Brady Hoke's decision to take the San Diego State head football coach decision this week has opened many eyes and prompted more than a few questions. I think it also shines a bright light on a major flaw within the Ball State program.
Ball State was the class of the Mid-American Conference (MAC) this season while San Diego State was a bottom feeder in the Mountain West Conference (MWC). Both schools are considered "mid-majors" as members of non-BCS conferences. So why would Brady Hoke leave a successful mid-major program he built from the ground up for another mid-major for arguably an even greater rebuilding challenge?
I think there are a few reasons.
1. Economics. After the 2007 season, Ball State extended Hoke's contract and gave him a raise bringing his annual salary to $240,000. Even with this raise, Hoke was still only the 8th highest paid coach in the MAC. San Diego State is reportedly offering a salary of $700,000 - nearly tripling Hoke's present salary.
2. University Commitment to Football. San Diego State is focused on "big time" college football and no doubt is expecting Hoke to bring back some of the Aztec glory days of old. There is no comparison when you look at where Ball State prioritizes football, and athletics in general. Ball State doesn't even supply coaches offices. Part of what I believe Hoke was insisting on in addition to a raise for himself was a coaches office complex be built and significant salary increases for his assistant coaches. While it was rumored Ball State was prepared to offer Hoke a new salary of $350K, still half what SDSU was offering, there was no mention of an office complex to be built or substantial raises for assistants.
3. Family. The Hokes' daughter recently moved to Arizona so a move west would keep the family closer together.
The Hoke situation illustrates that while the MAC and the MWC are mid-major, non-BCS conferences, the MWC is light years ahead when it comes to University committment to the football programs and head coaching compensation. Below is a comparison taken from the College Sports Report website.
Ball State - $170K (website doesn't reflect the recent raise to $240k)
Akron - $244K
Bowling Green - $184K
Buffalo - $191K
Central Michigan - $266K
Eastern Michigan - $196K
Kent State - $170K
Miami (OH) - $144K
Northern Illinois - $305K
Ohio University - $269K
Temple - $575K
Toledo - $313K
Western Michigan - $266K
Air Force - $572K
BYU - $$ Not Available
Colorado State - $550K
New Mexico - $440K
San Diego State - $717K
TCU - $1,219K
UNLV - $439K
Utah - $678K
Wyoming - $551K
Here is the link to the website that lists all of the conferences. http://www.collegesportsreport.com/
If Ball State and other Mid-American conference programs expect to keep pace on the field of play with other mid-major schools like the MWC and the WAC, they are going to have to place a greater emphasis - and greater resources - on their football programs. There has been significant reluctance to do so at Ball State, which is reflected throughout the program.
Scheumann Stadium for example, was built in 1967. It has just in the past 2 years, received it's first expansion and upgrading of any kind. It still seats something less than 25,000 people and it has been dressed up nicely but it still lags in the MAC in both size and amenities. Coaches do not have office space and are forced to find corners in rooms wherever they can to use as makeshift "offices".
Ball State is in the midst of a major $200 million capital campaign. I can assure you, none of the funds will be earmarked for the football program. It simply doesn't make the cut when it comes to priorities. However, this lack of funding priority doesn't stop the administration from demanding excellence from the program. They make it clear they expect a winner but aren't willing to make the required investment to do so. I might want to drive a Lexus but unless I make the investment, I won't be.
Ball State lost a quality football coach today and they have only themselves to blame. When your best offer is half what the other guy's beginning offer is, you've got a big problem. If Ball State wants to narrow the gap that exists between them and the top mid-major programs in the country, they need to start with dramatically increasing the financial commitment to the football program.
They have just completed a fantastic season - one they can build upon for the future. They need to take full advantage of this success and take the necessary steps to ensure this wasn't a one time fluke. Falling back into mediocrity is the easy way and the likely end result of keeping things business as usual. Stepping up and seizing this opportunity for greatness requires vision and courage on the part of the President and administration. Previous administrations haven't had it when it comes to the football program. Let's hope this time it will be different, although based on what I've seen thus far, it isn't.