Is Urban Meyer Worth $26 Million?

Reacting to Monday’s news that The Ohio State University had hired former Florida Gators coach Urban Meyer to be the new Buckeye’s Head Coach and given him a 6-year contract worth $26,000,000 not including benefits and bonuses, Bill Press is rather obviously upset:

I’m sorry, but no football coach, no matter how successful, is worth that much. Ohio State President Gordon Gee, who makes a measly $1.32 million a year, defended Meyer’s contract as “a mark of our dignity and nobility.” Really? If you ask me, it’s a mark of their stupidity — and misplaced priorities.

This is hardly the year to be glorifying college sports. Americans were still reeling from disgusting details about Jerry Sandusky’s behavior at Penn State when news broke of a similar scandal at Syracuse University. The University of Miami was rocked by reports of a wealthy supporter rewarding players with lavish gifts ranging from cash payouts to entertainment, jewelry and prostitutes. And Meyer’s position at Ohio State only opened up after Jim Tressel was fired over players trading memorabilia for cash and tattoos.

Sports columnist Christine Brennan has called this a “watershed moment” for college football. And she’s right. Instead of continuing to pump ever more money into sports, this is a time for college officials to step back and do some serious soul-searching about the true purpose of the university — and what role, if any, sports should play.

Sure, football and basketball bring in tons of revenue to college campuses, but to what end? Do they help the university turn out more and better researchers and scientists? Or do they further confirm the reputation of the university as a big-time sports entertainment center?

The answer, really, is quite simple. According to a 2009 Forbes analysis, the Buckeyes are the 8th most valuable College Football team in the country:

Every bowl appearance, every National Championship, just makes a football program more valuable. If you can hire a coach that makes that possible, then you pay them a lot of money. It’s not all that different from the reasons that corporate CEO’s end up getting paid large amounts of money. Is it something a University should be doing? That’s another question. Eliminating “big time” football altogether would remove a significant revenue stream from the communities of countless numbers of college towns around the country, and that’s no small thing I would submit.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Quick Takes, Sports
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Trumwill says:

    I agree that it’s not all that different from how CEO’s make a lot of money, but I don’t take the same thing from that similarity that you do.

  2. Herb says:

    “It’s not all that different from the reasons that corporate CEO’s end up getting paid large amounts of money.”

    You mean, Urban Meyer’s stocked the compensation committee with his people?

  3. Console says:

    Meyer is also a public employee, plus he basically gets free labor. As much as I love NCAA football, you can’t really shy away from the fact that it’s ridiculously corrupt and exploitative

  4. john personna says:

    That’s another question. Eliminating “big time” football altogether would remove a significant revenue stream from the communities of countless numbers of college towns around the country, and that’s no small thing I would submit.

    False. Only a few of the nation’s top football schools have positive cash flow on sports.

    (Ohio might be one of them, which would mean the question is similar to the CEO question: That is, how much “marginal product” does one very good football coach deliver versus the next contender? Is he bringing in $10M more than a coach paid $15M?)

  5. Trumwill says:

    @john personna: I had the same initial thought, but I think Doug is referring not just to the revenues of the sports, but the money that the community receives when alumni come to town, stay in hotels, eat out, and so on. That makes for a murkier figure.

  6. superedestroyer says:

    First, coaches pay is always misreported. The total compensation will be worth $26 million but includes endorsements, summer camp income, speaking engagements, country club memberships, etc. And remember, the taxes payers of Ohio on not on the hook for a dollar of it.

    Second, football teams do not make any money for the university. In reality, the athletic department is a separate, not0for-profit corporation from the university. Urban Meyer signed a contract with the athletic department and the athletic foundation, not the university.

    The football team makes lots of money for the athletic department but does not make any money for the rest of the university. In reality, student fees are transferred to the athletic department.

  7. Just nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @john personna: @Trumwill: @superedestroyer: I think that superdestroyer is most closely on to it (oddly enough). We need to look at this as just another example of conspicuous consumption. Ohio State university (no, I didn’t make a typo on small “u”) is just showing off how rich it’s athletic department is by paying someone a ridiculous amount of money. Showing off its “nobility” in the aristocratic sense.

  8. Franklin says:

    Reminds me of a story about Ford looking to save money back in the early 2000s, and one board member looks at the data and finds that the highest paid employee is someone named Eddie Irvine. He asks the rest of the board while mispronouncing the name, “what exactly does this ‘Eddie Ervin’ guy do for Ford?” Of course he didn’t recognize it as the name of a CEO or anybody he knew – because it was a Formula 1 driver for Jaguar (which Ford owned at the time).

    In any case, Ohio can pay Meyer whatever they want as far as I’m concerned. Go Blue!

  9. sam says:

    “The football team makes lots of money for the athletic department but does not make any money for the rest of the university”

    So, perhaps the NFL could plump for completely severing the college football teams from the universities and just set up AAA teams in the towns. So, instead of the Ohio State Buckeyes, you’d just have the Ohio Buckeyes. Let the NFL pay the coaches’ salaries.

    Might be more honest.

  10. grumpy realist says:

    I’m of the opinion that we should find a way to divorce these sorts of expensive sports from the university. We’ve all seen the scandal of student-athletes who get ground up and used by the sports department, graduating with very little education or ability to take care of themselves when they suddenly find their careers demolished by a bad knee or similar. Ditto for the large amounts of money that are thrown around to pay coaches, build buildings, and similar. If you want to have sports at a university, fine. But let’s have it be an add-on to a student’s life, not the ne plus ultra around which his or her entire student life must revolve.