Money in College Athletics: The Coach's Salary

Senior Assistant Editor, Scholarship Manager, Wintergreen Orchard House

May   2012



In the final installment of my “Money in College Athletics” series, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some individual paychecks within the collegiate system.

This is an important topic: if you are an athlete—or even a non-athlete who ends up with loans that you'll be paying back for the next 10 years—you might have more of a vested interest than you think.

A college coach’s salary

What does the following number mean to you? 5,192,500.

According to the Business Insider, that is the salary of the top-paid football coach in the country, Mack Brown of the University of Texas.

Another coach who made news last November is Urban Meyer, who inked a deal with Ohio State University for $24 million dollars over six years—roughly $4 million per year.

While Coaches Brown and Meyer are rolling in the dough, Hugh Freeze, head football coach at Arkansas State University, is pulling in a “measly” $202,160, with the lowest salary of his cohorts.

The numbers do fluctuate a lot depending on the type of school (NAIA vs. NCAA or Division III vs. Division I, etc.); USA Today found the “average compensation in 2011 is $1.47 million.”

College tuition

If you're a lucky athlete headed to a Division I football or basketball school, most of your tuition could be paid for with a lofty scholarship. In other cases, some of your tuition might be paid for, with the rest of the bill left up to you. Paying your school off if you don't end up playing professionally after graduation might take a few years, but it's a drop in the bucket for a college coach.

Why are student-athletes and non-athletes paying the price down the line if there is money in the system to pay off their loans?

Education vs. athletics

In order for an athlete to even get into a school, they have to apply; the college/university has to accept them on an academic standpoint before athletics are even considered. That fact alone should mean that academics come first. The problem is that academics tend to not bring in the money for these bigger schools like athletics do.

According to, a professor with a bachelor's degree earns an average of $30,270–$111,359; a professor with a M.B.A. earns an average of $42,965–$102,500; and a professor with a doctorate degree earns an average of $51,855–$151,284. Even the most money a teacher could ever make doesn't come close to the smallest paycheck of Arkansas State University's head football coach!

Where does it come from?

Most schools with these exorbitant coaching paychecks are schools that make money off of televised games, merchandise, ticket prices, etc. They also can be recipients of huge endowments to the athletic departments only, money that can’t really be touched by students who aren’t athletes.

Technically, in the cases of schools that make the money themselves, maybe they are entitled to pay their coaches whatever they want in order to keep them playing at a high, competitive level. Speaking to this idea, Florida State University President Eric Barron said, “You’re always looking at whether or not you have the potential to lose a good coach and end up having to pay more in order to get to the next one.”

It just makes you think, what is more important: athletics or academics?

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About Megan Gibbs

Megan Gibbs

Megan is the Assistant Director of Online Marketing and Analytics Carnegie Communications, where she has worked since graduating from Merrimack College in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in communication. When not daydreaming about winning an Emmy or Oscar as a screenwriter, she spends her days working as Wintergreen’s editor for colleges and universities in the Southeast and building their scholarship database. As an avid sports fan and high school athlete herself, Megan not only looks forward to all Boston sports seasons, but also can't wait to root for her younger sister as she begins her Merrimack College softball career as a catcher this upcoming fall. She hopes to provide a fun and unique look at college and university-level athletics from March Madness, scholarships, and recruitment to intramurals and athletic culture! 

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