UGA belatedly jumps into college football spending wars in a big way

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Mark Richt will now be making $4 million per year. (John Kelley / UGA)
Mark Richt will now be making $4 million per year. (John Kelley / UGA)

Mark Richt will now be making $4 million per year. (John Kelley / UGA)

The news that Bulldogs head football coach Mark Richt has had his contract extended by two years and his annual compensation upped from $3.2 million to $4 million is just the latest indication that athletic director Greg McGarity and UGA President Jere Morehead have decided the school can’t afford to sit out the coaching salary arms race that’s erupted in college football.

As USA Today reported back in November, top-tier college football coaches are making twice as much as they did in 2006, when the paper ran its first coaches’ salary survey. Then, coaches at the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision schools were making an average of more than $950,000. Today, the average salary is about $1.95 million. Even when adjusted for inflation, salaries have nearly doubled.

“I think it’s basically the cost of doing business,” McGarity told USA Today at the time.

Back then, Richt’s salary was middle-of-the-pack in the SEC, but recent changes had dropped him to near the bottom, despite the fact that, in the most recent year reported, Georgia ranked fourth in the nation and second in the conference in football revenue.

With the raise, Richt is tied with Steve Spurrier for fifth in the SEC and 11th nationally. Meanwhile, the payroll for Georgia’s nine assistant coaches has been increased by well over $1 million dollars since the end of the 2014 season.

The market for coaches, McGarity told USA Today, is set by demand — and by results. “The more success you have,” he said, “then obviously there’s going to be a higher rate of compensation.”

Reportedly, recent raises and promotions for a couple of Richt’s key assistants, Tracy Rocker and Bryan McClendon, were quickly instituted at least in part to fend off other schools interested in hiring them away. And while a three-loss season isn’t the level of success that many fans would consider worth rewarding, a Top 10 finish and a strong bowl win probably were factors in Richt’s bump, along with the usual concerns of sending a message to recruits that the program is stable.

Say this about McGarity and the folks at Butts-Mehre: When they decided to jump into the college football spending wars, they did so in a big way, the most dramatic example of which is the hiring of new offensive line coach Rob Sale from McNeese State at a salary of $400,000, which not only is a dramatic hike from the reported $65,000 he previously was making, but is $100,000 more than Georgia was paying his predecessor, Will Friend, who left to go with Mike Bobo to Colorado State.

Georgia has been accused in the past of mostly sitting out the SEC’s money wars or, at best, being a half-hearted participant. The chatter on this had ramped up considerably over the past year or so as the lack of an indoor practice facility — which has rankled some fans for a very long time — has come to be seen as a recruiting liability. Now, even Florida (the only other SEC football program without an indoor facility up to now) is promising one by the fall.

The indoor facility in Athens won’t be ready that quickly, despite defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s very public prodding of McGarity on the subject this past season, but Georgia will be joining the pack in that regard.

In the meantime, the new salary boosts — including paying Sale what appears to be considerably more than they could have gotten away with — and the hiring notices posted for at least seven new Sabanesque off-the-field “quality control” assistants indicates the brain trust of Richt, McGarity and Morhead has decided, however reluctantly, that it’s important to keep up with the Bamas and Auburns in the neighborhood.

As Richt noted after the Belk Bowl, the SEC is “a rugged league. It’s very tough league, and when you win in this league, you know you’ve done something special. It’s not just on the field. It’s in recruiting, it’s in facilities, it’s in coaching staffs.”

Based on that, I can see the reasoning behind the salary increases and even the indoor practice facility (though that’s more a symbol than a necessity), and I think it’s probably something that has to be done.

Will the new stipends make star players like Todd Gurley less tempted to sell their autograph? (Steven Colquitt / UGA)

Will the new stipends make star players like Todd Gurley less tempted to sell their autograph? (Steven Colquitt / UGA)

But I still can’t quite wrap my mind around not only paying college head coaches millions of dollars, but paying their coordinators and assistants salaries that dwarf their compensation as recently as a couple of years ago when at the same time the folks who make all of this possible — the players — are still mostly a financial afterthought.

Yes, such coaching salaries do make it more likely that those folks will stay put — at least, until someone offers even more. But there are plenty of talented coaches out there in the high school ranks — from which have sprung such now-hot names as Gus Malzahn and Pruitt — who would be willing to fill those jobs for much less than $400,000.

And, sure, having been given a level of autonomy by the NCAA, the Power 5 conferences finally moved last Saturday to award full “cost of attendance” scholarships in all sports that will include giving money to athletes to cover incidental costs of attending college, such as transportation and miscellaneous personal expenses, in addition to the traditional tuition, room, board and textbook expenses previously covered by athletic scholarships.

The exact amount schools will pay athletes will vary, as do individual school tuitions, but it’s expected most will get stipends of between $2,000 and $5,000.

That’s certainly an improvement, but it remains to be seen whether such pocket money will make it any less likely that we’ll see future situations like that which robbed Georgia of Todd Gurley for much of last season.

Some fans have scoffed at players’ complaints about getting nothing but a basic scholarship while schools make big money off not only their on-field performance but also selling jerseys sporting their numbers.

But the old saw that college football players should be grateful for receiving a “free” education is a canard that ignores the reality of their situation. The full-cost scholarship idea came out at least partly in recognition of the fact that college athletes have much greater demands and limitations placed on them compared with regular students. It also was in part to head off unionization or some other sort of challenge to the NCAA hierarchy brought about by dissatisfaction over the schools and the NCAA pocketing millions made off (but not shared with) these “amateur” athletes.

Maybe you can justify spending all that money on coaching salaries and facilities by noting, as McGarity and Richt did, that it’s what the market demands. If you’re going to compete in the SEC, you’re going to have to spend the big bucks.

Is it fair for coaches to make millions while players like Nick Chubb can't profit from their efforts? (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Is it fair for coaches to make millions while players like Nick Chubb can’t profit from their efforts? (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

And perhaps paying what appears to be a rather unusually generous starting salary to a position coach who’s mostly unproven at the higher levels of college football is mainly a pre-emptive move, to say to other schools, keep your hands off our staff, as well as to show support for the staff.

But what about support for the players who make it all possible? Instead of hundreds of thousands or millions like their coaches, they will get some money for incidental expenses.

A step in the right direction, to be sure. Still, $400,000 for a position coach compared with pocket money so Nick Chubb can afford to go home to visit his family or take his girlfriend to dinner and a movie. …

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

Junkyard Blawg mugBill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.

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