SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The head coach with the most wins in women’s basketball in the Summit League gets paid less than his men’s team counterpart, according to an open records website in South Dakota.

Aaron Johnston is the head coach of the South Dakota State University women’s basketball team. His base salary is $290,000 a year, according to the open records website for the state.

The base salary for the SDSU men’s basketball coach, Eric Henderson, is $325,000, according to the same website.

As the Summit League’s men’s and women’s basketball championships start this week, KELOLAND News took a look at coaching salaries and scholarship levels for teams that play basketball in the league. Requests for head coach salary, assistant staff size and salary, and scholarship amounts and levels were requested of all universities that participate in the Summit League. Of the public universities, SDSU and the University of Nebraska Omaha did not respond by the deadline. SDSU cited state law, which said it has up to 10 business days to respond. The request was made on Thursday, Feb. 23. Of the private universities, only St. Thomas responded with brief statements. Oral Roberts and The University of Denver did not respond.

2020 Summit League Tournament in Sioux Falls
2020 Summit League Tournament in Sioux Falls

When the salaries of head men’s and women’s basketball coaches in the Summit League are compared, head coaches of men’s basketball teams make more.

But coaches may get paid more than the base salary.

“You may have incentives if they do well on a performance level, both athletic or academic,” said Nate Davis, the athletic director for Northern State University, a Division II university in Aberdeen.

With Division I, it is more common for coaches to have a radio show or similar for which they may be compensated, Davis said.

So, while a base salary may list a dollar figure, the actual compensation earned could be larger.

Basketball coach salaries in Summit League

For this illustration, base salaries are used for comparison.

This is Johnston’s 23rd season as head coach of the Jackrabbit women. Henderson is in his fourth season as head coach of the Jackrabbit men. Based on the SDSU website, Henderson had no Division I head coaching experience before SDSU.

There’s less of a base salary gap between the men’s head basketball coach and the women’s head basketball coach at the University of South Dakota. The men’s basketball coach at USD has a base salary of $276,475 and the women’s coach has a base salary of $275,000. The salaries are for fiscal year 2022.

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Women’s basketball coach Kayla Karius is in her first year as head coach. The USD position is the first head coaching job for Karius, who served as an assistant at Division 1 Drake University and the University of Wisconsin before USD. She was also an assistant at USD from 2016-2018.

Men’s coach Eric Peterson is also in his first year as head coach at Division I. Peterson was an assistant at Utah State and Utah for former USD coach Craig Smith prior to coming to USD.

The base salary for the men’s basketball coach at North Dakota State University is $258,825. The base salary for the women’s coach is $168,211. Those are for 2022-2023.

Jory Collins started as the women’s head coach in 2019. He spent one year as an assistant at the University of Kansas. He was also the head coach at Emporia State at the Division II level for eight years.

Men’s coach David Richman is in his eighth year. His record was 136-87 through seven seasons. The Bison have made the NCAA Tournament three times and played in five Summit League Tournament championship games during his time at NDSU.

Paul Sather, the head men’s basketball coach at the University of North Dakota has a base salary of $195,00. Sather was named head coach in May 2019. He has not had a winning record from 2019-2020 through 2021-2022. Prior to UND, Sather had seven straight winning seasons at Division II Northern State University and was a national championship runner up once.

Women’s coach Mallory Bernhard was the interim head coach in 2020 and was named the head coach in March 2021. She spent several years as an associate head coach at UND prior to becoming head coach. Her salary is $160,000.

Rob Jeter has been the head men’s basketball coach at Western Illinois University since March 2020. His base salary pay is $286,344. The team was .500 in 2021-2022.

Jeter was the head coach at Division I University Wisconsin-Milwaukee from 2005-2016 where he had an overall record of 185-170. After Milwaukee, he was an assistant at the University of Nevada Las Vegas and the University of Minnesota.

The base pay for women’s basketball coach JD Gravina is $250,191. The most recent winning season was 2017-2018. Before Western Illinois, Gravina was the head coach at Quincy where he had an overall record of 93-28 and made three trips to the NCAA Division II National Tournament.

