Locking in Kim Mulkey as a Bayou Bengal for life was always a matter of when, not if, especially coming after leading LSU to a national championship in her second season on campus. No matter what you think of Mulkey off the court — and trust me, there’s plenty to criticize — she’s one heck of a basketball coach. Mulkey reportedly agreed to a 10-year, $32-million contract with LSU, which will be approved Friday. When you win a title, you earn a raise. It’s a college- athletics tale as old as time. The difference with Mulkey’s deal is that it’s the most lucrative in women’s college basketball history, and breaks the record by nearly $10 million, set by South Carolina’s Dawn Staley in October 2021 with a seven-year, $22.7-million deal.
This deal getting done is phenomenal for women’s sports, as the next elite coach to win a title will likely ask to be the record-breaker. And that amount will keep topping each other as fan interest in women’s college basketball only grows. The sports’ biggest on-court stars will reap the benefits, and their coaches will have plenty of coin to never complain. This deal also ends any argument that name, image, and likeness is ending college sports, as some have projected. Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese, and Paige Bueckers can get their NIL deals and make money off their personal brands, just as much as their full-time state employee coaches can have Brinks trucks full of money loaded into arenas.
Mulkey’s ability to adjust to an ever-changing college athletics landscape is a huge part of the reason she’ll sign the most lucrative contract in her sport’s history. For one, any college coach who can’t recruit is out of a job. Angel Reese, Hailey Van Lith, and LaDazhia Williams were all transfer-portal additions from other high-level-conference schools, and each from a different big-time conference prior to landing in Baton Rouge. Second, and maybe more importantly, everyone’s getting paid. Instead of denying NIL and deeming one’s self a puritan of college sports, where maintaining an amateur status is the pinky-up, swash-buckling way to go, we’re in year No. 3 of college athletes making over-the-table money and it’s only evolving. And good coaches are using this as another tool to bring and cultivate talent. Mulkey may do that better than any women’s college basketball coach. Her overall strategy for her program has turned LSU from an afterthought in the deepest conference in America to one of the most attractive locales in the game. It has made the Pete Maravich Assembly Center into a must-see event, not replicated on LSU’s campus since Maravich himself, although he never played for the Tigers in his namesake arena.
With this raise, Mulkey would have been tied for 30th in annual pay as a men’s college basketball coach, right in line with Houston’s Kelvin Sampson for the 2022-23 season, according to USA Today’s salary database. That actual ranking is much likely lower due to Duke’s Jon Scheyer, Marquette’s Shaka Smart, Villanova’s Kyle Neptune, and possibly others having amounts not reported due to being employed at private schools. And while the court dimensions may be the same, it should be seen as an accomplishment Mulkey is that high on the list. Staley would be even higher. And it’s about time for someone other than Geno Auriemma to make some moolah. It’s the market meeting demand for Mulkey. And that’s a sign of college sports being healthy, not ruined because of NIL. Reese can have a cameo in Latto and Cardi B’s music video, while Mulkey should never have kept her mouth shut on Britney Griner’s arrest and is being deservedly paid.
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