusive. They are not mutually exclusive. They are not necessarily in competition with each other. Stanford cannot be all things to all people, but given our resources and network of support, it can come awfully close. If you want to talk about idealism and naivete, how’s this: Stanford, which is already established as one of the top handful of academic institutions in the world, can also have one of the top football programs in the country, without harm coming to its status in either realm.

    As I said initially, your argument leaves much to be desired in a number of areas. But for right now, I only have time to respond to the couples of mistakes I found most obvious, easy to explain, and easily refuted.

    P.S. Just a quick rebuttal to your passing cheap shot about compensation for college football players: “Besides the whole host of ethical issues inherent in using unpaid workers to make money”. College football players do get compensated. At any Division I-A university, that compensation comes in the form of a free education (often 45k-50k annually), free books, free tutoring, free food, and all of the other services that college football players get on most Division I-A campuses. At Stanford, they also get the added benefit of having an easier time getting admitted to one of the most competitive educational institutions in the world. Personally, I think that is enough compensation for individual players on the team.

  12. Class of 96 says:

    Whoa. I hope you are trying to be provocative and are not seriously recommending we become the Union of Stanford Socialist Republics, with some kind of egalitarian wage program for the school and its athletic department. If you are, we might as well split from the Pac 10 and hook up a new conference with Baltic State University, Moscow Tech and Universidad Chavez.

    As for me, I am thrilled not only with the team’s success but the fact that our players have suffered so few injuries as a result of their training the competitive advantage on the field. Having watched through the lean years and seen player after player have their careers end because of physical abuse brought on by an incompetent program, I could not be more supportive of keeping Harbaugh — at his (rightly-earned) market value. He is winning games and keeping our kids out of harm’s way. $5m would be a good start, but we should be willing to go higher if needed.

  13. Charlie says:

    I’m not sure where I stand on this issue, but the idea that football helps raise the profile of Stanford and get money for Stanford is a bit interesting to me. Consider the fact that the phenomenal researchers and professors we have help recruit athletes because they want the best educations they can get while playing for a great athletics program. I think this draws in a lot of athletic recruits for us. If Harbaugh should be paid more because he indirectly helps the academics at the school, the professors should be paid more because they fairly directly help draw potential athletes to Stanford. It goes both ways.

  14. Josh says:

    A few quick responses:

    First of all, I appreciate all the comments (well, the thoughtful ones)–one of the goals of the blog is to spark discussion and allow people to express their views.

    I’d like to particularly give a shout out to George’s comment about assistant coaches being important–I hadn’t taken that into consideration, and I think it actually bolsters my argument.

    Next, for all those who want me to take more Econ classes and think I fail to understand economics, I hate to disappoint you. Among other things, including taking far too many Econ classes while a student here, I’m actually a TA for an Econ class. I think the confusion here is that you think I don’t understand market value but rather that I understand it perfectly well but am unwilling to accept it as sufficient reasoning for paying that specified “market price.”

    @Joe–where the money comes from does make a difference. If Arrillaga wants to pony up separate funds to keep Harbaugh, that’s certainly acceptable from the perspective that it would not take away from other aspects of the school. (I would argue from a personal standpoint that he could probably do more important things with that money, like help alleviate poverty or deforestation, etc. but that is not for me to decide.) However, the thorny issue still remains: what does it say about a University’s priorities that it is willing to pay its football coach x amount times that of its other employees?

    In this same vein, the other major argument that has surfaced here is that football has beneficial effects for the rest of the university, ranging from increased student happiness to more fundraising for the school as a whole. Call it a positive externality, if you will. I think this argument certainly has some merit, but there are a number of thorny issues. First, let me reiterate: I am not arguing for getting rid of the football program here. While there are some people who would advocate for that, I do agree that football, or athletics in general, is worthwhile. But this is not an all-or-nothing issue: we do not have to pay a football coach the maximum or minimum. As I described above, I believe there is a limit beyond which we should not be willing to pay for a football coach. An already enormous salary ($1.25 million!) has to be, in my mind, the upper limit.

    There is also another element to Stanford, and Harbaugh has said it himself: what [should] set athletics at Stanford apart from anywhere else is that academics here actually do matter. Being part of a program like that is immensely valuable, especially when value is determined by something other than money. Harbaugh has already shown that this has meaning: he turned down offers at other schools last year. There is also room for an additional argument to be made that limiting athletic salaries up to a point would reaffirm this importance; to not do so would indicate some other balance of priorities.

    In regards to the claims that they are not mutually exclusive, I can only tell you this: perhaps they are not, but I interact with plenty of underfunded programs at Stanford every day. Not only does it look bad to add more to one of the highest salaries on campus, it is, as I am saying, very unequal.

    As for fundraising, let me offer a counterexample: schools with poor athletics programs raise an incredible amount of money. Any of our Ivy League counterparts bring in oodles of money, just as Stanford does, without a good football team. How, then, is having a good football team a requirement for raising sufficient funding?

  15. Recent Alumnus and Football Fan says:


    More issues with your responses:

    You refer to the joy students and alumni derive from having a good football team as a “positive externality.” Referring to these benefits as an externality diminishes perhaps the primary goal of having a good football team, which is to provide precisely such joy for portions of the student body and alumni network. I would argue that the positive externality of having an excellent program is the benefit the actually players derive from playing on a successful football team, not the pride/excitement/joy felt by students and alumni.

