With the first ever college football playoff national championship game just a week away, Americans are gearing up for a showdown between the Buckeyes of Ohio State and the Ducks of Oregon.
Both of these teams have experienced their fair share of success recently, and both schools reward their respective coaches accordingly.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has a base salary of about $4.5 million. According to USA Today’s Steve Berkowitz, he received a $50,000 bonus for his win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and stands to earn another $400,000 bonus if he can do it again in the championship next Monday.
His nine assistants are also getting a solid payday, netting nearly $1.3 million in bonuses for getting to the title game.
Not surprisingly, Urban Meyer is Ohio State’s highest paid employee. The second-highest paid employee is Thad Matta (Ohio State’s men’s basketball coach), with the women’s coach and sports director coming in 4th and 6th respectively.
In fact, it’s not until number eight on the list before you encounter the first actual educator: Michael Caligiuri, a Professor of internal medicine who directs OSU’s Comprehensive Cancer Center at the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (he is also CEO of the hospital and research institute).
Caligiuri’s salary? $808k, with $204k in potential bonuses.
Oregon’s Mark Helfrick – who became the Ducks’ head coach last season after spending three years at offensive coordinator – has a base salary of $2 million (the lowest of any of the four coaches who made it to the playoff).
According to ESPN, he stands to earn another $250,000 if he can pull off the victory. Helfrick received $25,000 for beating Florida State and has already racked up a total of $460,000 in bonuses.
Helfrick is not only the highest paid employee at the University of Oregon, he’s the highest paid public employee in the state of Oregon. The same is true for Meyer in Ohio, Jimbo Fisher in Florida and Nick Saban (who makes a whopping $7 million/year) in Alabama.
In fact, football coaches and basketball coaches are the highest paid state employee’s in 39 out of the 50 U.S. states according to Deadspin.
It’s worth noting, of course, that these athletic programs are often extremely lucrative, bringing in vast amounts of money for the universities.
It’s hard to say, however, just how much of that added value is a direct result of the coaches. Some people would argue that many coaches are simply reaping the benefits of programs that already have great recruiting as a result of past success.
As Deadspin’s Reuben Fischer-Baum points out,
“In 2011-2012, Mack Brown was paid $5 million to lead a mediocre 8-5 Texas team to the Holiday Bowl. The team still generated $103.8 million in revenue, the most in college football. You don’t have to pay someone $5 million to make college football profitable in Texas.”
There’s no arguing that college sports are a major source of revenue for big state universities, so I respect the views of those who argue that the people who lead these programs ought be paid well.
The problem is that virtually all of this revenue goes back into sports, with almost none of it going to actually improving academics at the universities.
If you examine the figures comparing revenues and expenses for major state university athletic programs, you see that costs tend to rise pretty much parallel to revenues. Both Ohio State and Alabama made more than $115 million on sports in 2008, but both schools put more than 99% of this money back into sports.
And when schools’ sports programs fall upon hard times, the schools are forced to spend millions of dollars subsidizing their programs to keep up in the national arms race for recruits.
Some schools – like UAB recently – have been forced to shut down their sports programs under the weight of this financial pressure. According to a press release from the school, UAB was subsidizing $20 million of the football program’s $30 million budget.
“As we look at the evolving landscape of NCAA football, we see expenses only continuing to increase. When considering a model that best protects the financial future and prominence of the athletic department, football is simply not sustainable,”
said UAB President Ray Watts in a statement discussing the decision to end the program.
According to a 2010 report from the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, Division-I universities and colleges spend roughly three to six times as much on athletics per athlete as they do on academics per student.
The ratio is highest in the football country of the SEC, where schools spend almost 11 times more on their athletes than on their students.
As a former collegiate athlete and lover of sports, I have no shame in admitting that I’ll be tuning in for the national championship game next Monday, or that I’ll be gorging myself on college hoops during March Madness.
But as much as we love our college sports, it’s necessary for us as a country to seriously consider the ways in which the ever-more-lucrative industry of intercollegiate athletics is shaping our institutions of higher learning.