Shaka Smart, the charismatic men's basketball coach of Virginia Commonwealth University, made news last week when he told the University of Illinois thanks, but no thanks — same as he told North Carolina State a year ago.
That upset the natural order of college sports. The grass isn't always greener at major-conference schools, but the contracts almost always are. And Smart, 34, turned down more money to stay each time.
He was the hottest commodity in coaching a year ago when he piloted VCU's astonishing run to the Final Four. To keep him, VCU upped his guaranteed money from about $420,000 last season to about $1.2 million this season, a raise funded largely by an increase in student fees.
This season, his Rams reached the NCAA tournament's round of 32, missing the Sweet 16 by an eyelash — and this time Smart got "a slight increase in compensation" plus more money in his recruiting and travel budgets, according to athletics director Norwood Teague.
VCU digging deep to thwart the get-Smart bids by Illinois and N.C. State is emblematic of a widening dollar gap between major-conference schools and so-called midmajors. Football TV contracts and attendance for the six power conferences of football's Bowl Championship Series mean big money, while competitive ambitions at midmajors often outrun their athletics departments' ability to pay for them.NCAA Basketball Data Table