A review of 2009 IRS returns, the most recent available, shows Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was the highest paid, receiving total compensation valued at $1.6 million, followed by Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford ($1.1 million), Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive ($1 million) and the Big 12's Dan Beebe ($997,000). The other two commissioners each started in July 2009, so their compensation figures are only for the past six months of the year: the Pac-10's Larry Scott ($735,000), and the Big East's John Marinatto ($366,000).
Those figures include base salary and benefits such as health insurance, along with other forms of pay such as retirement and deferred compensation. On an annual or prorated basis, only Marinatto made less than the median pay of presidents of the nation's large research universities, which was $760,774 in 2008, according to a Chronicle of Higher Education survey published last fall.
Indiana University President Michael McRobbie, the Big Ten board chairman, said his conference's presidents and chancellors believe Delany is worth "every penny" that he receives.
"The board has enormous confidence in the commissioner, thinks that he's done an outstanding job," McRobbie said in a telephone interview. "We're very, very pleased with the progress in the conference under the commissioner's leadership."
The board chairmen of the ACC, SEC and Big 12 were all said by aides to be unavailable for interviews.
The conferences, which oversee a host of college sports besides football, operate as 501(c)(3) charitable organizations, meaning their operations are tax-exempt. The compensation is generally set by boards of directors made up of the member schools' presidents and chancellors.
The six conferences, all of which receive automatic bids to Bowl Championship Series games, are among 11 that make up college football's highest level. The other five don't receive automatic bids and receive smaller bowl payouts from the BCS, although those payments have increased in recent years as overall BCS revenue has grown.
Those five conferences -- Mountain West, Mid-American, Sun Belt, Conference USA and the Western Athletic Conference -- all paid their commissioners less than $600,000 in 2009. But they also brought in far less in total revenue -- between $9 million and $50 million, compared with $102 million to $244 million for the six core BCS conferences, the tax records show.
AP'S review found Slive received a $1 million bonus in 2008, nearly doubling his pay that year to $2.1 million. SEC spokesman Charles Bloom said that bonus was for two TV deals the SEC negotiated that year, with ESPN and CBS.
Beebe, the Big 12 commissioner, got the biggest pay raise from 2008 to 2009. His $997,000 more than doubled his 2008 pay of $661,000. Big 12 spokesman Bob Burda said the conference board of directors raised Beebe's pay to put him on par with the other conferences that receive automatic BCS bids.
Dave Czesniuk, a senior associate director at Northeastern University's Sport in Society, argued the figures reflect the overcommercialization of college sports.
"I can't imagine that the well-being and growth of student-athletes is of paramount importance when there's that level of compensation," he said, when told of the commissioners' pay. As for Slive's bonus, he said, "Let's be real about what's being rewarded. You can't say that it's about the student-athlete experience."