Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer joins his team in...

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer joins his team in singing the school's alma mater after their 42-41 win over Michigan. (Nov. 30, 2013) Credit: AP

The nation's 25 highest-paid college football coaches at public universities are paid an average of $3.85 million a year in guaranteed money -- more than the $3 million Jets coach Rex Ryan earned last year.

The coaches' income has soared as the debate over whether college athletes should get paid to play has intensified. And the coaches' pay and perks, propelled by billion-dollar television contracts with the five major conferences, are coming under scrutiny because many universities are struggling with declining revenues and flat enrollment.

The NFL's highest-paid coach is the New Orleans Saints' Sean Payton, who makes about $8 million a year. A handful of other NFL coaches -- the New England Patriots' Bill Belichick, the Kansas City Chiefs' Andy Reid and the Seattle Seahawks' Pete Carroll -- make more than $7 million. But the top-paid coach in the college ranks isn't too far behind.

Alabama's Nick Saban, who has won three national championships in the last five years, earns $6.9 million in guaranteed compensation a year. Saban's new deal, approved last summer, includes incentives that could approach Payton's annual salary.

Saban's contract, which goes through the 2021 season, guarantees him a total of $55.2 million if he fulfills the eight-year term. The university's top administrator says he's worth it.

"Coach Nick Saban is one of the best investments The University of Alabama has ever made," said Dr. Robert Witt, chancellor of the Alabama University system. He cited "the enhanced national visibility" Saban's success has brought Alabama as well as an increase in football ticket revenue.

The numbers

There are 128 schools with football programs that compete in the NCAA's Football Bowl Subdivision, the highest level of competition. A Newsday review of 108 college football coaches' contracts -- obtained through public-records requests -- shows those coaches will make an average of $1.75 million this year. And that's not counting hundreds of thousands of dollars of incentives, perks and benefits in their contracts.

That represents an almost 75 percent increase compared with seven years ago, when the average head coach's salary eclipsed $1 million for the first time, according to USA Today. There were 119 FBS schools in 2007.

Experts say college football coaches have benefited from the sport's increase in multi-billion dollar television rights deals.

Administrators at football powerhouses say the programs generate revenue that allows their athletic departments to be self-supporting and have millions left over to help fund academic programs. But there is hardly unanimity in the academic ranks.

"It's really an embarrassment for higher education that at a time when both colleges and universities are having fiscal challenges and tuition is rising at rates that has everybody alarmed, here we are paying coaches at the level they're being paid," said Brit Kirwan, chancellor of the Maryland state university system, which includes the University of Maryland, where coach Randy Edsall will receive $2 million this year. "It's both indefensible and very difficult to address."

Newsday's review of contracts also revealed:

Private jets: Fourteen coaches have the use of a private jet. They are Saban, Arizona's Rich Rodriguez, Clemson's Dabo Sweeney, Florida's Will Muschamp, Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, Kansas State's Bill Snyder, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio, Minnesota's Jerry Kill, Nebraska's Bo Pelini, Ohio State's Urban Meyer, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, Penn State's James Franklin, Purdue's Darrell Hazell and Texas' Charlie Strong.

Retention bonuses -- essentially rewarding a coach for not leaving for another job -- are a lucrative benefit. Georgia coach Mark Richt, for example, received a "longevity bonus" of $2.3 million last January. He's in his 14th season there.

Future jobs: Four coaches are guaranteed university jobs after they are done with coaching. Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer has a contract clause that grants him a post-coaching gig as a special assistant to the athletic director -- at $250,000 per year for eight years.

Bonuses: Most coaches receive five-figure bonuses if their team wins a set number of conference games or makes a bowl appearance. Many coaches also receive a bonus if their players meet the minimum academic requirements to play. . For example, Louisville coach Bobby Petrino receives $500,000 if his players earn a 935 Academic Progress Rate, which is the NCAA's academic ranking system. Teams need at least a 930 score to compete in the postseason.

Other perks: More than half the coaches receive paid membership to a local country club. Nearly 100 coaches get an automobile or cash stipend equivalent; the bigger programs provide coaches with two cars with paid insurance. Other perks include luxury stadium boxes for friends and family.

Newsday contacted each of the 128 FBS schools requesting a copy of the coach's contract.

Of the 111 public universities -- including West Point and the Naval and Air Force academies -- only three declined Newsday's request.

Public universities in Pennsylvania are not required by law to release the information. Of the three Pennsylvania schools with FBS programs, only Penn State provided a copy of its coach's contract. Pittsburgh and Temple declined.

The University of Central Florida said coach George O'Leary's contract was exempt from Florida's public records laws because it's paid for by the UCF Athletics Association rather than the school itself. Other Florida universities cited the same exemption, but agreed to disclose their head coach's contract.

There are 17 private universities playing football in the FBS. They are not required by law to release employee contract information. When contacted by Newsday, none of the private schools would provide the information.

Appropriate use of funds?