    Another issue I have with your arguments–and those who share your point of view–is that they are usually couched in statements like “I want to have a good football team, but…” or, in your case, “I am not trying to argue that we should try and have a bad football team–that is certainly not the case.” You did the same thing when you were arguing that Harbaugh’s salary bump to $1.25 million last year was beyond the “upper limit” of what the coach should be paid. Aside from the fact that you seem to have redefined what that upper limit is (it went from something like the university president’s salary then to $1.25 million now), such arguments seem to have consequences that you either do not account for or do not care about. What you are, arguing for, whether you intend to or not, is long-term football mediocrity. In this day and age, it is impossible to have a successful and stable college football program without paying a head coach competitively. Whether you mean to or not, you are basically arguing for a situation where the Stanford football team makes it to a big-time bowl game once in a blue moon (the status quo). Please don’t couch your arguments in statements that are meant to intimate that you care about the success of the football team. In reality, either the success of the football team is basically irrelevant to you, or you do not seem to realize that your arguments would have the consequence of totally undermining the school’s ability to put a competitive and oft-elite team on the field on a year-to-year basis. And it is fine if that is your position, but we all need to be honest with ourselves with regards to the implications of our arguments in order to have an honest debate on the issue.

    While you are right that it is not an all-or-nothing issue, I don’t think that you abide by your own advice. Currently, Coach Harbaugh’s $1.25 million salary leaves him second-lowest in the PAC-10 (the only one who makes less is Paul Wulff of Washington State, who has won 1 PAC-10 game in the last 2 years and who is likely about to get fired). We still have the most rigorous admissions standards for football players of any Divison I-A school (and I don’t think anyone, including Coach Harbaugh, is talking about lowering them). So far as I know, no one is talking about offering gut classes with enrollment limited to football players in order to make them eligible for game day. Paying a Division I-A Football coach President Hennessey’s salary, in addition to having our current rigorous academic standards, IS essentially the minimum. That’s how you end up going 16-40 during a 5-year stretch (2002-2006) and becoming one of the laughing stocks of college football. Again, if that is fine with you, then so be it. But it isn’t really the “in-between” scenario you seem to think it is, it would basically doom our football team to a legacy of mediocrity and poor performance with the (very) occasional 2010 season mixed in.

    Your biggest problem with a raise for Coach Harbaugh seems to be what kind of a message it sends about Stanford’s priorities. My answer: not much of one. Regardless of how much Harbaugh is paid, there is no real chance of Stanford becoming “a football team with an academic institution.” Even the most die-hard Stanford football fans, myself included, do not want football to overshadow academics at Stanford. Whether Jim Harbaugh (or anyone else) becomes “a five million dollar football coach at Stanford,” Stanford will ALWAYS put academics first and foremost (as it should). No matter how much we pay our football coach, Stanford will always be “an academic institution with a football team.” Increasing the salary of the football coach may signal that we take success in football more seriously than we used to (which strikes me as a great “justif[ication] within reason” to increase Coach Harbaugh’s salary), but it does not indicate that football is somehow more important than academics. Setting the university’s priorities isn’t necessarily a zero-sum game (especially when the athletics department is probably capable of self-sustenance, even with a major salary increase for Coach Harbaugh).

    In response to your fundraising counterexample, having a good football team is not a requirement for raising money, and I don’t think I (or anyone else on this thread) said that it was. It definitely helps though, and to argue otherwise strikes me as disingenuous. Harvard and Yale do not have their endowments because they lack a good football team; they have their endowments in spite of the fact that they do not have a good football team. We will be able (and were able) to raise plenty of money without a good football team, but we can raise more money because of our good football team.

    As I said before, it is very clear that you and I have different perceptions of what the football program at Stanford should be about. I understand that you do not want Coach Harbaugh to get additional funding for his salary. But the reality is, there are lots of things funded at Stanford from which I gained no benefit during my 4 years on The Farm (for example, the Medical School, the Graduate School of Business, SLAC, anything involving computer science, etc.). And yet, those areas of Stanford still get funded, to a degree significantly higher than the humanities that I focused on academically. And that is fine, that is the way it goes. But, there are very few things at Stanford for which, on a week-to-week basis, 4,000+ students will derive clear benefits. The football team, given Red Zone attendance this year, is clearly one of those things. Accordingly, I don’t think there should be an issue with earmarking a few extra millions of dollars for football right now, with the goal of one day making the football program not only self-sustaining, but able to fund other university endeavors (which, by the way, becomes a more realistic goal every year as college football becomes a bigger industry due to the growth of Cable TV).

  16. Tkim says:

    Your argument hinges on a rather arbitrary definition of parity and relativity. The market rate for a security guard is $12 an hour. The market rate for a neurosurgeon is $1.5 million. What does one ratio have to do with the other?

    If I want the best security guard, then I would pay $15. If I just want to save money, I’d by $10, but that security guard probably is not as good.

    What does the market wages of one job have to do with the market wages of another?

    It’s pay for performance. Any comparisons of failed CEOs walking away with millions they have not earned while shareholders suffered is not appropriate here either. Coach Harbaugh has delivered against a stacked deck.

    I think you would have a better argument if you said, why shouldn’t Tara Vanderveer, who has delivered on excellence for decades, get Harbaugh money? Here things fall short as well. Football has the chance to fund every other program in the athletic department (if Josh, you would actually come to the games). The ROI on the investment is much higher with Harbaugh than with women’s basketball.

  17. Joe G says:

    With your responses, it becomes pretty clear that the primary motivator for this piece is how it _feels_ to pay more than $2 Mil to a football coach when professors receive only a small portion of that. I don’t think as an econ TA you would advise students to make their decisions based on how something feels.
    (Also, by the same logic, I come from the SEC and it _feels_ to me like Harbaugh is underpaid.)

