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Pennsylvania

Athletics tops big state school payrolls

| Thursday, June 14, 2012, 9:06 p.m.

Outside of officers and chancellors, six of the University of Pittsburgh's 25 highest-paid employees in 2011 were coaches, assistant coaches or otherwise part of the athletic department, according to salary figures the university released Thursday.

Former head football coach Dave Wannstedt was Pitt's highest-paid employee in fiscal year 2011, collecting $1.795 million from his salary, bonuses and other compensation. At Penn State University, the report shows the late Joe Paterno earned $1 million during the same period as football coach.

Under the state's 2008 "Right to Know" law, Pitt and Penn State are required to fill out yearly tax forms as if they were regular nonprofit organizations, including a list of the highest non-officer employee salaries. The top 25 for both universities were mostly coaches, doctors and department heads, compared to smaller state universities where the top earners tended to be academics.

"Market forces drive salaries in elite athletic programs... in Big East schools like Pitt," said Robert Hill, vice chancellor for communications. "The University of Pittsburgh is one of the world's leading research institutions, importing more than $800 million in research funding a year, and a big part of why funding agencies select Pitt is the quality of our faculty."

Officials with the Penn State Board of Trustees could not be reached for comment.

Jake Haulk of the Castle Shannon-based Allegheny Institute for Public Policy agreed the high salaries for coaches and medical professionals are a product of the university job market, where talented coaches or doctors command big money as long as they bring in alumni, ticket sales, research grants and other revenue to keep their paychecks from dipping into tuition or taxpayer dollars.

"If you're running a nationally known medical school, you're going to have to shell out some big bucks to get the best people," Haulk said. "In areas where the revenue is generated largely because those people are there, you can't argue with paying them what they ought to have."

At California University of Pennsylvania, Clarion University, Edinboro University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Slippery Rock University -- Western Pennsylvania's share of the 14 schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education -- almost all of the top 25 earners were professors or deans, and none was paid more than $200,000.

The only coaches to make the Top 25 from those schools were Cal U's John Luckhardt, at $152,812, and Slippery Rock's George Mihalik, at $135,729.

"All five lists are pretty similar; mostly faculty with a few deans," said PASSHE spokesman Kenn Marshall. The money-making Division I athletics, medical schools and research emphasis at Pitt and Penn State stacked their scales with big-earning coaches and doctors, he said.

"We are primarily teaching institutions and our salaries are going to be very different -- for the most part, considerably lower.."

Faculty at all 14 state schools are covered by one union contract, with a pay scale that tops out at $107,870 in base salary, Marshall said. The union agreed to a pay freeze last year.

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