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Larry Penley Regents chair

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Future contracts for major sports coaches at Arizona will be structured with a stronger and two-tiered academic component if a proposed template is adopted next week by the Arizona Board of Regents.

The proposal also calls for schools to be able to “claw back” credit or incentives for games that are vacated or diminished because of NCAA infractions, while requiring more transparency about outside compensation and benefits.

Former Regent Jay Heiler, who helped craft the proposed contract language with Regent Lyndel Manson before his term expired earlier this month, said a coach receiving a $300,000 salary might now have $40,000 of it tied to maintaining an acceptable GPA — in addition to a bonus for achieving well beyond that GPA. If the GPA fell below the acceptable mark, the coach would get neither level of compensation.

“I’d like to start seeing them written that way,” Heiler said Thursday. “It’s one little thing how we can keep college sports as college sports. In my view, we should have coaches’ contracts have a meaningful portion of the salary due to academic performance.”

The academic bonus structure arose last June, when the regents delayed approving a new contract for UA women’s basketball coach Adia Barnes. Manson expressed concern at the time about the jump from Barnes’ previous salary of $235,000 to $400,000 and for an academic bonus that could reward Barnes for achieving a worse GPA than the team’s 3.19 mark in 2017-18.

“I am someone who is loath to pay bonuses for being below the status quo,” Manson said during the June meeting.

But at the same time, the regents considered how coaches’ contracts sometimes need to be rushed during the postseason hiring season. Heiler said at the June meeting that to wait until August to approve Barnes’ contract could be risky since she was in high demand.

“In many of these circumstances we’ve got coaches who we’ve got to get squared away,” Heiler said then. “Otherwise somebody else might hire them.”

At their next meeting in August, the regents approved a restructured deal that gives Barnes a $30,000 bonus only if the Wildcats average a GPA of 3.30, instead of the originally suggested 3.10, and a $45,000 bonus for a GPA of 3.69 or better. It also pays Barnes a $15,000 bonus if her team averages a GPA between 3.0 and 3.29 instead of the originally proposed 2.70-3.09 range.

Upon approval, regents chair Larry Penley said Manson and Heiler would together revisit the guidelines for submitting amended contracts from schools.

It was “so that we can have a policy that perhaps avoids the situation we’ve had here, where a school is working with a coach and then the board says, ‘Well, we’d like a little more on that contract,’” Penley said at the August meeting.

“That’s a very tough situation, because contracts have to be negotiated in a way that sometimes requires speed. It requires a bit of agility and a lot of back and forth.”

Manson was unavailable for comment Thursday, but Penley indicated through a regents official that the new proposal is a direct response to the concerns expressed last summer.

“The board’s proposed policy is the outcome of continued discussions by the board about providing incentives for positive performance by our student athletes,” Penley said. “The policy is responsive to the board’s ongoing work to assure that coaches have challenging goals and incentives for academic as well as athletic achievements.”

Typically, bonuses for GPA and APRs are a small percentage of a head coaches’ contract and sometimes with bonuses that can be hit for achieving what is already being achieved.

Barnes’ top GPA bonus of $45,000 would effectively add 11.5% to her $400,000 salary, while UA men’s coach Sean Miller hits the top GPA bonus of $200,000 when the Wildcats achieve a 3.0 GPA or better. Miller’s figure is 11.7% of his $1.7 million in base compensation, but only 7.1% of his overall guaranteed compensation of $2.8 million.

The proposal to be presented to the board for its virtual meeting starting April 2 states that incentive and bonus compensation “should be awarded only for achievements above expected or average outcomes” but that designated compensation also may be paid for achieving or maintaining a standard of academic performance.

The proposal also includes these provisions:

  • Schools can take back compensation tied to performances later vacated because of NCAA issues.
  • All non-compete clauses for coaches accepting another position must be specified.
  • Buyout payments resulting from coaches who leave a previous job must be detailed, including the source of payment for that buyout.
  • Contributions of outside donors, camp agreements, and all outside income or benefits must be fully disclosed.

The agenda for the board’s April 2 meeting did not include any proposal regarding Miller’s contract, which has two years remaining. But it does include “legal advice and discussion regarding University of Arizona Men’s Basketball” being held as part of the closed-door executive session. That has become a standard agenda item at regents meeting since the federal investigation into college basketball became public in September 2017.

This article originally ran on tucson.com.

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