Last January, Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith signed a new contract. The new deal gave him a raise from $800,000 to a nudge above $940,000 - a salary well in line with the market for an AD of one of college sports' largest departments - with a clause that paid him a bonus every time a Buckeye team or athlete won a national title.
It was a clause that carried over from Smith's previous contract -one that likely dated back to his original contract upon his 2005 arrival in Columbus - and went mostly unnoticed until two months later, when Ohio State wrestler Logan Stieber won a national title, kicking in an $18,000 bonus for his athletics director. In a climate where the public is becoming less and less okay the concept of amateurism, an administrator earning a five-figure bonus off the work of a single athlete didn't sit well.
Now let's fast forward 10 months, to this past January. Fresh off a football national championship, Smith signed a new contract, his second deal in a year, keeping his salary the same while emphasizing some bonus opportunities and eliminating others. Smith no longer makes money off his athletes' literal backs. “From an optics point of view, we needed to clean that up," Smith said in January. We made a good shift, and I really like it.”
And now, thousands of miles away, another athletics director watched the grief Smith took, viewed his standard-issue bonus through those same optics and has followed suit.
In a move that the school has hailed as another step "toward its vision of a Model Intercollegiate Athletics Program," Kansas State announced an extension for athletics director John Currie. The new deal adds one year to Currie's existing contract, keeping him in Manhattan through the 2019-20 academic year, while bumping his base salary to $775,000 and eliminating all athletics-based incentives entirely. Currie's previous contract, the school notes, paid Currie a $575,000 salary with up to $316,250 in bonuses.
Currie isn't giving any money away here, but he is taking a proactive step to ward off controversy and outcry before it happens.
“The restructuring allows him to focus on maintaining the high performance standards the athletic department has established under his leadership," said K-State president Kirk Schulz. "The relationship between intercollegiate athletics and the university community plays an important role in our goal to become a top 50 public research university.”
It never made any sense for AD's to receive bonuses for their women's soccer team winning a conference championship. Now they're starting to realize it.
Is it a landmark moment in college sports' ongoing revolution? No. Not even close. But it's another sign of how attitudes are changed and history is made - one step at a time.