In America, the start of football season has become as synonymous with fall as the changing of the leaves. Many central Ohio fans have been eagerly anticipating a championship season from their beloved Buckeyes. The Buckeyes went undefeated last season, and expectations have only increased for the team under second-year Coach Urban Meyer after an undefeated start to this season. But, football season also ushers in a furious debate over compensation at the top levels of major college football.
With state budgets seeming to shrink every year, a great deal of media and public scrutiny has been directed toward the salaries that top college coaches earn. Coaches such as Meyer, who must oversee enormous football programs, have drawn scrutiny for raking in millions of dollars in compensation while many universities and state institutions must make crippling cuts. Common complaints from detractors usually stem from the belief that the highest paid state employee shouldn’t be a football coach. Furthermore, some believe that the $4.15 million that Meyer is scheduled to make in 2013 could be better spent elsewhere.
But, I would argue that large contracts such as Meyer’s are simply the cost of doing business in today’s world of major college football. I believe that the immense amount of revenue and profit that the OSU football program generates for the university definitively justifies Meyer’s salary. For example, in 2010, the football program generated just under $52 million in revenue and a whopping $39.2 million in profit for the Athletic Department. This money is an irreplaceable part of the Athletic Department’s yearly budget, with the football program alone generating 71 percent of all revenue brought in by OSU sports.
Also, the Athletic Department posts less than a $100,000 profit with the money from the football program, meaning that without the added revenue the department would be running at close to a $40 million dollar deficit. The money raised from the football program goes to funding the non-profitable sports at Ohio State, which are every sport except football and men’s basketball. The money brought in allows these other athletes to enjoy their scholarships and some of the finest facilities in college sports.
But how much does the head coach really have to do with these revenues you may ask? Everything. The head coach of a major football program is the equivalent to the CEO, talent recruiter, PR specialist, fundraiser, and more for a large company. A successful head coach must work tirelessly to sign the best players, develop these players, game plan, keep the players in line, succeeding academically and attempt to prepare them for life after football.
Coaches are also faced with terribly difficult decisions daily that could change the fate of the program, or even land the coach in hot water, like when former coach Jim Tressel failed to report a violation and was eventually fired because of it. But, above all else, a coach must win, and win big, or risk losing his job just as quickly as he was hired. In recent years coaches have been fired after just one year on the job, with many schools overlooking infractions because of how many wins the coaches brought in. My rationale is simple, a football program will not be successful for long without an excellent coach, and if a football team begins to lose, it will bring in less money for the university; therefore, colleges should be willing to pay the high costs of salaries today because the profits greatly outweigh the costs.
Furthermore, a fair amount of the $4.0 million Meyer made last season came from sources other than Ohio State. Meyer’s base salary was $700,000. $1.85 million came from his media responsibilities and $1.4 million from the university’s contract with Nike. The latter two payments both come from sources that the school also profits from, sources of funding that again wouldn’t be as readily available if the university didn’t have a first-rate coach.
A majority of Meyer’s other perks are pretty common in sports, including a monthly stipend for cars, a golf club membership, a suite and tickets to home games and other perks. But, some of the compensation bonuses in the contract also benefit the school. For example, if OSU wins a national championship Meyer will receive $250,000, a reasonable sum that the school would be more than happy to pay. Other bonuses include the challenge of motivating the student-athletes in the classroom as well. In 2011, the team grade point average was roughly a 2.8; but, Meyer can earn anywhere from $50,000-$150,000 dollars based on improvements of the team’s GPA, anywhere from a collective 3.0-3.5 GPA. This is another bonus that Ohio State would love to pay Meyer.
But, the hardest part of the job may be those tough decision Meyer is forced to make. This was never more apparent than earlier this season, when it was reported that starting running back Carlos Hyde was under investigation for allegedly striking a woman in the face at a local bar, even though he was never charged. Starting cornerback Bradley Roby also was arrested at a bar in the offseason. Meyer suspended both players, Hyde for three games and Roby for one. While Meyer was applauded for being tough on players who miss behave, if Ohio State would have lost as a result of not having these players he would have been vilified. The job of a major college coach is truly a tough gig despite the excellent compensation.