Pay College Football Players Rather Than Spending Millions on College Coaches

Elite college football coaches are the biggest beneficiaries of the NCAA’s prohibition of salaries or stipends for college football players.  College football is a big business generating billions of dollars per year in television revenue.  The way to build a better college football program is not to buy better players, because that is prohibited.  The way to become a college football power is to attract one of the best coaches who will assemble a highly paid staff and use millions of dollars in resources to recruit players by offering them non-wage benefits.  Top coaches are incredibly expensive because they can deliver the best players.  It is time for college presidents to face the truth, eliminate the coach as middleman and pay college football players directly.

Nick Saban, coach of the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide, is the highest paid coach in college football earning over $5 million per year.  He also lives and works in Tuscaloosa, Alabama where housing costs $92 per square foot.  In other words, Saban’s annual pre-tax salary is enough to purchase 57,609 square feet of housing every year making him the highest paid coach in college football.  Based on the median size of a new home in the U.S., Saban’s salary would purchase 26.56 new homes per year or a new home every two weeks.

The table below shows the salaries of the coaches of the top 25 ranked teams in the country going into this weekend.  The average coach of a ranked team earns enough (before taxes) each year to buy 11.85 per year.  Using this metric the lowest paid coach in this group is Stanford’s David Shaw whose pre-tax salary would just be enough to purchase one home per year in Palo Alto.  Measured relative to housing costs Saban’s salary is 26 times higher than Shaw’s.

Coach School Relative Salary(# homes/yr) Rank
Nick Saban Alabama Crimson Tide 26.56 1
Bob Stoops Oklahoma Sooners 24.77 13
Brian Kelly Notre Dame Fighting Irish 20.64 7
Mark Richt Georgia Bulldogs 20.37 14
Will Muschamp Florida Gators 16.62 4
Les Miles LSU Tigers 16.35 9
Steve Spurrier South Carolina Gamecocks 13.56 3
Jimbo Fisher Florida State Seminoles 12.35 12
Dan Mullen Mississippi State Bulldogs 12.23 19
Urban Meyer Ohio State Buckeyes 11.60 8
Chris Kelly Oregon Ducks 11.44 2
Kevin Sumlin Texas A&M Aggies 11.27 22
Charlie Strong Louisville Cardinals 11.07 18
Bill Snyder Kansas State Wildcats 11.01 6
Lane Kiffin USC Trojans 10.87 11
Chris Peterson Boise State Broncos 9.81 24
Dabo Swinney Clemson Tigers 9.32 16
Mack Brown Texas Longhorns 9.10 15
Brady Hoke Michigan Wolverines 8.35 25
Butch Jones Cincinnati Bearcats 7.83 21
Dana Holgerson West Virginia Mountaineers 6.90 5
Mike Riley Oregon State Beavers 5.50 10
Kyle Flood Rutgers Scarlet Knights 4.02 20
Sonny Dykes Louisiana Tech Bulldogs 3.75 23
David Shaw Stanford Cardinal 1.03 17

75 college football coaches earn at least one million dollars per year because of lucrative TV contracts for their schools.  As noted above, the NCAA prohibition on payments or stipends to players means that competition for players and recruits inflates coaches’ salaries.  College presidents would rather pay high salaries to coaches than allow direct payments to players.  Nick Saban, Bob Stoops, Brian Kelly and other top coaches earn economic rents because of the restrictions on payments to players.  Rival programs could compete more effectively with Alabama, Oklahoma and Notre Dame if they could pay recruits.  This type of direct competition for recruits would drive up salaries of college athletes and drive down the salaries of college coaches.  College presidents should be honest with the public, admit that college football is a big business, and stop funneling the revenue generated by players to college football coaches.  Pay the players directly.  It is more efficient than paying millions of dollars per year to coaches and recruiters.

Note: Housing prices in college towns are from the Wall Street Journal and Trulia.  Coaches’ salaries are from Coaches’ Hot Seat.

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