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Arne Duncan Wants College Coaches' Pay Tied to Athletes' Academic Performance

On Sunday's edition of NBC's Meet the Press, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called for college coaches' and athletic directors' pay to be tied to the academic performance of student-athletes.

"Incentive structures for coaches, incentive structures for A.D.'s have to be changed so much more of their compensation is based not upon wins and losses, but around academic performance and graduation," Duncan said. "And university presidents and boards have been very complacent and soft in this issue."

This isn't the first time Duncan has made this particular case. Last year, right around this time—not-so-coincidentally in the midst of the NCAA men's basketball tournament—Duncan held a press call in which he called on postsecondary leadership to restore the balance between academic and athletic priorities in intercollegiate sports. In an accompanying editorial for USA Today Sports, he and former Maryland congressman Tom McMillen suggested "no coach should receive financial bonuses when much of his team is flunking out or failing to get a degree."

On Meet the Press, Duncan again brought up McMillen's research, which found a vast disparity in bonuses for athletic success compared to academic success. Academic incentives in the coaches' contracts averaged out to be roughly $52,000 per coach, while athletic incentives were about $600,000 per coach (a ratio of roughly 11-to-1 in favor of athletics).

"For me, there should be a threshold academically," Duncan said on Sunday. "If students aren't performing at that and graduation rates, coaches shouldn't get anything. And if coaches are doing the wrong thing and cheating, the penalty should not just hit the university, the penalties need to follow the coach."

Duncan was participating on a panel with Reggie Love, a former Duke basketball player and President Barack Obama's former personal aide, and Mark Emmert, the president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Beyond Duncan's idea of reforming the contracts of coaches and athletic directors, the three tackled other potential changes that could benefit student-athletes.

Love made the case for establishing an educational trust for student-athletes, which Duncan echoed. "Every student-athlete who plays for a university should be able to go that university, assuming that they can do the work, they should be able to be educated, graduate school," Love said. Duncan also said student-athletes' long-term medical expenses were "a fair question on the table."

Emmert, meanwhile, briefly touched upon two challenges to the NCAA's current economic model. In regard to an attempt by Northwestern University football players to become unionized, the president said unionization would "completely change the relationship" between schools and student-athletes.

"I don't know why you'd want them to be students," he suggested. "If they're employees and they're playing basketball for you, don't let calculus get in the way."

Emmert also touched upon the class-action lawsuit filed last week by sports labor attorney Jeffrey Kessler that accuses the NCAA of antitrust violations.

"Well, I think Mr. Kessler and a variety of other people have framed this question completely wrong. Basically what is being argued here is should student athletes, whether they're basketball players or any other sport, be unionized employees of a university, or is this fundamentally about students playing the game and receiving the most important thing that's going to set them up for the rest of their life, a good, sound, education and the opportunity to get that education. Obviously, universities and colleges believe that these are student-athletes, that these are young men and women who should continue to be students and not be unionized employees. Those are two very different levels."

Here's a video of the panel discussion, courtesy of NBC:

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