    What’s missing to make this an economic decision:
    1. Any analysis of where the money for Harbaugh’s salary comes from (Can Stanford even redirect money from the pool Harbaugh’s money comes from to academic ventures? How much is brought in through sponsorships/ticket sales/ bowl money/ tv deals/ booster donations? I don’t see Muscle Milk offering to sponsor American Studies at Stanford or is ESPN covering our physics lectures. )
    2. Any evidence that some other department is suffering based on the money being paid to Harbaugh.
    3. Any comparison of the costs of a top notch academic department or hiring a big name professor to the cost of a football department. (From my quickie analysis via google, Stanford already pays 25% more to its professors than the national average for private institutions, and that’s at the starting range. With years of work that number only goes up. We’re paying for top talent in teaching. Compare this to the top coaches salaries. Just another $Mil puts Harbaugh in the top 25. Keep in mind the past two bowl appearances alone brought in $19 Mil.)
    4. Any comparison of overall budgets for athletics vs. other campus ventures.
    5. Discussion of how much money is raised by football and where it goes.

    If you or any commenter has this information (preferably in the form of budget balance sheets), I think it would add a lot to this conversation. Until then we’re discussing feelings.

    You can object to the current distribution of prices and the value they place on things, but it’s misguided to try to make decisions based on those objections and continue to hope to get good products in that market. If a good bike costs $20, and I say on principle I’m only going to pay $5, I’m not going to get a good bike. You either have to pay up, accept the lesser quality of product you are purchasing, or find a different market. In this case, I think we should pay up.

  18. Class of 96 says:

    TKim really captured it. The salary ratios are irrelevant. Harbaugh has scarcity value. University Presidents and teachers– as great as they are– don’t have as much scarcity value as a phenomenal college football coach. Their relative levels of pay are not a reflection of Stanford’s priorities, but of the market and his talent.

    If it helps you make peace with yourself, just think of Harbaugh as ornamental and therefore helpful to the broader Stanford mission as you see it. Think of him like a few of those $200,000 palm trees on palm drive. Sure, the palm trees do little to alleviate poverty, but they are a small part of the greater mission.

  19. Alex says:


    I didn’t think one kid’s blog about the ethics of Stanford Football would generate accusations of socialism. A little defensive are we? Even though I agree that the author is clearly a Stanford-hating-communist-puppy-rapist, can’t we all just settle down?

    Okay, confession time – I don’t care at all about Stanford football. In fact, I vaguely resent it.

    Call it a matter of personal taste – although I do think it’s kind of absurd that out of all of the things that Stanford students are great it, football generates the most attention from students, alums and donors. But where will arguing about taste get us?

    Here are my actual, objective gripes with football:

    1) It’s ethically dubious that an institution that doesn’t pay taxes on revenue from its 16 billion dollar endowment also owns a sports team.
    2) It’s unethical that donations to Stanford’s football team are tax deductible, while public schools throughout the country go under-funded.
    3) It’s lame that alumni of Stanford – the best and the brightest – choose in such great numbers to give their charity dollars to a football team over more worthy causes like financial aid.

    Let me expand on that last point. Many Stanford alums who support Cardinal also care generally about charity, and give significant percentages of their incomes to Stanford financial aid or Oxfam America. What they give to one doesn’t affect how much they give the other. That’s cool, I guess. Some others probably don’t care about charity at all, and only give to Stanford football. That’s fine too, although I think they’re assholes.

    But I bet there are some people out there in between. People who, at the end of the year, probably add up their accounts and figure out what they ought to give that year. Isn’t it possible that giving $1,000 to Stanford football might make it less likely for some of these people to give $1,000 to financial aid?

    Maybe I’m the crazy one, but I care more about financial aid (or for that matter, famine-stricken babies in Africa) than I do about how many wins a bunch of kids I go to school get against a bunch of other kids I don’t know.

    The counter-argument might be: successful Stanford football just brings in more money to the general pool. When Stanford is doing well, people give to the school generally.

    My response: Really? Isn’t that kind of… stupid? Why should a person determine how much money to contribute to a charity based on how that charity’s football team does?

    To which one might respond: Why should this be an ethical issue at all?

    Because those who boast that Stanford’s football program is self-sustaining forget that this is the case because of peoples’ tax-deductible charity.

    And look, if we want to the donors to decide for us what we at Stanford care about, why don’t we do a better job of fundraising for Stanford’s other extra-curricular programs. I care more about theater, music, visual arts, creative writing, energy efficiency, debate, radio, political advocacy, community service, dance…

    Remind me – why don’t we recruit for any of these talents? Because these skills have no market value?

    Aren’t we a school? When did market value become part of the admissions conversation?

    I am probably doing the author no favors with the post, but maybe once you crucify me, you’ll realize his position was pretty reasonable.

    Football’s stupid!

    Alex Connolly

  20. Eric says:

    Josh (Author): TKim and Joe G nailed it. You understand economics, but you’re really talking about how you feel about it. Which is an ethical discussion. On some level, the folks on one side are talking ethics, ideals, and “what is right”, while the other side is talking what is real, what is reasonable. I side with the latter but it’s nice that someone is carrying the torch for the former. It’s just not that applicable in the real world — you will likely see, although I don’t know you personally.

    “My response: Really? Isn’t that kind of… stupid? Why should a person determine how much money to contribute to a charity based on how that charity’s football team does?”

    People aren’t smart or rational. This also becomes much more apparent with age. But let me cite just one potentially illuminating psychological concept. Identity. A successful football team that has absolutely nothing to do with you, but something to do with something else that has to do with you (e.g. a University), becomes something you want to associate your identity with. Despite two things having nothing to do with each other, really (e.g., your English Degree and Shayne Skov being a beast), your irrational human mind makes an association between the two and they become shared in your identity. With success, this effect increases. With failure, this effect decreases and in fact people begin DIS-associating from an identity. Two studies: 1) more college sweatshirts are worn on campus the sunday after a football win than after a loss; 2) after wins, fans often use the word “we” to describe their team, whereas after a loss they use “they”.

