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Is Travis Ford Overpaid?



I think Travis Ford is quickly becoming the Jeff Green of Stillwater, OK. For those of you who read Royce over at Daily Thunder, you know he and his readers often debated the Georgetown forward as if he was mixed up in some sort of national security cover-up, rather than just playing quality minutes for a playoff basketball team.

The obvious difference is that Ford doesn’t actually participate in games (although at this point, do we have that much to lose?) but his persona is nevertheless coarsely injected in each contest’s 40+ minutes.

And the general consensus amongst Cowboy nation on that persona lands pretty near one of the two following extremes:

  • I hate Travis Ford, Sean could have done what he’s accomplished. Let’s run him out of here as quickly as possible.
  • I love Travis Ford, think he’s the second coming of Bill Self and can’t wait for him to shut up all these Sutton family apologists with multiple Final Four appearances.

…and there’s not a lot of sentiment in between.

In a recent Forbes article the three-time Big 12 twenty-game winner was cited as one of college basketball’s most overpaid coaches.

The list was compiled based on winning percentage, NCAA appearances, Final Four appearances, and national titles, and then smoothed out by comparing total time spent coaching against all these factors.

I’m not even going to get into how ridiculous this assessment is but consider this: do you think Kentucky values paying John Calipari more than twice as much per win ($148,000 to $71,000) as Texas values paying Rick Barnes? Uh, yes. You can’t say one coach is “more overpaid” than another because you can’t measure the value (monetarily or otherwise) each particular school places on basketball success.

See, this is where the complexity of college athletics as a business comes into play. Do universities put more stock into bottom lines or national titles? Or both? Or do they go hand-in-hand? A study like this only works in a vacuum, where you can imagine every coach coaching the same players at the same school for different amounts of money.

Anyway, back to Ford. Let’s compare him to the five coaches on both sides of his current income.

Note: the study I used was compiled at this time last year so some current salaries might differ slightly.

Rick Barnes – $2.1M
Ben Howland – $2M
Gary Williams – $2M
Jay Wright – $1.9M
Tubby Smith – $1.8M
Travis Ford – $1.8M
Bob Huggins – $1.7M
Bo Ryan – $1.6M
John Beilein – $1.6M
Mike Montgomery – $1.6M
Jim Calhoun – $1.6M

My first reaction was, “how in the world does Ford make more than Jim Calhoun?!?!” My second was, “goodness, how underpaid is Bo Ryan right now?!”

I think the problem a lot of OSU fans have with Ford’s current salary is that he’s unproven. Every name on that list has been to a Final Four except for Ford and Beilein. And Beilein’s 2004-2005 WVU team had a ten point lead on Louisville with six minutes left in the regional final so you could say he’s had adequate success (yes, that was the Pittsnogle team).

So if Holder isn’t signing checks based on past performance (and no rational person could argue he is), then Ford must be overpaid, right?

Here’s my argument for why he’s not: OSU is not a tier 1 basketball program and they have to wager accordingly. See, North Carolina and Kansas get to watch coaches succeed on every single tier (Self went from a tier 4 in ORU to a tier 3 in Tulsa to a tier 2 in Illinois before being hired at KU) before plucking whoever they want to guide their storied schools to more conference titles.

OSU’s athletic department has to bet on the future, not capitalize on the past.

The jump from UMass to OSU was probably a slight stretch for Ford but give Holder credit for not going the way of a short-term fix. I truly believe Travis Ford is here to build a program.

One of my twitter followers brought up the fact that Ford’s contract is entirely too long. Ford is signed until 2019 and his salary crests at $2.8M which (as of today) would put him in the Tom Izzo Bill Self stratosphere. Again, Holder is placing his bets on the future.

Think about it like this. If you could hire Bill Self at $1.8M a year right now and give him an increase every year until he eventually got to $2.8M, wouldn’t you do it? So if you believe that Travis Ford is the next Bill Self (or whoever) then isn’t it a bigger risk to not make that bet?

You look at what’s gone on with a school like Tulsa, which has basically been a revolving door of collegiate ladder-climbing success, and you realize you have to put money down on the future sometimes.

I’d rather gamble on (and maybe even overpay) a guy like Ford looking to build a program than rent a guy like (for lack of a better example) Holgorsen who you know is bouncing at the next best offer.

Give Ford five years to build something. Know that he’s cutting his teeth in Big 12 country (and doing a fine job of it so far). Remember, a mere Keiton bomb to the west of GIA lies a project led by a man who was called out by most as being completely submerged in the deep waters of Big 12 coaching prowess.

And just last season he came about 2 stops and a Weeden to Blackmon miracle from playing for a crystal trophy.

Let the comment boxes be filled…

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