Shannon Miller Firing Reflects Poorly On UMD

The firing* of Shannon Miller, head women’s hockey coach for the University of Minnesota-Duluth made the rounds this week.

The reasoning the university made public was that Miller cost the university $215,000 in salary each year, and with a $4.5 million debt, they had to cut the fat somewhere.

UMD Athletic Director Josh Berlo told media “We’re at a point where we are not able to sustain the highest paid coach in Division 1 hockey’s salary.”

Miller is the highest-paid women’s hockey coach. Her men’s team counterpart, Scott Sandelin, earns a base salary of $236,000.

Berlo would not comment on whether or not Sandelin had been asked to take a pay cut.

This seems like a foolish fiscal decision, and has proven to be incredibly bad press for the university as papers, websites, and news media report on a story that at best, seems short-sighted, and at worst, very sexist.

First and foremost, Miller’s pedigree as a five-time NCAA championship-winning coach is likely the reason many of her athletes decided to attend UMD, in a cycle that brings more high-quality athletes, more exposure, and hence, more money.

Additionally, Miller told reporters she would have gladly taken a pay cut in order to continue coaching her student-athletes, but that she was never approached about the possibility.

Even assuming the University thought Miller would not take a pay cut, replacing her with a lower-paid coach makes little sense. The athletics department is usually the major money-maker for colleges and universities. Alums who wouldn’t otherwise donate get revved up for a winning team and the contributions roll in.

Additionally, according to Nielsen’s 2013 Year in Sports Media report, hockey fans are the wealthiest of all fans across the five major sports industries. It stands to reason that targeting former student-athletes and fans of UMD’s hockey program for donations might have actually made the university more money than cutting Miller and replacing her with a lower-paid coach would.

Taking a probable drop in student-athlete interest, the probability of lost championships and a decrease in fan interest for a losing team, it is not outlandish to say that the decision to let Miller go will actually lead to a drop in income for the university.

Worse, it makes it clear that UMD values its male student-athletes over their female compatriots.

One really has to wonder if the university thought this decision all the way through, and if the athletics director understood just how badly this would reflect upon their program.


*Correction: Miller was not fired, she was ousted from her position as her contract was not renewed (without warning).

4 thoughts on “Shannon Miller Firing Reflects Poorly On UMD”

    • Short and to the point. I love this comment.

      You bring up a good point, though. Why does such a successful program have so few fans? Perhaps the university should be marketing games to their students as well as to the surrounding community. That’s another great way to drive revenue – charge a dollar or two for entry, and outrageous prices for concessions.

  1. Thanks for catching the “firing” issue (definitely a miswrite on my part) but I think characterizing the piece as “rife with inaccuracies” is maybe a tad overboard.

    Sandelin’s contract length has nothing to do with a) his being paid more than Miller for having a record that is not as impressive and b) Miller not being approached about a possible reduction in salary.

    And I have to say that there are records of coaches demonstrating exceedingly poor behavior and being welcomed back with open arms because of a winning record. Miller’s behavior is not on trial here – her record, compensation, and treatment by the university is.

    I’m not sure why you think that UMD’s women’s hockey is unique in having a less than fanatical following. Obviously this varies from college to college, but in general women’s sports are underappreciated and underattended due to our flagrantly sexist culture. What I postulated was that they hit up alumni for donations, and specifically hockey-playing alumni. (Which, in this case, might mainly be alumnae.)

  2. Your story is rife with inaccuracies. Miller was not fired–her contract is not being renewed at season’s end. Sandelin is not affected, because his contract runs through 2017…..Miller’s contract ends after this season. UMD women’s hockey has a tepid following; amongst students, there is little appreciable support at home games.

    Two suspensions. A vacated league title for using an in eligible player. Numerous instances of bench behavior unbecoming a professional. Miller has hardly been a shining beacon of tact and class.

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