    This effect, whether you like it or not, trickles down to behavior such as donating money to your institution. It worked with me – I gave money to the Stanford Fund after really disliking those calls for 5 years. And I’m not ashamed of it, either.

  21. Alex says:


    Your thoughtful response does not address the relevant ethics. Just because something is psychologically explainable doesn’t mean that it’s ethical.

    And why should Stanford make decisions based on the irrational psychology of students? Isn’t that kind of ironic, since Stanford is supposed to help us be more rational (ie educate us)?

    Eric writes:
    “This effect, whether you like it or not, trickles down to behavior such as donating money to your institution.”

    I agree that it trickles down – and I don’t like it. However, I don’t think that it’s necessary for this to be the case. You ignore the fact that the psychological phenomenon you describe – the process of identification – only takes place because of cultural conditions that encourage that identity relation. Don’t you think paying Harbaugh $1.25 million dollars a year sends the signal that the University expects you to identify with the football team? In other words, you refer to the psychological conditions as given, and refer them to justify Stanford’s spending on football, but actually, they consequences of that very spending.

    Which is why it is relevant to worry about how these kinds of things “feel” – because when an institution pays its football coach more than 5 times more than its tenured professors, it indicates to students that football is a deeply important part of Stanford.

    This, in turn, makes people more likely to give only when the football team is doing well, because they identify the institution with the team, and want to reward the institution for doing well. But what I’m saying is: the football team’s success does not reflect the institution’s success. They are separate things. As many have pointed out, football is funded from a closed pool. Yet they are treated as the same when:

    a) They both enjoy tax-deductible non-profit status
    b) People give to Stanford based on its football team’s performance

    (This is setting aside the fact that people also tend to give to the football team instead of Stanford – which is even more directly unethical.)

    We could get around the psychological effect that you described by, as an institution, behaving more rationally and thereby establishing more rational institutional values. We could even, you know, not have a football team, seeing as we’re a school and all, and football is a game that someone invented in the 20th century. If this were the case people would either a) be less proud to be Stanford students or b) be proud of Stanford for different reasons. I’m fine with either option.

    So, again, you can give money to Stanford if and only if the football team does well. But as you say yourself, to do so isn’t justifiable from a rational or ethical point view, just a psychological one.

    And… sorry… it’s just kind of stupid.

  22. Alex says:

    And one more note:

    “On some level, the folks on one side are talking ethics, ideals, and “what is right”, while the other side is talking what is real, what is reasonable. I side with the latter but it’s nice that someone is carrying the torch for the former. It’s just not that applicable in the real world — you will likely see, although I don’t know you personally.”

    I strongly disagree with the claim that ethics considers “what is right” while economics, apparently, gets sole domain over “what is reasonable.” The whole idea of ethics is to use our mental capacities to determine, as best we can, what is the most reasonable way to behave. I think the fact anyone who mentions ethics is considered naive, or at best, damned with faint praise. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that our society is ethically abhorrent. (Both domestically and with regards to foreign policy).

    “People aren’t smart or rational.”

    This is so cynical. It makes me sad. Don’t you think people are more likely to be smart and rational if they are encouraged to be smart and rational? And don’t you think that, if possible anywhere, that should be possible at Stanford? Do we really live in a post-rationality age in which it’s fruitless to ever really think about the the value or ethics of things without attaching dollar signs to them?

  23. wbond says:

    A more honest piece would have been entitled: “Why we should not have a football team at Stanford.”

    As has been pointed out, it is reality that nowhere – not just at Stanford – do associate professors make the same money as big-time football coaches. Nor, for that matter, do History professors generally make the same as Engineering professors or Law professors (given the market competition from industry, presumably).

    The only way for any university to avoid this discrepancy is to not play. To sort-of-play, but not pay market rates both doesn’t work and is illogical.

    So I would recommend you consider re-writing the piece as an argument as to why Stanford should not play football at all, or should not play Division I football.

    The difficulties with this argument that you would have to try to overcome include:
    1)People like football.
    2)Football directly benefits the university financially; the athletic department pays full tuition to the university for athletic scholarships; all scholarships in all sports are funded with football and, to some much lesser extent, men’s basketball money.
    3)Stanford’s reputation is academic, but is boosted by an incredibly strong (dominant, really) and well-rounded athletic department; the athletic department as we know it would all but disappear without football money.
    4)Football money is not part of a zero-sum game for the university; financially the university would be better off with football for the above reasons than without football; how will you justify making the university poorer for the sake of eliminating the discrepancy between a coach’s salary and an associate professor’s?

    Beat Cal, Wbond

  24. Dave Woodbury, recent alum says:

    This article is exactly the reason why we have sold out one game this year (thanks to USC fans buying tickets), despite the fact that we have a PHENOMENAL football team.

    I have an incredibly hard time believing that Josh was part of the Stanford community just 4 years ago, when the football team was 1-11. It was an embarrassment for everyone associated with the university. It was the first thing strangers thought of when you would mention Stanford. It made every Saturday in the fall an obstacle to be overcome, rather than an event to look forward to. Affiliation for the university was built, and donations were made, in spite of the football program, rather than (partly) because of it.

    I had four fantastic years at Stanford that I will never forget, and that will lead me to donate for as long as I’m able. But I am SO jealous of the students that are there now. The athletics program–and particularly the football team–are a HUGE part of separates Stanford from its rivals. It builds school spirit and unity. It is part of what people will remember and treasure about their experience as a student. It provides an opportunity for alumni to come back to Stanford, and re-build their affiliation and love for the place. I am going to the bowl game this year, and I can’t wait for the chance to see our team and to re-connect with friends I haven’t seen since graduation.

