Jim Knowlton quadrupled his salary — and then some — by leaving Air Force for California.
The academy has positioned itself to be more competitive in the compensation package it can offer its next athletic director.
Candidates for the position vacated by Knowlton in April interviewed this week. When a new hire officially takes the job, he or she will be paid through the Air Force Athletic Association Corp. instead of the government. The creation of the AFAAC in 2013 sprang from congressional legislation in 2009 that allowed service academies to outsource athletic business operations to allow them to keep pace financially with their peers. The AFAAC covers the salaries of most of Air Force’s coaches in revenue sports such as football and basketball, and that will be extended to the athletic director position.
The exact ways this will impact the responsibilities of the Air Force athletic director haven’t been made clear, and an inquiry from The Gazette to the academy has gone unanswered.
Two primary aims, according to sources, from the change are the freedom to pay beyond government scale and to allow the athletic director to be directly involved in fundraising as a representative of the 501(C)(3) corporation, a role that wasn’t allowed previously.
Knowlton was always joined by a representative of the AFAAC, so he could lay out his vision to prospective donors and then the representative could ask for a check.
While that change may be more subtle, the issue of compensation is not.
Knowlton earned an annual salary of roughly $170,000 at Air Force. At Cal, he earns, a base salary of $275,000, plus an annual talent fee of $395,000, according to information provided through an open records request filed by The Gazette. On top of that, he is eligible for well over $100,000 annually in incentive bonuses and would earn $670,000 in retention bonuses if he remains in his role through April 30, 2023.
Another comparison is the $2 million, five-year contract signed in December 2017 by Colorado State athletic director Joe Parker.
The salary of the new athletic director is unlikely to be revealed, as the AFAAC — like the corporations behind Army and Navy athletics — do not have to divulge that information and have utilized that opportunity to keep finances private.
The job posting for Air Force’s position specifies that “The Director of Athletics reports directly to the AFAAC Board of Directors and has a direct line of communication to the Superintendent of the Air Force Academy.”
The listing also mentions that the athletic director will provide direct leadership and oversight of “ticketed sports programs,” while serving in an “advisory role” to the remaining 22 Olympic sport programs.
Each Air Force athletic director has served while on active duty or following retirement from the military, but there is no mandate that that continue to be the case.
Falcons football coach Troy Calhoun has suggested several times that the new athletic director ought to be someone whose “background has been almost solely in intercollegiate athletics.”
“It’s pretty obvious just general criteria — he or she needs to be somebody who’s already been an athletic director,” Calhoun said. “I think that’s crucial. And at the FBS level. You get somebody who comes in here just because they’ve been at a strong academic school, it’s going to be a different language. Or somebody who was highly distinguished in missiles or flying F-16s or great, great servants to the country, to come in here, even if you’re a football player, I think you just aren’t … it’s apples and oranges when there’s any kind of dialogue.”
Col. Jen Block has served as athletic director at the academy in the months since Knowlton’s departure, making her the first female to serve in that capacity at a service academy.
There hasn’t been an official time frame to hire the new athletic director, though a spokesman indicated it could be done by the end of 2018.