“What the Data Say”
College football’s shameless silly season
College football has four seasons—chronologically, the offseason, the football season, the few weeks after the season, and then the bowl season. Some of us label that period between the end of the season and the bowl season the “silly season.”
That is a nice name for that time of year in college football. I could think of worse words to call this period when major football universities participate in a sickening spectacle of outbidding each other to ridiculous heights to employ a new head coach. This recent season saw college football reach a new low as it established a new high in guaranteed salaries for some coaches.
Once upon a time, the top football-coaching job in the country—collegiate or professional–was probably head coach at Notre Dame. But in this silly season, we saw the Notre Dame head coach leave for LSU. Brian Kelly’s new contract at LSU is for $95 million over ten years.
During this silly season, other new contracts included Mario Cristobal ($80 million over ten years at the University of Miami), Mel Tucker ($95 million over ten years to stay at Michigan State), and James Franklin ($85 million ten-year extensions to remain at Penn State).
Lincoln Riley made $7.67 million for the 2021 season at the University of Oklahoma but still left for USC. However, we do not know his salary at USC, a private school, which is not required to reveal such information. But we can guess it is a lot more than $7.67 million.
None of the boondoggles mentioned above matches what the University of Alabama pays its head coach, Nick Saban. Before the 2021 season started, Saban signed an eight-year contract averaging $10.6 million per year.
His contract includes incentives for winning the SEC championship ($125,000), appearing in the College Football Playoffs ($400,000), and for reaching the national championship game ($600,000), each of which he has already accomplished. In addition, he gets another $200,000 should Alabama win the title game.
We are a long way from when Bear Bryant was discussing his first contract to coach Alabama.
The administration asked, “How much are we going to have to pay you, Bear?” Bear famously responded by asking how much the president of the University made. “Well, pay me what you pay him. I should not make more than that.”
Yes, we are a long way from that time. For example, most college presidents make less than $1 million a year. That amount would not get you a top assistant football coach nowadays.
College football has long ceased being anything but big business. Big-time programs generate millions of dollars in revenue. Twenty teams earn over $100 million a year. The problem here is not just that coaches get paid exorbitant amounts. It is the fact that coaches are paid so excessively while the athletes—the ones generating the revenue–get a pittance (tuition, room, and board), considering the hours worked.
Everyone gets paid but the athlete.
Please do not be swayed by the decisions (pushed by the states) to let players earn money using their name, image, and likeness (NIL). That is a weak solution to the problem at hand. For example, a report by a Maryland business magazine last fall showed the average deal for a University of Maryland athlete to be worth $745 per player. And only 11 percent of the arrangements for athletes were valued at more than $1,000.