Updated: Feb 22, 2022
Jason Candle, the head football coach at the University of Toledo was paid, according to media reports, $1.2 million last year. When I saw that, I decided to do a little survey among friends around the country.
It consisted of a mere two, well, two and a half, questions: 1. Did you know Toledo, Ohio had a university? 2. If the answer is ‘yes,’ did you know its football coach was paid $1.2 million last year?
Oh -- and did you know it even had a football team?
Okay; admittedly, I’m not a football fanatic; I’m a retired professor of chemistry. Some said I looked like Don Nehlen, Bowling Green State University’s legendary coach back in the 1970s. But no one ever mistook me for a real coach. Nor did I even have much interaction with the players.
I can remember only about three football players that took any chemistry courses during my entire 35 years at BGSU. There was also said to be a chemistry major or two on football teams before or after my time.
I do have to say that one of the chemistry majors did get enough playing time to drop a critical pass in the end zone when BG played Ohio State; something you might call an undesirable reaction. But overall, the chemistry department was about as foreign to the athletic programs as the cemetery in the middle of campus was to the sororities a few hundred yards to the south.
Meanwhile, Scot Loeffler, Bowling Green’s head football coach, had to get by with a mere $525,000 last year, barely ten thousand a week. Perhaps that’s because his record over the last three seasons was 7-22, while Candle managed to lead UT to a less-than-stellar 7 wins and 6 losses.
Can you imagine what they might have to pay these guys if they ever went undefeated? If you think I’m being sarcastic, you are right.
But the incongruity is beyond ridiculous. Neither school can muster a quality history department; BG dropped its Ph.D. program in history a decade ago, and the UT department is mostly staffed with adjuncts; part-timers who teach a course or two, get paid a few bucks, and never achieve tenure or do any notable scholarship.
And when it comes to science -- has anyone heard of anything consequential being done at either school in terms of research on viruses? How many grants has the National Institutes of Health made to UT, or to BG, for that matter?
Are the research labs at either school busily at work at finding solutions to what may be the deadliest and most invasive set of viral diseases ever? I have good reason to doubt it.
But the fault isn’t only in Ohio. Washington isn’t helping these schools much.
What potential scientist from Russia or China would decide it would make
any sense to come here to study? Our politicians excelled at keeping immigrants, including some with vast potential, others out before the virus hit. Now, when we need fresh talent more than ever, they are even better at it. Some, like U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, aren’t even credible in their own field. For Paul that’s eyes: Ophthalmology. But rather than take the standard accrediting exam, he started his own “national board,” put his family members on it, and somehow got away with it.
The State of Ohio isn’t doing much to raise standards, either. The chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents -- the highest controlling board for all of Ohio’s universities -- is a former high school teacher from Bowling Green. How can higher education here expect to get to the next level and be taken seriously with that masquerading as leadership? It can’t.
Nor, we now know, can these schools, even though they call themselves universities, grow world-class football programs either. UT did come close to beating Notre Dame last September, but close only counts in horseshoes. But here’s a novel idea:
What if these schools started paying their top professors as much as they play their mediocre football coaches? Imagine the headlines in the Chronicle of Higher Education if Bowling Green were to bring the salary of its orchestra conductor to the level of its football coach.
What if they did the same and threw around a million or so to whomever is best in the visual arts at UT? Ridiculous? Clearly!
But so is paying a football coach a salary way beyond what the dean of the College of Medicine makes. Thanks primarily to the pandemic, enrollments across the nation are down about 450,000 students.
We know from the data that better universities do a lot more for their communities and states than infer r ones. In Ohio, it’s long past time for the governing boards to wake up and demand achievement in focused, chosen fields, and quit paying vast sums to coaches for marginal performances.
We desperately need quality research programs to help both Toledo and Bowling Green compete. Football will never revitalize the economy of either place. World-class medical research, and universities worthy of the name, just might.
Douglas C. Neckers is Distinguished Research Professor (emeritus) and founder of the Center for Photochemical Sciences at Bowling Green State University; he’s also the former chair of the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown, N.Y.