ARLINGTON, Texas — The Final Four coaches have earned $850,000 in bonuses already this year.
Take a second and absorb that.
More than three-quarters of a million dollars, just in bonuses. Not base salary. Not compensation over a career. Bonuses.
That's enough to buy 50 Ford Focuses. Or 531 trips for two to Maui, all-inclusive no less. Or 34,000 Final Four T-shirts. Or 183,982 Big Macs – just don't give one to a "student-athlete," please.
Or, here's a novel concept: How about we take that money, along with the bonuses all the other coaches in big-time sports get, and use it to close the roughly $3,000 gap between the value of a college athletic scholarship and what it really costs to go to school.
John Calipari's bonuses this year alone could cover pretty much everybody at Kentucky except the football team. Win the national title Monday night, and he could foot that bill, too.
March Madness generates more money than some small countries, and the players who make it possible don't get a cut. The NCAA is black and blue from all the beatings it's taken about that injustice, and rightly so.
But the governing body isn't the only one getting rich off the kids.
According to a USA TODAY Sports analysis, published earlier this week, 21 of the coaches in this year's NCAA tournament made $2 million or more, led by Mike Krzyzewski's $9.68 million salary. For the 58 coaches for whom USA TODAY Sports could obtain compensation figures, the average salary was nearly $1.8 million.
Even with all those zeroes, their paychecks still trail those of college football coaches. According to a USA TODAY Sports database released in November, 50 college football coaches are making $2 million a year or more.
Unlike the NCAA, which appears content to sit idly by until somebody forces change upon them or the system implodes, the coaches are well aware the system is out of whack.
"They make an incredible investment. They obviously are generating a lot of dollars on college campuses," Florida coach Billy Donovan said Thursday. "I don't know what the solution is. I do know that there needs to be a better way to take care of them."
Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie remembered playing at the Oakland Arena in his last tournament as a Huskies player. On Saturday night, his team will play in an arena that will have more people than some Connecticut towns.
"We never played in venues like this. The venues got bigger, the ticket prices got more," Ollie said Friday.
I'm not suggesting coaches' salaries be slashed to the point where they're the same pay grade as a tenured English professor. Heaven forbid. But using their bonuses in order to give the players a little more isn't going to bankrupt anyone.
For those who would balk at the forced charity – as if anyone is really going to want to go on record saying that – put a portion of the bonuses in trust each year. After several years, the trust would produce enough interest to help fill in the gaps.
This isn't a new concept. South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier had a similar idea back in 2011, proposing that each Southeastern Conference player be given $300 per game, and the team's coach would foot the bill.
At 70 players, for 14 games, it would cost each SEC coach less than $300,000.
"We make all the money, as do universities, television, and we need to get more to our players," Spurrier said then. "For what us coaches are making now, we'd all love to do that."
His idea went nowhere, of course. But the landscape has shifted the past three years. A lot. The NCAA is facing lawsuits from current and former players, along with efforts to unionize.
This is an easy, and relatively painless, way of making sure the players get more of what they deserve.
"You have to sacrifice a little bit," Ollie said. " … I don't know the right way to go. I don't know the wrong way to go. But I want to see us getting in a room and start changing a little bit because I've seen all this change."
Giving the players some of the change in coaches' pockets is a good place to start