19.10.08

THE FOLLY OF AVERAGING. Bardiac poses a question.

Question of the day: this assistant coach (basketball) contributes more to the mission of education at Kansas State thank how many associate professors?

The article says he earned $400,000 last year. Let's pretend that the average (mean) salary of an associate professor at Kansas State is $80,000. (That's probably a very high pretend average associate prof salary, from my experience.)

So he's contributing five professor's worth to the mission of Kansas State. And this is an assistant coach. Imagine what a contribution to the mission the head coach must be making.

Market Power's Phil Miller notes that some parts of the mission generate rents that are not appropriated by the beneficiaries.
But the labor market for college basketball talent, although very competitive, is anything but typical because the top players cannot receive payment anywhere close to their value. So their value gets captured somewhere down the line, most likely by the coaches with the ability to recruit them.
To complete the analysis, note that the nature of the competition in college basketball is of the winner-take-all nature, rather than the discovery of parity implicit in the equilibrium of an atomistically competitive market, such as that in retail or steel manufacture or many of the academic disciplines. Because the players don't get a piece of the action, the pay for performance goes to the recruiter. Because college basketball culminates in a championship, a conference tournament, and a tournament of tournament winners, the reward for performance is skewed, with half of the teams below average (for each winner there is a loser) and most of the coaches and players below average (thanks to the power rule at work in determining the champions and the players drafted to the professional leagues.)

Bardiac suggests the rewards are lower in the women's sports.
I bet the coach or coaches for the women's basketball team aren't making quite the same money, either.
True, because the rents to be appropriated by making the national tournament and having players drafted to play in Europe or in the WNBA aren't as great. At the same time, Deb Patterson, the women's head coach, is probably contributing 2 or 3 "average professors" worth to Kansas State's mission.

The career ladders, however, are different. The expected return to coaching women's basketball is probably lower than the expected return to earning a Ph.D. in English, with a greater variance. Follow me on this: one takes an average of coaching salaries at Rockton Hononegah (a high school) and Northern Illinois and Vanderbilt and Kansas State (to consider Deb Patterson's c.v.) and weights by all the aspiring Deb Pattersons in high schools and mid-majors and sub-mid-majors and power conferences. Then one takes an average of salaries offered to English Ph.D.s by Kansas State and Northern Illinois and Wisconsin-Whitewater and Harvard and weights by all the aspiring Bardiacs both in tenure-track slots and adjuncting. I conjecture that the reward to English Ph.D.s is on average larger, and the variance lower, than the reward to basketball coaches, with this conjecture being stronger for the women's game, where the rents are lower, than it is in the men's game, where the variance is almost certainly greater, but the average might also be.

I haven't yet begun to consider comparisons among those "average" professors, some of whom might be journeyman researchers in the evergreen disciplines, others might be in fields such as finance or engineering with the prospect of commercial employment, and others might be successful at grant-writing and thus mobile.

What the professors have in common, however, is two things: they serve students who are able to appropriate more of the gains from a degree to themselves, and they compete in job markets with a less skewed reward structure than that of college coaching. The success of any coach is predicated on the failure of other coaches. The success of any academician is not. Sure, Watson and Crick might have beaten Pauling to the double helix, but Pauling had other successes in his career. Likewise, Krugman might have done a more effective job of selling central place theory than other economists, but that doesn't count against any other economist working in that field.

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