If Mark Dantonio were to resign tomorrow as football coach at Michigan State, not only would he surrender a multimillion dollar salary, but he’d also lose the perks that come with his contract — reimbursement for a golf club membership, the use of two automobiles, $100,000 a year from MSU’s athletic apparel supplier, and 25 hours of airtime on a private jet.
But if Dantonio agreed to step down from his post and not to coach at the NFL or college level, his contract states that he would remain on Michigan State’s payroll for two years at $200,000 a year.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has a clothing allowance of $4,000 written into his contract. That’s a lot of khaki pants and navy blue block-M sweatshirts.
Kirk Ferentz receives a bonus of at least $125,000 a year if the Hawkeyes are ranked in the Associated Press top 25 football poll, according to his contract.
The Hawkeyes finished No. 9 in the AP top 25, earning Ferentz an extra $250,000.
Iowa also pays for Ferentz’s wife to travel to games, as stipulated in his contract.
As college football salaries inflate, the coaches aren’t just rewarded in dollars and cents.
They’re given lucrative fringe benefits such as moving expenses, housing stipends, country club memberships, and even post-career financial security outside of the millions of dollars they earn.
A review of 12 of the 14 contracts for Big Ten college football coaches in 2015 — obtained through the Freedom of Information Act or open-records requests by The Blade — found a range of perks for coaches.
Two contracts were not available: Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald and Penn State coach James Franklin. Both schools are exempt from open-records laws.
Those perks amount to a sliver of the profitable salaries that coaches earn, a byproduct of rising revenue streams and an athletic department’s status as a nonprofit entity, meaning money must be put back into the program.
“It’s a highly competitive market,” said Donna Lopiano, the president and founder of Sports Management Resources and the former CEO of the Women in Sports Foundation. “They’re trying to put together the most attractive compensation and benefits package to keep certain employees. In that market, it’s an arms race, and people are trying to beat their brothers. There might be a friend of the athletic department giving the use of a dealer car to a coach. There may be some alumni who owns a country club and donates a membership. That’s where it started, and that’s where the athletic department assembles the goodies that are given.”
When Joe Paterno became head coach at Penn State in 1966, his initial salary was $20,000 a year. When he was fired in 2011, Paterno earned more than $1 million annually, according to a tax report released by Penn State.
Most of the country’s highest paid state employees aren’t school presidents or heads of state hospital systems. They’re college football or basketball coaches.
Brian M. Ingrassia, an assistant professor of history at West Texas A&M, pointed to two instances that caused the sea change in college football: Texas A&M’s hiring of Jackie Sherrill in 1982, and a 1984 Supreme Court anti-trust ruling that allowed conferences and universities to negotiate their own million-dollar television deals.
Texas A&M hired Sherrill from Pittsburgh and gave him a six-year, $1.7 million contract, a total that, at the time, Ingrassia said, was “obscene.”
The 1984 federal ruling gave the schools more financial latitude, yet in his dissent, Supreme Court Justice Byron White wrote that “the NCAA’s member institutions have designed their competitive athletic programs to be a vital part of the educational system.
“Deviations from this goal, produced by a persistent and perhaps inevitable desire to ‘win at all costs,’ have in the past, led, and continue to lead, to a wide range of competitive excesses that prove harmful to students and institutions alike.”
White, a former University of Colorado football player, had a certain foresight: The rich got richer. So did the coaches. While coaches are considered at-will employees whose job security — or lack thereof — is contingent upon wins and losses, the behavior of their players and coaching staff or their ability to follow NCAA rules — coaching salaries and fringe benefits are unregulated; to regulate that realm would be a violation of anti-trust laws.
“Coaches realized, we can make more money at other schools, with free enterprise, and universities can tap into that money,” Ingrassia said. “It was the convergence of these two factors that opened the floodgates.”
Salary and more
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer will earn an average of $6.5 million a year through 2020 and is the nation’s second-highest paid college football coach behind Alabama’s Nick Saban. OSU president Michael Drake, meanwhile, earned $1.02 million in 2015, including a base salary of $800,000.
Harbaugh was the highest-paid state employee in Michigan in 2015, earning a base salary of $500,000 and additional compensation of $4.5 million. Even in a state whose population is a fraction of Michigan, Rhode Island men’s basketball coach Dan Hurley makes $627,500 a year, and his salary will be bumped to $1 million in 2017.
Their perks are just as good: clothing, housing, cell phone stipends, golf club memberships, even tuition breaks for their immediate family.
