TRISH

Tricia Binford has won 103 games in her Montana State tenure as the head coach of the women's basketball team.

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As the Montana Board of Regents convened for a third day in Butte on Thursday, a single spike in salary conjured up debate.

Most of Montana State University’s 7,000 employees are getting a 2 percent raise plus $500, starting on Oct. 1 and following the board’s approval. But the proposed raise Montana State offered head women’s basketball coach Tricia Binford stood out.

MSU proposed that Binford receive a 47.2 percent raise, from a base salary of $91,709 to $135,000. With the approval of Binford’s base salary, the eighth-year Bobcat head coach is the fourth-highest paid collegiate coach in Montana.

Montana State head football coach Rob Ash got a 2.32-percent raise to $158,671, making him Montana’s second-highest paid head coach. University of Montana football coach Mick Delaney’s salary is going from $157,050 to $160,691, making him the Treasure State’s highest paid coach. UM women’s basketball coach Robin Selvig got a raise from $141,895 to $145,233.

Montana State University President Waded Cruzado defended Thursday MSU’s decision to offer Binford a 47 percent raise, calling her “the winningest coach in the history of our school.”

The reason Binford’s raise looks large is that she started with a very low base salary, Cruzado said. She added that Binford’s successful eight-year career is a big part of the reason that MSU won the Big Sky President’s Cup — given to the league’s most successful athletic department as measured by academic and athletic successes — for only the second time in its history.

“She understands the students’ need to win on the court, in the classroom and in life,” Cruzado told the board.

This summer, Binford received three job offers from large regional schools, Cruzado said, including one where she has ties. She interviewed for the head-coaching job at Colorado State. The big pay jump was an effort to keep her from leaving. Cruzado said she had to act fast.

“I was placed in this very difficult situation: Should I not counter and risk losing her?” Cruzado said. “I would have gone out and spent a lot of money on a search and probably ended up paying the same to … a new and unproven candidate.”

Cruzado added that Binford is “still below her counterpart,” referencing Selvig, the longest-tenured college coach in the state. In 34 seasons at UM, Selvig has won 774 games, 22 conference championships and has taken the Lady Griz to the NCAA tournament 19 times.

Montana State athletic director Peter Fields said the rise in women’s college hoops played a factor. In her seven seasons leading the Bobcats, Binford has won 103 games. Binford’s squads have played for the Big Sky title twice in the last five seasons and have made six straight postseason appearances. MSU was 18-12 last season, finishing fifth in the Big Sky Conference. MSU defeated Montana before losing in the semifinals of the Big Sky tournament to Northern Colorado.

“Trish was approached by a couple of institutions to talk to them and those institutions hired at $150,000, so that’s what the market is,” Fields said. “Northern Arizona just hired at $150,000 for their women’s program. The percentage raise was to catch up with the market. The baseline has changed dramatically in women’s basketball.”

“She took over a program that had some challenges, and in the past six years, her teams have been in the top 12 in all of women’s college basketball in team grade-point average,” Fields continued. “She’s the winningest coach here, the longest-tenured coach here and her students do a great job off the court.”

In the classroom, the Bobcats have been ranked among the top 12 academic teams in the nation at the NCAA Division I level in five of the last six years. Within the community, the MSU women’s program gave more than 300 hours of service during 2011-12. Binford’s raise in salary comes with a new three-year contract.

“We have a lot that we still need to accomplish here,” Binford said. “We’ve gotten the program back with a strong foundation. Our kids are excelling off the court, in the community, in the classroom and now we have visions for what we are going to do in the Big Sky Conference and in the postseason. I’m grateful for the commitment Peter and President Cruzado have shown me and to my program.”

The Chronicle acquired financial reports from 11 of the 13 Big Sky Conference institutions earlier this month. Baseline salaries for individual coaches weren’t reported, but salaries plus school-allotted bonuses and incentives were listed. Selvig is the highest paid coach in the league. North Dakota pours $157,541 into head coaching for women’s hoops and Portland State puts in $153,954. Binford stands to earn more than $155,000 after bonuses. Eastern Washington is the league-low at $100,945.

Regent Pat Williams of Missoula supported Binford’s raise, saying it may take a 47 percent raise to get “women recognition for their value.” Regent Todd Buchanan of Billings cast the lone vote against the entire package of pay raises for campus administrators, for those professors who earned promotions, and for coaches, including Binford.

Buchanan said he is committed to keeping college affordable for students, and the raises would be paid for with the 10 percent jump in students’ tuition from two years ago. Regent Jeff Krauss of Bozeman spoke in favor of Binford’s raise, citing Title IX and calling it “a matter of equality with the men’s side.”

In fact, Binford now makes more in base salary than either Division I men’s basketball coaches in the state. MSU head coach Brad Huse got a 2.45-percent raise to $113,824. Huse’s team was 12-16 last season.

UM head coach Wayne Tinkle led the Griz to a school-record 25 wins. Montana won the Big Sky Conference tournament and played in the NCAA tournament last fall. Tinkle got a raise from $124,322 to $127,308.

“Any time a coach gets a contract extended again, it’s a positive for security reasons,” Binford said. “We always think about our families. And it’s crucial for recruiting. When I go into a home, I have to be able to tell a family this is where I want to be and what our vision is. Bozeman has done so much for us, my family, and it makes me so happy to know my future is here.”

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