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).