February 23, 2011
By Ken Krayeske • 6:05 PM EST
Jim Calhoun - preaching the choir at the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce.
Now, Ted Williams' intentional pay cut in 1959 seems astounding, unbelievable, almost unfathomable.
Back in 1959, when the Boston Red Sox offered an aging Williams $125,000 - the highest salary ever at the time - Williams demurred. He said he had a lousy year, and took $90,000 instead to renew his contract.
The pendulum swings the other way, too. In 1930, when asked by a reporter why he made $5,000 more a year than President Herbert Hoover, Babe Ruth replied, "I know, but I had a better year than Hoover."
Fast forward to Connecticut, where UConn basketball coach Jim Calhoun is in the throes of a pretty bad year, given that he just got sanctioned by the NCAA for recruiting violations, and for failing to create a culture of compliance.
Can Calhoun say he is having a better year than Governor Dannel P. Malloy, who makes 10 percent of Calhoun's monster salary? Should Calhoun pull a Ted Williams? Should Calhoun hear Governor Malloy's February 16, 2011 call for "shared sacrifice" to close the state's $3.67 billion budget gap?
In real terms, the $3.67 billion is about what the Pentagon spends in less than a week in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. So I'm no fan of the austerity measures and budget cuts that have the potential to destroy civil society here so we can wage war abroad.
Hey, if Calhoun would take a civil disobedience arrest to help end the war, then pay him a million or more. We could maybe afford it then. Yet the national hollowing out of state budgets forgets the fundamental problem - that federal aid has dried up to finance wars of imperial aggression.
This talk of austerity must be conservative demigod Grover Norquist's dream - making government so small that you can drown it in a bathtub. And while Gov. Malloy uses a smaller stick than Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who wants to destroy the collective bargaining rights of unions altogether, Malloy's budget goes after state worker wages.
But not the highest paid among them - the UConn athletic department. This theme of banding together for the collective good sounded in Malloy's big line at the end of his annual budget address: "I believe the people of Connecticut are willing to make sacrifices if 'shared sacrifice' is really shared, that we understand where we're going, and that it is sacrifice with a purpose."
Malloy's budget proposal sets $1.5 billion in tax increases, and $2 billion in cuts, many of those cuts from concessions by state employees. So the question remains - is it really shared sacrifice if Calhoun and company aren't ponying up?
So on Tuesday, February 22, 2011, I called Colleen Flanagan, Malloy's press secretary, and laid it on the line.
Does the theme of "shared sacrifice" involve pay cuts for the University of Connecticut Athletic Department, considering that it has three of the highest paid state employees, and especially now that UConn's men's basketball Coach Jim Calhoun had just been tagged with ethical violations by the NCAA.
I asked Flanagan if she wanted me to email the question to her, so she got it right. She said, no, I'm taking notes so I won't forget. Great, then I look forward to your answer, I said. And she promised to get back to me on deadline.
Maybe I should've mentioned Ted Williams' pay cut, too. Remember that Calhoun makes 10 times what Malloy does, and based on his three-game Big East suspension, he certainly isn't having a better year than Malloy.
Tuesday night at about 5 p.m., Flanagan emailed me back this: "It is disappointing to learn that a culture of noncompliance was allowed to develop at UConn. It's not an acceptable standard. Coach Calhoun has done many great things for UConn, and while this episode shouldn't take away from those accomplishments, it should lead him to redouble his efforts hold his program and his actions to the highest possible standard."
So, the next moment I had, around 11 p.m. Tuesday, I emailed her back. "Thank you so much for the prompt reply. I appreciate you getting back to me. I hope we can do it again before my deadline tomorrow at noon, because the canned quote you gave me really doesn't answer my question or apply to the line of thinking I am writing about.
"I asked whether or not the shared sacrifice in Gov. Malloy's budget meant belt-tightening in the UConn athletic department, which houses three of the state's highest paid employees, as well as a few others in the top 10, including athletic director Jeff Hathaway.
"If everyone is going to feel pain and cuts, I am asking the governor's office if the athletic department, especially the men's basketball team, will have to make changes, too? Does the shared sacrifice mean that coach Calhoun should pay for some of the legal fees the UConn athletic department had to incur because of the culture of noncompliance that he allowed to develop?
"If the rank and file at the DEP are going to have to pay more for benefits, does it mean that the highest paid celebrity coaches are going to have to kick in their fair share too? "Those are the questions I am raising, which Gov. Malloy's quote [above] doesn't provide a nuanced answer to.
"Thanks again for your cooperation, and I look forward to an answer that I can print that responds to these aforementioned queries."
So, it's deadline time now, and I have since called Flanagan again, and left a message. Still nothing. Maybe Ted Williams is a relic of the past. Maybe it is wrong to ask Malloy to challenge the runaway salaries of his elite NCAA coaches.
Generally, I think Malloy is okay. I liked seeing him pick hors d'oeuvres from the buffet line at the Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission celebration in the Legislative Office Building a few weeks back. I like hearing from friends they saw Malloy and his wife out at the Firebox in Hartford.
His governing style seems accessible, local, and visible - a vast change from previous administrations. A friend of mine suggests that I take it easy on Malloy right now, that he is wisely choosing his battles, that it is too early to ask Malloy to challenge Calhoun, who, incidentally, is a union member.
Perhaps it is too much to ask a lowly governor to challenge the NCAA titans and their labor monopoly. It may be a pipe dream to think that Malloy would demand Calhoun give money back. But by avoiding the question, Malloy seems to tilt his head towards the wealthy.
Remember, a few billionaires in southwest Connecticut could give us half their total wealth and cut the budget deficit, and none of us would have to pay higher taxes. We don't talk about that.
Instead, we attack workers, unions and the dwindling middle class. We avoid confronting millionaires - all of whom are on the public dole, whether coaches or businessmen. Public policy allows the aggregation of wealth and its corresponding poverty.
I'd like public policy that declares UConn exists for students, not for coaches, especially coaches who cheat; that UConn will not pay the men's basketball coach anything more than the women's tennis coach; that millionaires will have to pay their fair share, and, like Ted Williams, the wealthy will recognize when it is time to voluntarily give back.
If I hear anything new from the Malloy administration, I'll keep you all posted.