David Shaw is, with little opposition, the greatest football coach in Stanford history. Closing in on his seventh full season on the Farm, Shaw’s teams have won 77.7 percent of their games (70-20), gone to six straight bowl games (and won four of them), claimed three Pac-12 titles and sent a drove of players to the NFL. Compare this with recent eras of Stanford football — including a seven-season stretch from 2002-08 when the Cardinal went 25-55 — and Shaw’s success is brought into greater focus. His goal-line play-calling and personnel decisions at the quarterback position may be routinely questioned, but Stanford has never had better than David Shaw.
And he’s paid like it, too. University tax return forms released this summer show Shaw was credited with $5,680,441 in total compensation during the 2015 fiscal year. His pay has more than doubled since data on his salary became available several years ago, and his 2015 compensation represented a $1.5 million raise from 2014. He is the highest-paid Stanford employee by nearly $2 million, receiving in 2015 more than double what the President and Provost made — combined.
These numbers may offend those who believe athletics have corrupted the academy. The bigger obscenity about Shaw’s salary, though, is this: Shaw adamantly opposes granting Stanford’s players the same free market for their services that netted him one of the richest coaching deals in all of college football.
In a 2014 interview with Fox Sports, Shaw toed the party line, stating that athletes should not be paid and “[giving] them their living at the University” would “not [teach] the proper lessons.” The context of Shaw’s comments is important: They came just weeks after the trial in the O’Bannon v. NCAA case — which would ultimately hold the NCAA accountable to the nation’s antitrust laws — and while the Northwestern football team’s unionization push was still ongoing.
First, let’s get our terms correct: If the industry-wide wage cap players currently face were lifted, either by the courts or the NCAA itself, athletes would not be “given” anything. They would earn it after 50-plus hours per week of practice, meetings, travel, lifting and weekly games that subject players to substantial health risks, including traumatic brain injury. They would earn it after honing their football skills and personal brands for years. They would earn it after acting as marketers for their universities and walking billboards for apparel companies likes Nike, Adidas and Under Armour. “Given” implies that players are the unworthy recipients of a school’s beneficence. To be clear: There is nothing benevolent in conspiring to hold down athletes’ wages or refusing to acknowledge a duty to protect their health or ensure educational quality.
And those “lessons” Shaw is hesitant to instill in his players? Among others, they are these:
- Recognize when your skills, talents and labor have economic value, and seek that value.
- Be paid a fair wage for the work you perform.
- Work hard, become excellent and prosper.
But these maxims are championed in every other corner of campus. Stanford’s coders can earn tens of thousands every summer at tech internships. Student writers, artists and even Olympic athletes earn money off their own work — and no one rails against their ability to profit off their skills while in school. Shaw himself caved to the great corruptor he seeks to safeguard his players from — the almighty dollar — when he signed a contract extension nearly five years ago that has made him the second-highest-paid football coach in the Pac-12 conference.
Not that Shaw’s hypocrisy is surprising. He himself benefits from his players’ economic disempowerment: Economists have concluded that, in the current setup, money that would otherwise be paid to athletes under an open market is funneled into coaching salaries and facility construction. If college players were to have access to market-driven pay, it is likely that coaching salaries would be reduced and the money transferred back to the athletes. Facing those economic consequences, it is no wonder Shaw, Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir and others in the industry so vehemently defend the status quo.
So, yes, in terms of football coaching, Stanford may have never had better than Shaw.
But in terms of athletes’ rights, it has also never had worse.
— Cameron Miller ‘16
Contact Cameron Miller at ccmiller94 ‘at’ alumni.stanford.edu.