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Are College Coaches Overpaid?

Auburn Offensive Coordinator Gus Malzahn - by Flikr user

Although presented as a yes or no question, I don’t think there’s an actual yes or no answer to whether college coaches are overpaid. I think they have to be paid what the market requires.

I often see commentary about how coaches are overpaid. Aside from the BCS, it’s probably the number one fall-guy for everything that is perceived as being wrong with college athletics. Because coaches are overpaid, athletic departments need subsidies like student fees and taxpayer dollars and can’t afford to pay student-athletes. At least that’s what the dissenters claim.

So what’s the solution? Say you’re the AD at Auburn. Instead of giving Chizik and Malzahn and the rest raises after they lead the Tigers to a National Championship last year, would you announce that there will no longer be raises at Auburn for coaches? Would you say that all future contracts will be for lower salaries as your athletic department attempts to rewind the trend of ever-escalating coaching salaries?

We all know what would happen. Chizik and Malzahn would both depart for other jobs, with Malzahn likely able to get a head coaching job elsewhere. In fact, the entire staff would probably leave. Then you could go out and hire whoever was willing to coach the Tigers for $200,000 or whatever you think is a reasonable amount for a head football coach.

And what would become of the Tigers? What are the odds they would compete for another National Championship? Odds are the football program would begin to decline. Sure, there’s always a diamond in the rough out there you might snag who is a brilliant football coach no one has discovered and is willing to work for your pittance of a salary. Even if you were lucky enough to discover this man, he would surely leave you for a larger paycheck as soon as someone else comes calling.

And what happens when your football program declines? I’ve shown you before what happens when football isn’t enough to support the other sports in an athletic department. The athletic department either makes cuts or has to rely more heavily on institutional support like student fees and taxpayer dollars.

Yes, it’s a vicious circle. That’s why we can’t all be athletic directors. Being a successful athletic director requires the ability to know exactly how much money you can invest in football to get the greatest return possible without overspending. It’s making football profitable enough to support your other sports without having to dip into the pockets of students or taxpayers. Does every AD accomplish this? Of course not, just like every CEO doesn’t make their company the most profitable or the industry leader.

Back to the original question: are college coaches overpaid? Yes, I believe some are paid above their market value. Just like any other industry, some businesses (i.e., athletic departments) within the industry hire the wrong people or overpay their top management. What I want to know from you, however, is whether this is a problem that requires a solution. If it is, what is the solution?


  • Kristi A. Dosh is the founder of and has served as a sports business analyst and contributor for outlets such as Forbes, ESPN, SportsBusiness Journal, Bleacher Report, SB Nation and more. She is also the author of a book on the business of college football, Saturday Millionaires. Kristi is a sought-after consultant and speaker on topics related to the business of college sports and a former practicing attorney. Click to learn more



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