Purdue coach Darrell Hazell has a membership to the Lafayette (Ind.) Country Club; a full membership, according to the club’s website, costs between $3,300 and $4,900 annually.
Coaches are also reimbursed for cell phone plans and personal transportation. According to a memorandum of understanding, Maryland coach D.J. Durkin receives an annual cell phone allowance of $1,440 and a monthly car allowance of $1,000.
Coaches earn bonuses for more than just making the AP top 25. At Minnesota, Tracy Claeys will earn a bonus of $75,000 if Minnesota draws an average of 49,000 fans for its 2016 home games. According to the school, Minnesota had an average attendance of 52,354 for seven home games in 2015 at TCF Bank Stadium.
At Rutgers, first-year coach Chris Ash earns $50,000 if his team has a minimum multiyear Academic Progress Rate score of 960. The APR is a metric the NCAA uses to track graduation rates among athletes. In 2015, Rutgers had a multiyear APR of 980.
A group of lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Seattle last year built a website that includes copies of contracts for every football coach working at a public university with an FBS or FCS coach program.
When Jason Rittereiser, a lawyer at HKM, and his coworkers had the idea to create a site where the contracts could be easily accessed, the original intention was to give the public insight on changes in college coaching and how contracts influence the free-market enterprise aspect.
While each contract seems to be generally structured in the same way, it’s the perks, Rittereiser said, that makes these contracts intriguing.
“When you’re paying someone $5 million [dollars] up front with no incentives, that’s one thing,” said Rittereiser, who specializes in employment litigation. “But if you’re paying someone $1 million and their potential compensation is $5 million through bonus structures, some of those seem to be nothing more than a way to explain compensating a coach who works at that level. Having a bonus contingent upon the amount of fans at a stadium every game may seem silly at one place, but having some form of compensation tied towards academic attendance of the players at a school, it seems to make sense at another.”
Coaches vs. presidents
In 2013, Smith College economist Andrew Zimbalist and former Drake Group president Allen Sack calculated that the average salary of college football coaches at 44 Division I schools increased by 750 percent between 1985 and 2010 — from $273,300 to $2,054,700. In that same time, the average university president’s salary rose by 90 percent, and the average salary of a full professor rose just 30 percent.
A look at the perks in the contracts of college presidents, as compared to their football coaches, also shows a disparity.
While Harbaugh earns $5 million a year, MLive.com reported that UM president Mark Schlissel earns an annual base salary of $772,500 a year and an annual retention bonus of $100,000 a year, as well as $20,000 in annual retirement pay for the five years of his contract.
According to his contract, UM provides Schlissel, an immunologist, with up to $2 million in a startup fund to establish a laboratory and assumes the cost of storing his research materials in a freezer farm at Brown University during his presidency. Schlissel also lives in university housing.
University of Toledo football coach Jason Candle earns $675,000 a year (a base salary of $400,000, a marketing stipend of $250,000, and a $25,000 bonus for keeping the program above the APR penalty limit). UT president Sharon Gaber earns a minimum of $450,000 a year in her five-year contract.
Among the fringe benefits in Gaber’s contract: moving expenses from Arkansas to Ohio, a university-provided, American-made vehicle, memberships at the Toledo Club and Inverness Country Club (charter membership initiation fee of $8,000 and monthly dues of $416), and residence in a university-owned house in Ottawa Hills.
Youngstown State president Jim Tressel took a pay cut when he left coaching. Ohio State released documents in 2011 that showed Tressel earned $21.7 million and received multiple fringe benefits in his 10-year tenure as the Buckeyes’ football coach.
Tressel earns an annual base salary of $300,000 at Youngstown State. But he has a couple perks in his contract: an American-made car from a local dealership, 22 vacation days, university-provided, rent-free housing, and university library and recreational-facility access and privileges for his wife.
In his 2001 book, Unpaid Professionals: Commercialization and Conflict in Big-Time College Sports, Zimbalist, the Smith College economist, wrote, “If a coach is getting five times as much as a university president and 10 or 20 times as much as an average full-time professor, that’s making a statement to the student body about what’s important.”
It poses a fundamental question: when a coach is being paid millions of dollars a year and given fringe benefits, while a university administrator makes a fraction of that, and a university employee makes even less than that — does it send a message that academics don’t have the same value as athletics?
“When you look at those salaries, as compared to college presidents, there’s no comparison,” Lopiano said. “Forty of the 50 highest-paid state employees are coaches, not the governor or someone who is in charge of the biggest state hospital. But they’re making less than the coaches.”