Thursday, May 16, 2013

Basketball Coaches and Second Lieutenants


Basketball Coaches and Second Lieutenants

A Second Lieutenant is responsible for the conduct and wellbeing of a platoon, which consists of between sixteen and forty young soldiers.  The platoon leader has to exhibit an amazing variety of skills, including leadership, tactics, and discipline.  He is responsible for maintaining the fitness, morale, and readiness of his troops.  There’s probably millions of dollars of equipment at his disposal.  The privates and sergeants under his command make between $18,000 and $35,000.  The United States pays the Second Lieutenant $43,000 per year.[1]

Selling Relationships (1999)

A college basketball coach is responsible for the conduct of about fifteen young men.  In hiring a basketball coach, a university is looking for a leader, tactician, and disciplinarian.  Once in the job, he is responsible for the fitness, morale, and the readiness of his players.  The players are paid nothing.[2]  If the coach is Mike Krzyzewski of Duke University, he receives $9.7 million or 225 times more than the Second Lieutenant.[3],[4] Perhaps you’re thinking that Mr. Krzyzewski’s distinguished 43-year career deserves greater recognition.  In the Army, his experience and renown might be comparable to one of our eleven four-star Generals.  They make about $224,000 per year, and oversee tens of thousands of soldiers.

I’m not suggesting that Mr. Krzyzewski should be paid like a Second Lieutenant, but if you think about his actual responsibilities, it’s hard to see how the $9.7 million is justified.  Granted, he’s faced enormous pressure to produce winning teams at Duke, and has successfully guided a team of NBA All-Stars to two consecutive Olympic gold medals.  However, he works at a not-for-profit institution, where the other leaders in their respective fields make a fraction of the money.

Going back to our Second Lieutenant, I bet he knows a little bit about pressure, especially if he’s spent any time in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Moreover, as that Second Lieutenant leads his young recruits, losing has far more dire consequences than being outscored in a basketball game.   Our Second Lieutenant will, of course, receive recognition.  At halftime of a Duke-Carolina game, he’ll be asked to step onto Coach K Court and receive a standing ovation.  If Duke wins, Mr. Krzyzewski will also receive a standing ovation, plus millions of dollars.

While I’m singling out Mr. Krzyzewski, I am not blaming him.  He’s merely taking full advantage of a system that values winning collegiate basketball over almost all other university pursuits.  Drive along US 15-501 to Chapel Hill during the basketball season, and you might get to see our basketball coach, Roy Williams, who makes $1.7 million at a public university that is undergoing severe budget cuts.  Again, I’m not blaming Mr. Williams.

What we have is a values problem.  On the one hand, we think that putting a “We Support the Troops” car magnet on the back of our car, or standing before a ballgame to “honor our young men and women in uniform” fully satisfies the value we place on our soldiers.  True, we offer them educational and health care benefits. However, our values don’t extend to ensuring that the Department of Veterans Affairs has the funding to address the needs of our soldiers once they’ve completed their service.

Those same values turn money managers (I needed to get them into this post) and basketball coaches into multi-millionaires.  Every time Duke plays Carolina, Cameron Indoor Stadium or the Dean Smith Center is sold out.  A couple of soldiers might be able attend so they can be honored.  Any money manager with a big enough checkbook will be there as well, and if their net worth is big enough, they’ll be well acquainted with Mike and Roy.






[2] The scholarship players receive tuition, room, and board, which might be equivalent to a private’s salary, housing, and mess privileges.
[4] He left the Army in 1974 as a Captain at age 26.

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