It also angered state lawmakers who criticized the Longhorns for increasing Barnes' salary at a time when the Texas budget crisis may lead to deep cuts to higher education.
One Republican state senator called it "nuts." Another described it as "not appropriate." Democratic state Sen. Kirk Watson, whose district includes the Texas campus, summed up the position of his colleagues when he told the Associated Press the raise suggests regents are "tone deaf" to the budget shortfall.
"I'm a big fan of UT basketball and coach Barnes," Watson said. "But at a time when everyone up here is fighting to come up with money to pay for education, it was disappointing."
It's understandable that Texas lawmakers would be sensitive to frivolous spending at a time when a budget shortfall estimated anywhere from $15 billion to $27 billion may slash funding for universities and tuition programs for poorer students. Nonetheless, their anger is misplaced in this case because Barnes' raise does not come from taxpayer money.
The Texas athletic department, one of the most profitable and successful in the nation, is entirely self-sustaining, according to school officials. Money for everything from coaching salaries, to new facilities, to charter flights comes from income generated from the Longhorns football and men's basketball programs in the form of TV revenue, ticket and merchandise sales, or alumni donations.
Barnes' raise boosted his salary to $2.4 million annually, making him among the nation's 10 highest-paid college basketball coaches but nowhere close to No. 1. According to a USA Today report from March, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski makes $4.2 million and Kentucky's John Calipari makes $3.9 million.
An elite athletics program is important to a university as a whole because winning teams generate volumes of publicity for the university, inspire donations from alumni and even increase the number of students applying for admission. When George Mason made the Final Four in 2006 for example, admissions inquiries rose 350 percent, active alumni increased 25 percent and a study estimated the school reaped more than $677 million in free media coverage.
In the case of Texas, the value of a top-notch sports program is even more apparent. ESPN recently agreed to pay the university $300 million over 20 years to launch the Longhorn Network, the first-ever network devoted entirely to sports, cultural and academic content from one school.
Barnes' basketball program is one reason the network received such a lucrative offer since the Longhorns have made the NCAA tournament in each of the coach's 13 seasons in Austin.
It's fair to question whether Barnes' history of underachieving in the NCAA tournament makes him worthy of a top-10 salary. It's also fair to question whether college coaches should be earning more than school presidents do.
But like it or not, Texas is paying market value right now for a top college basketball coach. And as long as that salary isn't coming from taxpayer money, it's difficult to find merit in the Texas lawmakers' complaints.