College football, now in full swing across the country, is a multi-billion dollar industry.

Decreased revenues have led colleges and universities to raise tuition and other fees.

Moody's Investors Services issued a "negative" outlook for the entire higher education sector in July, saying state financing is not increasing at the same rate as a university's typical expenses. In addition, 1 in 10 colleges nationwide is suffering "acute financial distress" because of decreasing overall revenue, Moody's said.

An NCAA spokesman declined to comment on coaches' compensation because "personnel decisions, including coaches' salaries, are made by schools and not governed by the NCAA."

The lowest-paid FBS coach is Scott Satterfield of Appalachian State, which moved up from FCS status this season. He will make $225,000 this year. But a university spokesman said the school is renegotiating Satterfield's contract, which doesn't expire until after the 2016 season, so that his compensation is more in line with coaches in the

Players don't get paid

Some economists said the fact that schools are not allowed to share any of the increased revenue with the players is another reason coaches' salaries are rising.

"Schools justify these salaries on the grounds that it's a competitive marketplace, that they have to pay to get a good coach," said Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College who specializes in sports. "My view is that's a bunch of nonsense."

"It is, of course, a competitive marketplace, but it's an artificial one because the producers don't get paid -- the players," he said. "If you had a factory in the United States where you didn't have to pay the workers, the company would be more profitable and the bosses would get more money."

Instead, Zimbalist said coaches' value is in being able to recruit the best players who, in turn, will bring in the most money to the university through their performance.

The lack of compensation for student-athletes has had ripple effects across the college landscape.

The National Labor Relations Board allowed Northwestern football players to cast a secret ballot in April on whether to form a union. The result has not been announced.

The five power conferences gained unprecedented authority to invoke rules changes, including stipends for athletes, under legislation passed by the NCAA's board of directors in August.

A federal judge in August ruled in favor of former college athletes in a class-action suit that alleged that the NCAA violated antitrust laws by not allowing athletes to receive a share of the revenues generated from the use of their images in broadcasts and video games.

The judge in the case featuring former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon said athletes are entitled to at least $5,000 per year of competition in deferred compensation delivered after they graduate. The NCAA says it intends to appeal the decision.

Still, NCAA president Mark Emmert testified in the O'Bannon case that the higher salaries are not relevant to the student-athlete's lack of compensation.

"The pay to a professional coach is very different than the nature of the student-athlete's relationship to the university," Emmert said. "The coach has been a paid individual as long as there have been paid coaches and student-athletes are amateurs. The fact coaches are getting paid more doesn't change those relationships at all."

Rewards for top coaches

Saban last June received a new eight-year, $55.2-million contract, a bump from his previous salary of about $5.5 million.

The contract's incentives include $125,000 for winning the Southeastern Conference championship and $50,000 for being named national coach of the year. And there are perks such as personal use of a university-provided private jet for 25 hours annually and a $6 million term-life insurance policy.

The contract was unanimously approved by the compensation committee of the University of Alabama System board of trustees.

Witt said 46 of the 49 home games during Saban's tenure have been sellouts, season tickets sold have increased to 87,000 from 79,000 and the waiting list for seats is 30,000. The school has even increased Bryant-Denny Stadium's capacity to 101,821 from 92,138 to capitalize on the demand.

"The numbers speak for themselves," Witt said.

University of Alabama president Judy Bonner said in a statement that Saban's salary "is paid completely out of the athletic department's budget, which is self-supporting." She said the athletics department provides $5 million annually to help support faculty programs and academic scholarships.

After Saban's deal was announced, one of his top coaching rivals -- Oklahoma's Bob Stoops -- said in an interview with the Tulsa World: "Business is business. I don't think anybody pays something that they're not able to afford, or that doesn't put them in a positive position."

Weeks later, Oklahoma rewarded Stoops by raising his 2014 salary from $4.75 million to $5.25 million, increasing the total value of his nine-year deal from $44.55 million to $49 million.

University of Oklahoma president David Boren said: "Nearly all of Coach Stoops' compensation is paid for by private funds, including ticket sales and athletic department revenue, and not by tuition, fees, or taxpayer dollars."

Boren, a former governor and U.S. senator, said Oklahoma's athletic department has given the university "almost $10 million for faculty, library and academic support" over the last five years.

Boren acknowledged that the big money of college football has a potential downside.

"I am deeply concerned for our national priorities when I see so much invested in athletics instead of in the education and the training of the next generation," he said.

Incentivizing performance

Schools have to be creative in structuring coaches' contracts in order to keep up with the competition.

Arizona State University coach Todd Graham, for example, will be paid $2.4 million this season, but that figure could rise significantly based on the team's success.

Graham would get a $50,000 bonus after the team's eighth win -- and the incentives increase significantly from there, according to his contract, which was reviewed by Newsday. He would receive another $100,000 after the ninth win, $150,000 after the 10th victory, $250,000 after the 11th and $350,000 after the 12th.