    The Athletic Department is funded by an entirely different endowment than the rest of the school. It exists to spend the money that is necessary to support athletics that excel at the highest level. This means ALL athletics, and every one is valuable, but football is ABSOLUTELY MORE IMPORTANT than every other sport. It brings SO much more value to the Stanford community. Like the rest of the school, the Athletic Department sensibly spends money that is NECESSARY to pay market rates. The market rates don’t necessarily match your intuition about what they should be. Business School professors, for example, make more than most other professors not because they “perform crazy surgeries,” but because if Stanford doesn’t pay them that, they will leave, and the Business School–and Stanford as a whole–will not be as good.

    As recently as 4 years ago–just prior to Harbaugh’s hire–Stanford tradition held that no coach, football or otherwise, should make more than the President. That policy was based on the idea that athletics should not be placed in a position of greater importance than academics, and coaches’ salaries should reflect this. That policy contributed to a long period of decline for the football program into complete irrelevance. It was unfair to your fellow students who happen to be part of the football team, and who pour their heart and soul into it. It was unfair to everyone who cared about the football team. It was unfair to everyone who cared about how Stanford was portrayed on national TV. Fortunately, the university administration realized this and had the courage to break this policy for the first time in giving Harbaugh his new contract.

    Harbaugh’s performance is exceptional. He has taken one of the worst programs in the country, and turned it into a powerhouse. VERY few people who saw our football team just 4 years ago thought that anything of this sort was possible. Harbaugh will make far more than $1.25M next year–if not from Stanford, then from somebody else.

    If Harbaugh leaves, our football program seems likely to return to mediocrity or worse. I will still love Stanford if that happens. But it will simply be a less special place than it is today.

    I understand that not everybody loves football. But please, realize that for many, many of your peers, both current students and alumni, it is very important. It does not take away a dime from the rest of the school. If you won’t help us fill our sparkling new stadium and help create the energy and excitement on Saturdays in the fall that so many other colleges enjoy, please, at least, do not stand in the way. You are simply hurting Stanford by doing so.

  25. Should Stanford be a Football School? | Fiat Lux says:

    [...] budget of over $3.7 billion, can’t it find $3 million to augment Harbaugh’s salary? The common response to this argument is that spending $3 million on a football coach means spending less on other, [...]

  26. J. says:

    I am now a physician fellow at Johns Hopkins. A medical/graduate student at U. Michigan. An undergraduate at Northwestern — who went to Northwestern over Stanford, to which I was lucky enough to have an admission offer. I went to Northwestern because they offered me a guaranteed seat at NU Med — as well as the right to apply home for in-state medical school tuition at U. Michigan, an option I ultimately took. And my thoughts about that all come from my experience at those three institutions — three very different looks at the way sports success can impact a major research university.

    I attended Northwestern’s BS/MD program at the exact time a coach named Gary Barnett took Northwestern out of decades of futility and into the Rose Bowl and onto the cover of Sports Illustrated. The impact of that is well documented and well established — one can literally plot to that single football coaches’ tenure the explosive increase in alumni participation and donations, applicant numbers, incoming freshman SAT scores, and all the rankings which are used as imperfect proxies of the national gestalt of a university’s prominence. Northwestern had always been a school with very good academics that before Gary Barnett had languished in regional consciousness, let alone national. Suddenly, because of “mere” football, Northwestern was splashed into the limelight of high schoolers nationwide, as well as kindling dramatic increases in alumni enthusiasm. Northwestern got a level of advertisement it couldn’t have possibly bought, and thousands of young men and women nationwide suddenly discovered what was true all along about the quality of Northwestern’s academics. Such that, even after the football team slipped a bit (but never back to the frank mediocrity of pre-Harbaugh Stanford) high quality students *kept* coming to Northwestern; and Northwestern was able to and has continued to build on that burst of enthusiasm.

    Once upon a time, when I was growing up, Northwestern was overlooked even within the Midwest, despite the quality of it’s programs. Today, Northwestern rubs shoulders with the Cornells and the Dartmouths in the rankings which serve as proxy measures of the status of an institution in the American mindset — which might not seem that impressive to a Stanford alumni, but it sure beats the obscurity Northwestern once had. If you ever wanted a randomized control trial of the impact of a successful football team can have on a major research university, Northwestern, pre and post Gary Barnett, is a powerful one.

    Then onto U. Michigan. Certainly a good school; in specific fields, like engineering or medicine, among the better. And one which everyone across the nation *does* know. Discount however you please the opinions of non-academics, but across the nation, from taxi drivers to department chairmen, most of them *do* recognize the Wolverines, the Maize and Blue, in a way they *don’t* recognize, say, U. Minnesota or even U. Illinois. Back when U. Michigan’s football team was strong — for the literal *decades* that it was strong — from coast to coast, there was name recognition of who we were, in a way that, for example, U. Chicago didn’t. You could go to active U. Michigan clubs which gathered alumni to watch the games every fall Saturday — and who poured their money home at a clip our sister institutions could only envy. Not to mention a football program whose profits paid the tuition of literally a thousand U. Michigan students a year. Go anywhere in the nation, and employers and colleagues alike had an instant recognition for U. Michigan that they didn’t for, say, U. Chicago. U. Michigan has a national name brand that its sister institutions like U. Chicago does not — and it’s because of football.

    And then the counterexamples at Wash U (where I did my residency) and at Johns Hopkins (where I’m doing my fellowship). Both very good undergraduate institutions. Both very great medical schools. And both very much overlooked *as* great institutions. Wash U’s undergraduate program is arguably at least in the same ballpark as Northwestern’s. But even in the Midwest, people — even educated professionals — would look at me and say, “Where?” when I told them I was at Wash U, whereas lots of people knew Northwestern, and *everyone* knew U. Michigan. When I was out on the pacific coast countless times on business or pleasure, the effect was still further magnified. Wash U I think clearly has better academic strength than Notre Dame, but you try asking the average professional male — average male *employer* — which one they’ve heard of.

