Given where the Big East stands in the conference landscape, it should come as little shock that Big East commissioner John Marinatto is the lowest paid of the six automatic-qualifying commissioners.
An Associated Press analysis of 2009 IRS tax returns showed Marinatto made $366,000 -- although keep in mind he started his job in July of that year, so his compensation package is for just six months. Even if you double that salary, he would not be in the $1 million club -- where Jim Delany of the Big Ten, John Swofford of the ACC, Mike Slive of the SEC reside. Dan Beebe is nearly there, with a compensation package of $997,000.
Those million-dollar salaries are enough to start questions once again about a system that rewards everybody but the athletes. The commissioners seem to have been rewarded for their ability to negotiate high-stakes TV deals that have put their conferences at the forefront. The Big East hopes to land a new media-rights deal in the next 18 months that takes it into the neighborhood of the other AQ conferences.
But perhaps we should look at the salary figures in another way. Should these conference commissioners be paid more than university presidents? Marinatto made less than the median pay of the presidents of the nation's biggest research institutions, which is not necessarily a bad thing. You may look at his salary and wonder whether this is yet another knock on the Big East, but critics of outlandish spending in college athletics look at the million-dollar salaries and scratch their heads.
Ernie Chambers, a former Nebraska state senator who has advocated paying college athletes since the 1970s, told the AP: "It brings into sharp focus that it is immoral for grown men to exploit young athletes in the way that they do, then shamelessly say after these young men bring in so much money that they are not entitled to any part of it."
Having said that, Marinatto is not exactly making chump change. He is quite well compensated compared to you and me. Should the Big East get a TV deal in the $1 billion range next year, it would stand to reason that he probably will get a nice pay raise. But for now, I do not think the league or Marinatto look bad in the context of this story. Not when it is hard to really justify the million-dollar salaries these commissioners are getting on the backs of 18-year-olds.
Compensation packages, according to AP report
Jim Delany, Big Ten: $1.6 million
John Swofford, ACC: $1.1 million
Mike Slive, SEC: $1 million
Dan Beebe, Big 12: $997,000
Larry Scott, Pac-12: $735,000*
John Marinatto, Big East: $366,000*
*Scott and Marinatto began their jobs in July 2009, so their total compensation packages are for the last six months of the year.