The University of Akron has been touting its new football coach as someone who can turn the program around. But, the firing of former coach Terry Bowden and the hiring of Tom Arth is costing the university more than $1 million before Arth even starts the job.
WKSU commentator Terry Pluto says he asked interim university president John Green and athletic director Larry Williams how they plan to pay the bills amid an ongoing university budget deficit.
Akron owes Bowden $630,000 for the two years that were left on his contract. They also have to buy out Tom Arth’s $370,000 remaining contract at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. And, that’s on top of Arth’s $500,000 annual salary at Akron.
"Dr. Green was very sensitive to Akron's money problems," Pluto said. "And he basically told Larry Williams, 'If you want to change football coaches, we're not raising student fees. You have to do it out of your budget.'"
Doing some accounting
Last week, Akron and the University of Nebraska reached an agreement on a Sept. 1 season-opening game between the two that was canceled because of bad weather. Akron said it was still owed nearly $1.2 million it was going to get for the game. Nebraska refused to pay, arguing it tried to reschedule.
As part of the agreement, Nebraska will pay Akron $650,000 for the canceled game, more than half of the $1.1 million guarantee. "[Akron] is going to use that money to pay Terry Bowden for not coaching," Pluto said.
Next, Akron has to figure out how to pay Tennessee Chattanooga $370,000 for signing Arth.
"They're negotiating now about maybe going down to Tennessee Chattanooga to play a game," Pluto said. "They would love to have a Division I team like Akron come to play. It's not done yet, but they're looking at hoping to not have to pay that bill."
Paying Arth's salary
Then, there's the issue of Tom Arth's $500,000 annual salary, which Pluto said Akron will cover by playing its "money games."
This past season, Akron got $1.4 million to play at Northwestern, a game the Zips ended up winning in a huge upset. Then, at the end of the season, Akron added a game at the University of South Carolina for $1.3 million.
"It's what some of these Division I football programs do to try to offset their costs," Pluto said.
"We've seen Kent State go down to Alabama for a minimum of $1 million, if not more. The problem with this is, you're physically overmatched. So if you play too many of these type of games, when you're actually playing in your league, you're all battered. If you play like three of these games, it's almost like you're selling your kids."
But Pluto says it's an inherent problem schools like Akron face in paying the bills.
"As Dr. Green said to me, there's already student athletic activity fees and that's not going to coaches' salaries anymore."
Still, Pluto said Akron believes Arth is a sound investment.
"Dr. Green said that Arth was worth jumping through these financial hoops to make it work because they think the St. Ignatius-John Carroll-Cleveland royal family football coach is worth it. We'll see. But at least as opposed to running up more deficits, it does sound like they figured their way out of this mess."