    For that matter, try the same trick with Johns Hopkins. Even here in Baltimore itself, literally in the shadow of the twin campuses, the high school seniors I see in my clinics talk excitedly about Duke — especially in March. And not Johns Hopkins.

    Obviously, an institution can succeed in spite of the absence of public attention a football program can bring. But Northwestern is a clear example of what you can do *with* the attention such a football program can provide. U. Michigan — or, for that matter, Duke — is an example of what sustained football success can do for an institution’s national perception. It’s too bad that the average American — even the average American professional — is fired up more by BCS bowls or March Madness victories than Rhodes Scholarship wins — but the average American professional male *is*. The average American high school student *is*. It may be an unfortunate commentary on our country — but it is the way it is. The only question is whether Stanford is willing to try to take advantage of that.

    Because Stanford, almost uniquely among institutions, *could*. Stanford *has* a chance to match all the publicity and enthusiasm benefits of a powerful football program, *with* second-to-none academics. Stanford could have Notre Dame or Duke levels of national consciousness merged with Harvard or Yale-class academics, in a way Harvard *or* Yale can’t. It may be too bad that football, of all silly things, is what can fire the national consciousness — but it’s the reality you face when it’s and Sports Illustrated which have far greater subscribership, even among the educated, than, say, Chronicles of Higher Education. The reality is the reality. The only question is whether you wish to seize that to your advantage.

    Northwestern did, and rode that ticket up from obscurity into the upper ranks of the national consciousness — and reaped the quantifiable academic and financial benefits of doing so. Wash U or U. Chicago can’t, and therefore, haven’t. Stanford has the chance to ride the same ticket upwards even further. Stanford has done incredible things *in spite* of a failure to tap into the national obsession with sports. Imagine what Stanford could do actually *wielding* it, the way Notre Dame football or Duke basketball does. Imagine what Stanford could do with the still larger sums of alumni money, enthusiasm, national consciousness. Harvard can’t do this. Yale can’t do this. Stanford *could*.

    Of course, I have a vested interest in Stanford’s community *not*, to borrow a pun, picking up the ball. Because, after all, I *am* a U. Michigan alum; and the more dissatisfied Jim Harbaugh is with Stanford, the more likely U. Michigan will be in bringing him home (whether before or after a detour to the NFL). After all, U. Michigan *is* potentially willing to pay; and in U. Michigan, Harbaugh will find a community — a *huge* community — who will appreciate his abilities and talents, should he continue to be successful. The difference between the empty seats at Stanford’s Top Ten matchups this season, and the 100,000+ crowds which turned out for Wolverine *defeats*, can’t be lost on him. Nor has the fact that his old football coach mentor is still a name revered in Michigan, even years after his retirement, a glory Harbaugh has the chance to inherit. Perhaps its too bad that almost no one can name any of Michigan’s Nobel Prize winners, while Bo Schembechler is a name known throughout the Midwest. But U. Michigan’s leadership is, largely, smart enough to try to take advantage of the world as it is for the institution’s benefit. The question is, is Stanford’s?

    You can certainly argue that it is immoral or injust to play this game. But I think there are plenty of counterexamples to demonstrate that, even for a great academic institution, there are massive benefits to the whole institution — in dollars, in SAT averages, in national consciousness — to playing.

  27. Chavez says:

    I’m still hoping that the surge of interest in Stanford Football allows other fine institutes of knowledge, including Universidad Chavez, to join your humble conference. Together, we can achieve much.

  28. Tom says:

    Get this garbage out of here. This is poor journalism at the very least, and it’s embarrassing that this would even be hosted on Stanford’s servers. You clearly didn’t research any of the basics on where the money comes from (or goes); just decided to rant and come across as an idiot. As you move through life, please don’t advertise to others that you went to Stanford. It makes the rest of us look bad.

  29. Should Stanford be a ‘Football School’? says:

    [...] common response to this argument is that spending $3 million on a football coach means spending less on other, [...]

  30. Eric says:

    Responding to Alex again.

    “And why should Stanford make decisions based on the irrational psychology of students? Isn’t that kind of ironic, since Stanford is supposed to help us be more rational (ie educate us)?”

    I’m going to rephrase your question – “Why should stanford make decisions based on observable human behavior, rather than an ideal, rational behavior?” Because decisions about marketing are made with actual outcomes in mind, not ideal or ethical outcomes. This is just the way business works. Businesses (or football teams, or universities) that make decisions based on an ethical objective aren’t as successful because their decisions harm them in the marketplace. Believe me, I don’t like this as much as you probably think I do.

    “Don’t you think people are more likely to be smart and rational if they are encouraged to be smart and rational?” No, because human behavior, on a population level, can’t be “trained” by one institution. If you think our school and football team could “train” a more rational behavior by students and alumni by somehow structuring the school around a set of ideals that are not in line with the way western society tends to create and measure value, and maintain our standing as a respected elite institution, you’re mistaken. We’re not in a “post-rational” society, but we are in a society that more or less moves forward while large ethical issues are discussed on the side. If they’re really important and big, they bang up against the legal system and we get moderate resolution that way. If they’re “too big to change” like the way our teachers or bankers get paid (more below), it’s more likely that society moves on while academics lament the loss of ethics, as if there were ever a society that really lived a perfect and ethical value set.

    Maybe I shouldn’t have used the word “reasonable” re: ethics. I should have said “practical.” In this respect wbond starts to get at an answer better than I could. You can lament all you want that it sucks that the football coach gets 5x salary of the guy who is carrying the mantle of impressionist art analysis or biomedical research, but the solution is not to have a football team that takes its ethical stance on the coach’s salary. The solution is to be UChicago and barely have sports teams at all, treating them like intramurals rather than core to the school experience.

