UNC-Chapel Hill Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham will get $200,000 a year in deferred compensation payments for the next five years in a new deal approved Friday by the UNC Board of Governors.
Three board members voted against the new pay package for Cunningham, which will be funded with athletic department money and not state appropriations.
Marty Kotis, a board member and Greensboro businessman, said he opposed the deal because no one other than campus chancellors and the UNC president is eligible for that type of compensation, which consists of tax-advantaged retirement contributions that can be tapped later.
“I also felt like the optics and timing were really bad right now,” Kotis said.
Cunningham will receive $1 million in deferred payments over the period of his new contract.
The new compensation package comes weeks after intense criticism of UNC and the NCAA after the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions decision not to sanction the university following the long-running athletic and academic scandal involving no-show classes. The determination came after UNC altered its characterization of the classes to the NCAA, calling them legitimate after years of apologizing and accepting responsibility for the wrongdoing.
Board member Tom Fetzer, a Wilmington lobbyist, said he was embarrassed about the board’s vote and called a million-dollar pay increase “ludicrous.”
“If you read the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions report that became public on Friday, Oct. 13, it is clear that the NCAA questioned the credibility of UNC in their assertion that these courses were legitimate, which is a 180-degree change from their position when they embraced the Wainstein report,” Fetzer said, referring to the 2014 findings by the former federal prosecutor. “And assuming that the athletic director was complicit in UNC changing its story on these courses, it is a travesty to give him a raise.”
Haywood Cochrane, chairman of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Board of Trustees, said Cunningham was underpaid compared to other athletic directors at large universities. Cunningham’s salary before Friday’s vote was $705,853 – well above the salary of Chancellor Carol Folt.
“This was a reflection of the market, but he’s not at market,” Cochrane said. “He’s not even close.”
Board of Governors Chairman Lou Bissette said the compensation was akin to “golden handcuffs” to keep Cunningham in place.
In remarks to the board just before the vote, Folt made the case that Cunningham is highly sought after and a central figure in her leadership team.
“He has done some extraordinary things for which he is quite well-known nationally,” Folt said, citing academic performance goals in all coaches’ contracts and three years of a 3.0 grade point average among UNC athletes.
“He truly does believe in the scholar athlete,” she said.
Folt pointed out that Cunningham had turned down a lucrative offer from the University of Florida because he wanted to stay at UNC.
“He’s viewed as probably one of the top five athletic directors in the country right now,” she said. “So he’s on every short list.”
Campus officials said they would not release Cunningham’s contract until it is signed. Besides the deferred compensation, the package includes a 4.9 percent salary increase, Cochrane said.
That would put Cunningham’s annual salary at about $740,440.
The base salary for Debbie Yow, N.C. State University’s athletic director, is $690,000.
Staff writer Dan Kane contributed to this report.