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College football coaches' salaries are crazy, but it's money well spent

I can’t condemn such largesse. I figure Bob Stoops and Nick Saban have 45, or 68, times as much responsibility as the average college professor. Win the Sugar Bowl. Keep the fans happy so the coffers stay full. Keep your players academically eligible and off the police blotter.
by Berry Tramel Published: June 5, 2014

TULSA — Nick Saban, owner of a two-game losing streak, received a pay raise the other day. The Alabama football coach now is making $6.8 million a year, plus a variety of bonus possibilities.

One notable sports business analyst says it’s money well spent.

“The business model seems to work for them, so I don’t know what the issue would be,” said Bob Stoops, business marketing major, University of Iowa, 1983.

Stoops, of course, dabbles in football, too, coaching a squad that famously beat Saban’s Crimson Tide 45-31 in the Sugar Bowl five months ago. OU pays Stoops a princely sum; $4.5 million for the upcoming season.

College football salaries are getting crazier and crazier. Upwards of a million dollars a year for some assistant coaches. Many times that for coaches at big-time programs.

Here’s the conundrum. Such salaries are unseemly on a college campus. Paying a college football coach 68 times, or 45 times, as much as a physics professor just doesn’t seem right amid the ivory towers.

But I can’t condemn such largesse. I figure Stoops and Saban have 45, or 68, times as much responsibility as the average prof. Win the Sugar Bowl. Keep the fans happy so the coffers stay full. Keep your players academically eligible and off the police blotter.

Heck, let’s go off campus. Stoops’ salary is in the neighborhood of Scotty Brooks’ reported annual salary to coach the Thunder. Who has the tougher job?

Brooks’ responsibilities are to keep Russell Westbrook reigned in, get Kevin Durant open shots and know when to replace Thabo Sefolosha with Jeremy Lamb. No 2 a.m. phone calls when Kendrick Perkins’ party down in Beaumont gets so wild the cops are called. No having to run Hasheem Thabeet because he didn’t make a community appearance at a local school.

Stoops has to make sure Trevor Knight throws straight, Zack Sanchez remembers the right coverage and Sterling Shepherd can block the strong safety on a sweep. And deal with the 2 a.m. phone calls, and the players who skip class, and befriend the big donors who keep the brick and mortar and massive paychecks flowing.

Sure, the NBA is big business. But so is college football, despite anything you hear to the contrary.

The Iowa business marketing grad points out that Saban’s check — or his own — isn’t likely to bounce anytime soon. Saban’s salary isn’t crazy if you compare it to what ’Bama makes off football.

“When you compare it to what maybe they bring in, probably not,” Stoops said. “Compare it to what they were bringing in before he got there and before the program’s doing what it is now. Business is business. I don’t think anybody pays something that they’re not able to afford, or that doesn’t put them in a positive position. That’s in all businesses.”

The Saban story at Alabama is the Stoops story at Oklahoma. OU’s athletic department was losing money before Stoops’ 1998 arrival. Losing ballgames and hemorrhaging cash. That changed and changed quickly.

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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