    Also, at some level your argument feels like “why do the bankers get paid more than teachers? Teachers teach our future, bankers create no value!” As much as this pains so many people based on ethics and ideals, it’s a predictable result of the structure of our society. One school taking a bold stand won’t do much to change it and you’ll probably piss more people off shunning athletics than you will shunning some egalitarian or education-centric meritocratic ideal.

    By the way, I don’t give money only when the team does well. I just give more when the team (and my former team) does well. It may be stupid and cynical, but humans aren’t perfect, neither are you, and much of our modern life is finding the compromise between complete absurdity and some idealized perfection.

    In conclusion, I’m glad Bowlsby is offering Harbaugh a raise. I have a shit ton of fun at the football games.

  31. Sour Grapes much? says:

    Seriously? I thought I’d seen it all when you wrote last year. Stop whining that we have a good coach who doesn’t buy into the “football players and smart guys are two distinct groups” mantra of big-time college football. Athletics is a big part of Stanford culture. I suggest you start dealing with this fact of life. If you want us to not pay the market rate at football, what you are asking is for us to go back to sucking at the flagship college sport, thus ensuring that we will not be able to fund other athletes in their pursuit of the sport they love. Seriously, go around telling athletes to their face that you want their teams cut and their scholarships taken away. If you don’t have the courage to write a blog post to that effect, I suggest you stop attacking the football team.

  32. Sour Grapes much? says:

    Correction: attacking the athletic director for his approach to the football team. Got ahead of myself there.

  33. Luck New York-Bound, and Harbaugh Might Not be Going Anywhere | The Daily Axe says:

    [...] A petition demanding that Stanford extend a new contract to Harbaugh won over 1,000 signatures, but some students have questioned the ethics of giving Harbaugh a multi-million-dollar-per-year deal while academic departments are scrambling for adequate [...]

  34. Tkim says:

    This notion of zero sum dollars being allocated away from other worthy causes to pay Harbaugh is simply not accurate. The athletic department does not take money from women’s soccer to pay the Coach. Quite to the contrary, a top notch football team that draws from not only the Stanford community but also the greater community bring net dollars into the program, as does TV money (this was the first year in nearly a decade where Stanford was on TV every game), as does Bowl money. In fact, football can bring dollars to fund other sports. The ROI is enormous, provided you have a top-notch program, one that can compete in an open market with pro sports, other entertainment venues, and in the author’s case, econ problem sets :) .

    BTW, while we’re talking about academic and athletic excellence, congratulations to the women’s soccer team for yet another amazing season. You are an inspiration for my young daughter. In the finals two years in a row. Women’s basketball, in the final four how many years in a row. At the highest level, without cutting corners. Why should we NOT have the same expectation for men’s football?

    There is no economic rationale for opposing it. It’s not zero sum, it’s not a matter of equity, it’s a market-based argument. You can oppose it because you don’t like football. That’s valid, but one that is not based on any economic rationale.

    In summary, as I said elsewhere, let’s pay the Man and let’s go win us some Rose Bowls!!!

  35. Jack Chou says:

    Mm, I think I’ve got this. Quickly summarizing:


    Josh: ‘Stanford shouldn’t raise the salary of an employee. The reason? Mostly because I think he gets paid too much and other people are paid too little.’

    Commenter: ‘But what about [other factor to consider]?’

    Josh: ‘That point has some validity to it, but I think its validity is mostly just further proving my point.’

    Commenter: ‘But that’s the market rate.’

    Josh: ‘I don’t think it is.’

    Commenter: ‘Uh no, it actually is. Harbaugh is paid less than all but one Pac-10 head coach.’

    Josh: ‘Well, I don’t think football coaches should be paid that much.’

    Commenter: ‘Mm, why is your opinion relevant?’

    Josh: ‘Because I’m an Econ TA.’

    Commenter: ‘Shouldn’t you have some data to back this up?’

    Josh: ‘It’s not about data, it’s about what is right.’

    Commenter: ‘Who gets to pick what’s right? You? The thousands of fans who are expressing their opinions by buying tickets and spending Saturday afternoons at the stadium?’

    Josh: ‘Mostly me.’


    That about right?

    Hypothetical: if William Faulkner woke up from his grave and told the country’s top ten universities that whoever paid him the most money would get him to come teach a course called ‘Novel Writing’, should Stanford bid? Would that be worth $1m/year? More? Less? Who gets to decide? How do you value something like that to the students who take the course? The other students who get to sit in on the lectures? The brand value for the school? Is the fact that he is a scarce resource even enter your mind? Is it a problem that it’s a course about writing and not, say, something related to curing cancer? What if it was a doctor? Or the world’s best violinist? Or something else incredibly rare and valued (not just by the direct participants, but thousands of other students, faculty, and alumni)?

    Paying to get the best often means going to extreme lengths. If the resource is less scarce, you don’t care about “the best” (just good is fine), or other schools’ leaders and fans don’t care about getting “the best”… then hey, it probably won’t cost as much. I personally used to think Stanford fell in that second bucket – “Good enough is OK on this one.”

    But if you care about having the best for your students, the resource is scarce, and your competitors really, really care about getting the best… well then, you have a choice to make. Make no mistake, the market sets the salaries for college coaches. And in this case, the market is Big-10, SEC, Big 12, and other Pac-10 schools.

    You can do what the Ivy League schools did (at least from my understanding) and make a value judgment that football/basketball/sports are not as important to be the best at. That’s fine, though it’d be disappointing for many players, students, alumni, and fans.

    But you can’t ignore the economic realities of football coaching: to get the best, it will cost a lot.

