The NCAA College Football National Championship semifinal games will soon kick off. While the action on the field is sure to be interesting, taxpayers should be paying attention to what’s happening on the sidelines. College football coaches are the highest paid public employees in the country.
Let’s look at these coaching matchups and consider the financial stakes. In the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida, No. 1 Alabama (13-0) takes on No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1). In the Cotton Bowl Classic in Arlington, Texas, two undefeated teams face off as No. 2 Clemson (13-0) plays No. 3 Notre Dame (12-0).
Our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com dug into the salaries of the head football coaches, their coordinators, and staff. Each school uses a different mix of public, taxpayer funding and private funding to pay massive six, seven, and even eight-figure salaries to their head coaches and staff.
Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Oklahoma Sooners
University of Alabama coaching staff payroll: $18.6 million.
Head coach Nick Saban made $11.7 million last year – that’s 29 times larger than the salary of any U.S. president. In our database
of 19 million public employee salaries, Saban out earned them all with the highest salary in the country. Adding up Saban's total cash compensation just since 2010, he's received $64 million. However, Saban's public service pension is capped at a pensionable salary limit of $270,000.
University of Oklahoma coaching staff payroll: $9.9 million. Head coach Lincoln Riley earned $4.8 million. Roughly two-thirds of his compensation counts towards his taxpayer-funded lifetime pension.
The assistant coaches at both schools do very well too. The nine assistants at Alabama collectively make $6 million. Offensive (Mike Locksley) and defensive (Tosh Lupoi) coordinators each bring in salaries exceeding $1 million. The pension rules in the different states vary, but all the coaches are members of the system.
Clemson Tigers vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
University of Clemson coaching staff payroll: $13.4 million. Head coach Dabo Swinney is the second highest paid coach in the country (behind Nick Saban) and makes $7.1 million. Clemson’s nine assistant coaches receive $6.3 million in pay. Brent Venables, the defensive coordinator, is a $2-million man and the second highest paid assistant in the country (behind one assistant coach at LSU). However, Clemson caps the accrual of retirement pensions for their coaches. Only $245,000 in base salary is eligible for the pension calculation.
University of Notre Dame coaching staff payroll: not disclosed.
As a private institution, salaries under the Golden Dome are not subsidized with public monies. The school is under no obligation to disclose its payroll. However, the university does disclose a salary of $2.1 million for head football coach Brian Kelly and a $1.6 million salary for the athletic director. Other than this, Notre Dame did not release any other coaching staff salaries on its most recent IRS 990 posted
at Charity Navigator.
We expect the administrators – and probably the fans – at Alabama, Clemson, and Oklahoma will argue that their coaches are worth the money… as long as they keep winning. After all, their football programs generate a positive income from operations.
These three universities did profit
from football: Oklahoma made $58.1 million (revenue: $95.9M, expenses: $37.8M); Alabama made $46 million (revenue: $108M, expenses: $62M); and Clemson made $7.8 million (revenue: $51.7M, expenses $43.9M).
Meanwhile, Notre Dame used zero public funds and made the most money from football: $63 million (revenue: $96.8M, expenses: $33.2M).
Yet, Alabama, Clemson, and Oklahoma have already spent their future football profits. In 2017, Bloomberg found
that Alabama football is built on a crippling debt and owes $225 million over the next 28 years in borrowed debt on their program. Oklahoma has roughly $110 million in debts to cover. Clemson tripled
its debt over the past decade, and now each student pays $1,414 to cover it.
To relieve the pressure, the Nick Sabans of the world better keep winning.
We live in a football-focused society where championships are purchased with taxpayer-guaranteed seven and eight figure salaries. But this spending comes at a price in the form of public pension promises and programs with crippling long-term quarter-billion dollar public debt obligations.
This year, Notre Dame seems to stand apart. The boys under the Golden Dome are undefeated and in the hunt for a national championship without long-term fiscal woes. Instead, the school has an $13.1 billion endowment and billions more in gross assets.
Perhaps it’s a fiscal and football miracle.