Huge Salary for Alabama Coach Raises Questions as Congress and NCAA Convene

January 04, 2007

Fans of the University of Alabama’s football team are celebrating the hiring of a new head coach, Nick Saban, who abruptly left the Miami Dolphins for an annual salary of $4-million, not counting incentive bonuses that could add as much as $800,000 a year to the total — a record for a college coach. Even without the bonuses, that amounts to nearly seven times what the university’s president, Robert E. Witt, is earning this year, according to an executive-compensation database compiled by The Chronicle. And as today’s Birmingham News points out, the sum is also more than most corporate CEO’s in Alabama pull down.

The timing of the announcement could have been better, though. Ever since a top lawmaker in Congress last year questioned whether commercial interests had led big-time college sports to stray from their educational purpose, the NCAA has been at pains to emphasize that the athletics programs still have a largely educational mission. The implication of the congressman’s questions was that the many tax breaks enjoyed by colleges, donors, and fans were in jeopardy. It’s unclear whether the new Democrat-run Congress, which convenes today, will pursue the issue as aggressively. But this news certainly highlights the issue.

It also doesn’t help the NCAA’s president, Myles Brand, who in a letter to the congressman last fall said coaches’ salaries were “commensurate with other highly paid and highly recruited faculty and staff.” It’s unclear which faculty and staff members he had in mind. The top-paid sitting college president in the Chronicle database earned just under $1.2-million. The NCAA’s annual meeting, going on now in Orlando, Fla., might be an opportunity to address the issue.