    I am personally very interested in Stanford being the best at every possible pursuit. I think it’s with that spirit that our athletic programs compete so well across the board. In the case of football, being the best likely requires more investment than other programs. I’m personally very interested in that as well.

  36. Jack Chou says:

    By the way, I should add that you barely touched on (only) one possibly reasonable argument:

    Stanford is a special atmosphere in which to build sustained football excellence and requires a coach who is not motivated by the money or the immediate possibility of greater fame (see: Basically, Stanford should be looking for the Mark Few or Joe Paterno of Stanford Football, so it shouldn’t just jack up the salary every year like an insecure kid desperate to keep what he has – if he wants to leave, he will leave when the right opportunity presents itself.

    I would’ve agreed with something like that last year. But at the current level of success, it’d be hard to support the idea that we could find someone to match this. The hiring of the previous head coaches (who each came with greater experience than Harbaugh) is a great example of that. In this instance, if Stanford is really committed to being a top-notch college football program, it should at least make financial overtures to Harbaugh that can take money out of any equation that may be in his head.

    To be clear though, I think to assume that alone will keep him is foolhardy.

  37. ’12 says:

    Ohhhh You write for the review too. This makes a lot more sense.

  38. Josh says:

    Thanks for all the comments. I definitely think there is legitimacy to many of these counterarguments. I have countercounterarguments I will share when I have a chance to lay them out systematically. Just to clarify:

    @ ’12: No, I don’t. I wrote one op-ed over a year ago which they were kind enough to publish, but that is my only involvement with The Review.

    @ Jack: I am going to go ahead and say that I don’t find your summary to be representative of the actual conversation here. Maybe that’s just my perspective though.

    Substance forthcoming.

  39. Dave says:

    Please write more articles like this. I would really like to see Harbaugh come home to UM and this surely helps.

    Thank you.

  40. Vamsi says:

    As my friend pointed out, “It’s interesting. I thought after buddy and walt, harbaugh proves commitment has rewards for us. I guess some people just see what they want to see though…”

    Despite disheartening opinions by Josh and his hippie friend Alex, several fellow alumni (Eric, Joe G, and ‘Recent Alumnus’, among others) fortunately seem to have covered all the bases by bringing logic back to the table.

    Josh, if you want to disband the football program, just say so. Hopefully Coach Harbaugh never sees this article.

    In conclusion, I agree with Eric. Stanford being awesome at football is a shit ton of fun, and I will continue giving more money to both Stanford and my local economy (bars) as long as this continues.

  41. Tyler says:

    If you do not pay him, you will lose him. You may lose him anyway, but not increasing his salary is the surest way to guarantee that he will not be the head coach next season.

    The cost of losing Jim Harbaugh outweighs the theoretical stand you would be taking by not reworking his contact. He’s taken the Stanford program so far in such a short time that it would be devastating to lose him.

  42. Doug says:

    The Footbal Head Coach issue should be solved by the economics of the athletic department and not the politics of the university.

    If I understand it correctly, the athletic department supports itself via donations, TV revenue, advertising, and gate receipts. It is paying the scholarships of all athletes, regardless of which sport, on top of all it’s expenses. There is no cost to the university. Stanford has great facilities for students and staff due to athletic revenue. Other team sports are subsidized by football revenue. The athletic department should pay whatever market rate is needed to have the best coaches it can regardless of the sport. If the athletic department were operating in the “red” that would be a real problem.

    Right now, the university values student athletes just like it values non-athletes. If you feel they shouldn’t value student athletes, that is a different problem. (I seem to recall the athletic graduation rate is the same or higher than for non athletes. Has this changed?)

    Right or wrong, it does not cost as much to bring the best coaches to the university for other sports. If there is a football team competeting at a national level at Stanford, the athletic department should be able to pay a great coach whatever it takes to have him stay at Stanford, assuming it can economically justify it.

    I don’t think there is any question that a winning football team increase the pride, joy, and fun of being at a top rated university. It also increases fund raising, alumni participation, and the ability to support other student athletes.

    If you have some “social justice” point of view about who should receive more or less based on your value system, you better get over it. The world does not work that way.

  43. Andrew says:

    See Greg Easterbrook’s column about how Vanderbilt eliminated its athletic department while remaining a competitive D1 athletics school:

    That would be my proposal for paying Harbaugh what he’s worth. Eliminate all the crap bureaucracy in the AD.

  44. Erik says:

    It is people like you that made me drink before all of my IHUM sections.

    God forbid something is going on at Stanford that is bringing together the alumni base unlike it has been in a long time. Go back to your single in FroSoCo and write up another blog entry about how offensive it is that people still wear Stanford Indians t-shirts.


    I fart in your general direction

  45. 2004 Alumni says:

    The sickening pride of the person who wrote this post is the reason Stanford continuously hurts itself financially by not retaining top coaches… to baby you prideful idiots through the idea that you’re as important or talented as Harbaugh. The reality is the university takes in 650mn a year in alumni donations. The idea that Harbaugh does not increase this by at least 1 percent by generating national championship runs that bring stanford alumni together every season.. is preposterous. The free marketing of stanford being all over the national news every week to our global alumni community that has a trillion dollars of wealth, is worth huge sums. Moreover, Do you really think we can’t “afford” it? Funding Harbaugh is no more complicated than a single call to Arrillaga or any other alumni billionaire interest in football, who would fund it in a heartbeat. The university is rife with unnecessary luxuries, like palm trees and impeccable grounds and unnecessarily beautiful facilities, that cost insane millions, for our wickedly rich alumni community and deserving student body to enjoy. Why would we not pay a few extra million to bring great joy in the form of football to students and alumni every year? The only reason a school as big as stanford, with as much money at stake as sstanford, does not do this, is to care for a bunch of baby’s egos who just don’t get the big picture.

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