Is a college football coach worth $77 million dollars? If you think that figure is extreme, things get even more wild from here — would you pay a coach $77 million dollars to not coach? Amazingly, that is exactly what Texas A&M did with Jimbo Fisher after firing him this past weekend. Perhaps even crazier, if that is even possible, is the fact that Fisher’s team was 6-4 this year, suggesting that the team wasn’t even really that bad. Yes, Texas A&M just signed off to pay over $70 million dollars for a coach with an above .500 record to simply go away.
How did we get here?
Primarily because of amazingly lucrative television deals, college football has enjoyed a windfall of cash in recent years that never before existed in college sports. As these big dollars poured in, college coaches began to quickly enjoy 7-figure salaries, far more than even the presidents at their respective institutions earn. But it didn’t stop there, as these new revenues poured all the way through to assistant coaches, administrators, and even toward state-of-the-art new training facilities on campus. Previous fiscal challenges were solved seemingly overnight, and the money came in so fast it had to feel like monopoly money. Soon, colleges created the new market for coaches by spitballing outrageous amounts of money their way, setting the bar into the tens of millions of dollars toward coaches who previously earned but a mere fraction of that number. It’s also why a school like Texas A&M can fire a coach during a 6-4 season, and not think twice about casually giving him $77 million dollars to go away.
No, it’s not just the big name college coaches making millions of dollars, as even mediocre coaches today cash in, as do all their assistant coaches. Even strength coaches at some colleges now make over a million dollars in salary — yet not one academic on the same campus will approach that number in earnings. This trend shows no signs of changing any time soon, and if anything, will only lead to even greater revenues in the future.
Examining the role of student athletes
Ironically, while all this big money is pouring into college football teams across the country, the very “product” (i.e. student athletes) that make it all go is still the last to be paid. Student athletes are the reason why stadiums fill to capacity, and why television deals are so lucrative — not the coaches, new weight rooms, or anyone else on the sidelines. Without the talents of the student athletes on the field, none of the rest matters……no big television deals, no $100 million dollar coaching deals, and no $77 million dollar parachute settlements to make a coach go away. Not only do student athletes still lag behind on all of the riches, but they are also made to look greedy when they do secure an NIL deal, or transfer to another school in order to earn a few dollars for playing. While Jimbo Fisher will be viewed by fans as a smart guy to have made that much in a buy-out, many of those same fans will chastise student athletes for profiting from their Instagram, or signing some autographs down at the local car dealership.
Good for Jimbo Fisher that he scored a $77 million dollar buyout, as we are all worth what someone else will pay us. Will these revenues continue indefinitely, and if so, what impact will it have on coaches, student athletes, and the overall integrity of college “amateur” sports? Furthermore, will student athletes continue to be portrayed as greedy when they score an NIL deal, and coaches framed, in contrast, as savvy business men for signing their own big deals? And I wonder how the professors, administrators, and university presidents — many looking for their own deserved raises — will feel as they continue to see their respective universities give away tens of millions of dollars for coaches to go away?