B1G Money, Small Spenders?
In light of Bret Bielema’s departure to Arkansas and some telling me that assistant salary opportunities at Wisconsin had something to do with his decision, I thought I would look into the salary situation for assistant coaches throughout the Big Ten and compare them to those in the SEC.
The SEC is the best football league in the land; as much as I hate to type that, it’s indisputable right now. They ‘live where the food is’ as it relates to talent but they are also investing more money in their football programs.
While we can debate the merits of such spending, this item is not about such moralities or fiscal irresponsibilities. It’s about the college football cold war, or the arms race. Former Iowa Athletic Director and current Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby has repeated the following refrain for more than a decade:
Whether or not you like it, those are the facts.
The facts also suggest the Big Ten is not only lagging behind the SEC on the field but also in the arms race.
I took a look into some assistant coaching salary numbers for both leagues. Joe Rexrode and ESPN had done much of the heavy lifting last year in these two items: BIG TEN ESPN and Big Ten Joe Rexrode – SEC.
The Big Ten item was written in June of 2012 while the SEC item was written in December of 2011. The fact that the Big Ten’s numbers were more recent only reflects more ‘negatively’ on their position in the arms race.
I don’t want to sample too heavily from those items, so here are some things I drew from this exercise looking at their data and also performing some simple math (which is about all I am capable of):
-When looking at the Top 10 highest paid assistants in the SEC from 2011, only three Big Ten assistants would crack that year’s Top 10 from the SEC; Ohio State’s Luke Fickell and Michigan coordinators Greg Mattison and Al Borges. I also believe Fickell’s payday is in part for the work he did as a one-year interim after Jim Tressell was axed and the fact he was replaced by Urban Meyer. They are rewarding his loyalty to the program by paying him $750,000 as a defensive coordinator while paying their offensive coordinator Tom Herman $420,000. As for Michigan’s coordinators, the exponential increase in what the Wolverines are now paying their coordinators to what they had been doing traditionally is off the charts.
-LSU pays its quarterbacks coach $700,000 per year. That’s more many than every offensive or defensive coordinator in the Big Ten aside from Fickell and Mattison. There is also another word for that; insanity. There are 24 coordinators in the Big Ten, and LSU’s QB coach makes more than 22 of them.
-Purdue head coach Danny Hope was making just under $1 million per year in salary to coach the Boilermakers. Auburn paid 2011 Offensive Coordinator Gus Malzahn over $1.3 million to run the offense. That’s also more base salary than Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald and Minnesota’s Jerry Kill earn in base salary.
As it relates to money battles, the color is not green; it’s red, as in a blood bath.
Using the data from ESPN’s SEC & Big Ten items, here is the assistant salary pool for SEC & Big Ten teams listed in millions and how they would rank as a collective:
1. Auburn: $4.2
2. LSU: $3.75
3. Alabama: $3.67
4. Ohio State: $3.22
5. Tennessee: $3.17
6. Florida: $3.08
7. Michigan: $2.75
8. Georgia: $2.66
9. Ole Miss: $2.43
10: South Carolina: $2.38
11: Illinois: $2.31
12: Arkansas: $2.26
13: Kentucky: $2.20
14: Michigan State: $2.18
15: Iowa: $2.16
16: Nebraska: $2.13
17: Mississippi State: $2.0 (last in the SEC)
18: Wisconsin: $1.97
19: Indiana: $1.96
20: Minnesota: $1.75
21: Purdue: $1.61
Northwestern and Vanderbilt’s totals were not listed as they are private institutions. Penn State also gets by with not having to make their records public and you’d assume they would be in the upper half of this list but perhaps not in the Top 10.
While one could argue the Big Ten is being more reasonable with such expenditures, we’re still talking about a lot of money. The SEC’s expenditures are far and away outstripping the Big Ten.
By and large, Big Ten schools compete against Big Ten schools on the field, so they shouldn’t be preoccupied with trying to keep pace with another league they typically only see in the Bowl season. Yet much of the nation’s college football talent lives in SEC country. That’s not to say that the best coaching is in the SEC because they pay more, or rather that you can’t get good coaches in the Big Ten because they have paid less. However, the term ‘brain drain’ does come to mind. We’ve seen it in this country as it relates to job availability and population migration; perhaps we’ll see that in college athletics on a larger scale as time goes by.
All that said, does it ‘have’ to be this way? Can Big Ten schools pay more if their institutions have that sort of will? Once again, the only thing worse than being in the arms race is not being in the arms race.
I wrote about some of the financial aspects of the Big Ten in this item published Thursday morning.
In 2011, five of the Top 12 highest revenue generating athletic departments come from the Big Ten (Wisconsin is 11th, Iowa is 12th). Iowa was at $93.35 million.
An ESPN item from Wednesday speculated that the new Big Ten media rights deal to be negotiated in 2017 could yield $40 million per Big Ten school per year. That’s up roughly $16 million per year from where it is right now and where it is right now is a larger per school payout than any other conference gets from its media rights, including the SEC.
On its face, those numbers say the Big Ten schools have the money to lift their assistant coaches coffers by a great deal. One thing to remember in all of this is that Big Ten athletic departments are funding more sports programs than most SEC athletic departments fund.
For example, Alabama is the highest revenue generating athletic department in the SEC and #3 in FBS. The Alabama Athletic Department funds 15 programs. Indiana is the 10th in the Big Ten in athletic department revenues and they fund 22 sports. Iowa’s athletic department also funds 22 sports.
That right there is an enormous aspect to factor in to all of this and why one cannot just look at overall revenues generated and draw a conclusion that the Big Ten is being cheap compared to the SEC. The Big Ten affords more students an opportunity to compete and earn scholarships than do SEC schools.
The old saying that football is king in the south is true in nearly every sense of the word.
But if the Big Ten Network starts handing over another $16 million per year per school to its members? That’s a ton of dough and there should be two beneficiaries; football programs and lifelines to non-revenue (or Olympic) sports. Big Ten schools should not have to cut any sports ever again while still having money left over to invest into football which is the engine that drives each and every one of their athletic programs.
In 2011, Indiana’s football program generated revenues of $8,960,406. Indiana has the worst environment for football in the Big Ten and the worst fan support of the 11 public institutions. Yet in the same year, their basketball program generated revenues of $8,916,213. Football is king in the Big Ten, too. (By the way, Kansas’s basketball program generates roughly $4mil more per year than its football program). Michigan State’s basketball program generates roughly $7.8 million while the football program is consistently north of $26 million in revenues.
These numbers aren’t even close in SEC. Seven of the Top 11 top earning sports programs in FBS are SEC football programs, with South Carolina at 11th at over $35.4 million; they fund 18 sports programs, four fewer than Iowa and Indiana.
So are Big Ten programs small spenders? No, they are not. They give more students a chance to participate in more sports by funding more programs. SEC athletic departments fund fewer sports programs and place far more emphasis on their football programs, who receive far more shiny & nice things.
The new Big Ten media rights deal could be a boost for Big Ten schools in this arms race. Then again, the SEC is likely going to create its own television network which will generate each one of those schools more money they can spend on football.
What seems out of control right now is only going to get worse.