So if Arizona State wins 12 games, Graham will receive an additional $900,000.

"Our leadership believes in incentivizing performance," said Mark Brand, ASU associate athletic director. "If your football team is winning games, odds are you're making more money at the gate because people are coming to watch you play, selling more shirts in the team store, selling more concessions. If the school's making more money, you can pay the coach more money."

At East Carolina University, coach Ruffin McNeill's $1.25 million salary could increase as much as $500,000 depending on the preseason buzz surrounding his team and the amount of fundraising money coming in.

According to his contract, McNeill will receive $15 for every season ticket sold or a flat $300,000 bonus, whichever is greater. And he will either receive 4 percent of all donations to the athletic department's fundraising arm or a flat bonus of $200,000, whichever is greater.

"The concept is for the coach to be fully bought in, but benefit from it at the same time," East Carolina assistant athletic director Tom McClellan said.

It's been successful for both the school and the coach. McClellan said the football team has set attendance records in each of the last four seasons.

Increase in TV revenue

Experts say the rise in football coaches' salaries has been made possible by the television contracts that the top conferences have negotiated in recent years.

ESPN and Fox, for example, are paying the Pac-12 a combined $3 billion over 12 years and the Big 12 a total of $2.6 billion over 13 years to air their football and men's basketball games. The television rights revenue is shared annually by the schools in those conferences.

And there's no end in sight to the broadcast bonanza.

This year marks the beginning of the College Football Playoff, a joint venture run by all 10 FBS conferences.

In November 2012, ESPN signed a 12-year contract to televise the playoff games in a deal reportedly worth $5.64 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal.

A board of university presidents and chancellors representing the 10 FBS conferences, which oversees the new playoff system, has adopted a revenue-sharing program that the board says will "at least double" the revenue stream from the old Bowl Championship Series system.

Four major conferences -- the Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC and ACC -- also have created their own television networks as a means of generating revenue through advertising and subscriber fees, which is then shared among the member schools.

Three years ago the University of Texas took it a step further, creating its own sports network in a joint venture with ESPN in a deal worth $300 million over 20 years.

"The television money has escalated so greatly that there's strong competition among those colleges for the top coaches," said Grant Teaff, executive director of American Football Coaches Association, which advocates for football coaches on every level. "It seems a little bit frivolous to say this, but it just goes with the territory. And the territory has changed. The coach's value has escalated."

Academic spending stagnant

Critics question why the money being generated by successful football programs isn't funneled more into the primary mission of education.

From 2005-12 the median academic spending for the FBS schools grew 6 percent (after inflation), while athletic spending increased 43 percent, according to the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

The commission was created in 1989 after several high-profile college athlete scandals and says its mission is "to ensure that intercollegiate athletics programs operate within the educational mission of their colleges and universities." Its members include university presidents, administrators and conference commissioners.

Meanwhile, professors say their salaries have remained stagnant over the last decade. And spending on athletics, specifically the rapidly escalating coaches' salaries, are a sore point for professors.

"If your mission is to educate students, why are you spending so much money to hire coaches?" said Saranna Thornton, an economics professor at Hampden-Sydney College (Va.) who co-authored the American Association of University Professors' April report on the state of professor salaries. "People talk about the rising costs of higher education. But if money is so tight, then why is it being spent on hiring coaches?"

Athletic officials rebut that argument by saying a large portion of many coaches' salaries come from sources outside of the university, such as the athletic department's private fundraising. Shoe and apparel companies also compensate coaches in exchange for the teams wearing their clothing.

For example, Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen will be paid $2.2 million this year. His contract says $1.8 million will come from the University of Wisconsin Foundation, which "raises, invests and distributes funds for the benefit of the University of Wisconsin-Madison," according to the foundation's web site.

A University of Wisconsin spokesman said "the general rule here" is that the school can't pay an employee more than 75 percent of the University System president's salary without Board of Regents approval, so therefore "the rest of their compensation is paid by the UW Foundation."

The president of the University of Wisconsin System, Ray Cross, makes $525,000.

The lack of clarity behind who's footing the bill in some of these contracts is one reason behind a bill Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) introduced last July in the House of Representatives.

The bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.), would require all university athletic departments, including private institutions, to reveal the revenue and expense data for every athletic team.

"I have written the bill so that you would get the full story on coaches' salaries, just as you would get the full story on other revenues and expenses," Price said. "There would be categories to indicate where those salaries came from, in terms of university sources, outside sources, commercial sources and so forth."

The fact that a portion of the university funds being paid to coaches come from outside sources is little solace for those who believe there should be a greater commitment in investing in university academics.

"The level of which these coaching salaries have grown over the last decade raises the core question of why does college athletics exist?" said Amy Perko, executive director of the Knight Commission. "It raises that fundamental question.

"Why aren't the revenues going into areas that can strengthen the educational mission and strengthen the academic experience of the athletes?"

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