The men’s basketball coach at the University of Missouri Kansas City has a salary of $350,000 a year. Marvin Menzies is in his first season as the head coach. Menzies has been a head coach at New Mexico and the University of Nevada Las Vegas. He was most recently an associate head coach at Grand Canyon University in 2019-2020.

Dionnah Jackson-Durrett became the head coach of the women’s basketball team in March of 2022. Prior to UMKC, she was the associate head coach at Texas for two seasons. Her other coaching positions from 2010 to 2022 include Mississippi State. Her base salary is $275,000.

Why does pay differ?

So why are men’s head basketball coaches paid more than women’s head basketball coaches?

Differing pay would seem to be covered under the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) and other provisions for college athletics including Title IX.

The EPA “prohibits sex-based wage discrimination between men and women in the same establishment who perform jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility under similar working conditions,” according to the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.

Athletic departments may be using EPA as a foundation to evaluate job skills, responsibilities and other factors to determine coaching pay.

There are also other factors influencing pay.

“The overall college market is the initial benchmark for salaries we use and then we look within the Summit League and Missouri Valley Football Conference for the secondary benchmark. Success of program, roster size, revenue generation abilities all factor into the equation,” said David Herbster, the athletic director at the University of South Dakota.

The market benchmark and analysis is used by colleges around the U.S.

AthleticDirectorU discusses how to use analytics, including the market, to determine salaries, bonuses and similar.

A business call Winthrop Intelligence touts its WINAD program which it says helps athletic directors and departments “efficiently review and evaluate coaches through custom queries to optimize talent management within your athletic department.”

An analysis shared in March of 2019 by the Boston Bar Association discussed a new Massachusetts state law called the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act. It said that “many schools have opted to forgo the time-consuming and complicated in-house analyses of comparable work across sports and have focused instead on market-based pay systems that determine compensation for coaches of particular teams based primarily on market data reflecting salaries paid to coaches of those teams at other colleges and universities.”

The Women’s Sports Foundation said in study updated in 2016 that more “consistent, gender-neutral employment systems specific to coaches working in educational institutions” need to be established.

Even with analysis and similar, are gaps in head coaching salaries legal?

“In short, the legal analysis/assessment is substantially more complex than it may appear on its face,” Nathan Lukkes, the general counsel for the South Dakota Board of Regents, said in email answers to questions from KELOLAND News.

“From a legal authority standpoint, Title IX, Title VII, or the Equal Pay Act (EPA) are most frequently cited as the foundation for sex-based pay disparity claims in athletics, with the EPA being most applicable from a practical standpoint, followed by Title VII, and Title IX being least relevant in this area,” Lukkes said.

Analysis and research shared by legal analysts that discuss EPA disparity claims often do so terms of women because as a general rule, a female head coach is often the coach of a women’s team.

The NCAA said on March 1 that 25% of all head coaches at the NCAA level are women. That is a 2% growth from 2011-2012 to 2021-2022. The percentage reached 25% in 2017-2018.

While pay disparity claims may often involve women, there are claims filed by men who were coaching women’s sports.

Lukkes said there are specific pieces to using EPA in pay disparity claims.

“Under the EPA there are two general components, the first being to identify male/female comparators that are paid differently for performing substantially equal jobs (i.e., establish a prima facie case). While that prong may seem relatively straightforward, there are various considerations or factors that go into determining whether the jobs are, in-fact, substantially equal,” Lukkes said in the email.

“As an example, the head coach for men’s basketball and the head coach for women’s basketball at the same institution may not be considered substantially equal jobs under the law. They could be, but the determination isn’t as simple as simply looking at the title,” he said.

“If one establishes a prima facie case (i.e., you satisfy the first prong), the burden would then shift to the employer to show that one of the recognized affirmative defenses applies (i.e., differential pay is based on: (1) a seniority system, (2) a merit system, (3) a system which measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, or (4) a differential based on any other factor other than sex,” Lukkes said.  

The EEOC has a lengthy description and many examples of applying EPA.

Seven head coaches of basketball in the Summit League are women.

The NCAA Division III had the highest number of female head coaches at 26% with 25% at Division I and 22% at Division II.