The Travesty of American College Football

By Shlomo  Maital



  Once, American colleges had football teams.  Today, American college football teams have, alas, attached colleges. And as always, it is all about money.

    A New York Times article on Nov. 28, by Jere Longman, reports, for example, about the Univ. of Tennessee, a great university, firing its football coach:

   After Tennessee fired its coach last week, the university’s chancellor said the athletic department would forgo $18 million in contributions it was to make to the university over the next three years for academic scholarships and fellowship programs. Instead, some of the money will be used to pay the severance packages of the coach, Derek Dooley, who is owed $5 million, and his staff, which is owed a reported $4 million if it is not retained. Dooley had four years remaining on his contract.

  Last Sunday Auburn Univ. fired its coach, paying him and his staff $11 m. in buyouts.  According to Longman, “The University of Houston forced its offensive coordinator to resign after one game. After two games, Wisconsin dumped its offensive line coach. “  The cost of buying out contracts is huge.  And all this, with no evidence that firing the coach brings better results.

Over the past decade, about 1 in 10 universities at the major college level replaced their head football coaches annually for performance-related reasons. But a recent study suggests that replacements do not tend to make underperforming teams much better in subsequent seasons and frequently make them worse.

    What is going on?   Huge billion-dollar TV contracts have made American college football a big business.  But those contracts depend on winning.  Moreover, alums give more money if their college’s football team brings them pride by winning. 

    Universities view football as a kind of front porch to their campuses, drawing attention in a way that no other endeavor can. Administrators are increasingly reliant on football to support other sports and try to spur donations at a time when the vast majority of universities lose money on athletics. Desperation to win has increased as universities chase the payouts from billion-dollar television contracts.

   Salaries for football head coaches have soared.  As Longman notes,  “Some football coaches have become the highest-paid employees of their states. The average salary for a head coach at a big-time university is $1.64 million, an increase of more than 70 percent since 2006, according to an analysis by USA Today.”   In search of a national title, University of Alabama hired Nick Saban, at a salary exceeding $5 m. a year!  

    At some point, this travesty will have to end.  Courageous college presidents will have to regain control of the football monster.