Time to sideline coaches' salaries?

Former Alabama Crimson head coach Mike Shula

KAI RYSSDAL: Miami Dolphins head coach Nick Saban said today he's not interested in moving to the University of Alabama. Saban came up through the coaching ranks. But he doesn't want to go back. Even though it pays pretty well for mediocre performance. The Crimson Tide's looking for its fourth head coach in six years. Mike Shula was fired last week after a 6 and 6 season. Shula signed a contract extension last summer. Which means giving him the boot will cost Alabama $4 million. Our business-of-sports analyst Diana Nyad says that kind of thing's becoming a trend.

Hey Diana

DIANA NYAD: Kai, what's goin' on?

RYSSDAL: Well, as happens every year, every season, at the end of regular-season games, coaches get fired. Happens in baseball, happens in basketball, and now college football — lots of guys are leaving. But they're leaving with some walkin' around money.

NYAD: They are. It's such a revolving door. And, OK, if you were the AD at a university, let's say Miami, and your coach is a proven guy and he's doing pretty well but this year they're 6-6. So, OK, it's your money, you're allowed to say "You're out." But, now, what is the university saddled with? Three million bucks to pay off this guy's contracts. So what I don't understand is why they sign such longterm deals — five-year deals, often — when they know that after two years, if they don't like him, if the record isn't right up there they're going to get rid of him and they're going to have to pay that off. I don't get it.

RYSSDAL: Yeah, but if they do like him and if he wins, they got him.

NYAD: So it's the security of it. I guess you're right. And you know what the problem is, is that now they are in the marketplace with the NFL. It used to be quite separated and maybe after a long, storied career in college you'd move up to the pros. And, as a matter of fact, I mean, if we just look back a scant few years, 1999, there were five coaches at Division I level making over a million a year. Now 42 of them make over a million. Nine of them make over two million. A couple are in the three million mark. And I'm not saying they don't deserve the money. It's not a matter of that, it's a matter of whether you're a college professor, making 90K a year and you've spent all of your life in academia and you read that, OK, the football coach is bringing in a lot of money to the school. That's great. But not only does he make his $1.9 million salary, but now he's also got, you know, a free vacation for his family. And he's got, you know, a house paid for up at the top of the hill. And, you know, all the incentives. So the university professor says, Wait a second. Because he got the team to the bowl game he gets all these things? I thought that was his job. I don't get anything extra when my kids graduate summa cum laude.

RYSSDAL: Where does the extra money for the coaches come from? I mean, the salary comes from, in large degree the school, but what about the million-and-a-half bonus payment that you get for making the playoffs and, you know, the sideline deals? Where do all those things come from?

NYAD: Boosters, basically. And, honestly, when you say the salary largely comes from the school . . . honestly, it doesn't. Largely it comes from the multimedia deals. That's the new big deal on campuses. It comes from apparel deals. You know, the coach's sneaker contract is huge at this point. But the boosters, the local guy who went to University of Florida. He lives Gator. He breathes swamp air. And he is now the head of a huge real estate conglomerate and he spends more time raising money for the University of Florida football coaches. And, as a matter of fact, they will spend a great deal of time raising money just to get rid of a coach. Offensive coordinator at Florida State University's gonna make $107,000 a year till the year 2012 just because the boosters went out and got a little settlement deal ready for him. The offensive coordinator, Kai. Not even the head coach.

RYSSDAL: What do we do, though. I mean, is there an answer to spiraling coaches salaries. I mean, there are only a couple of people in the country who can run a Division I football team and get all that extra money for the school that funds co-ed naked tiddlywinks.

NYAD: Honestly, I think it's a clock that can't be unwound. The only thing I can understand, though, is maybe bringing back the incentives a little bit. You know, you get a big salary, great. Earn your money, but now you don't get another 1.5 million to get to the . . . you know, to win your conference. Another 2.5 million to get to the bowl game. You know, bring those incentives back down a little bit. I don't know why not.

RYSSDAL: Alright, we shall see. Diana Nyad and the business of sports. Thank you, Diana.

NYAD: Thank you, Kai.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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