What if, as part of its courting of Nick Saban, Texas was able to offer him an enormous salary—say $7 million a season—and ownership in a handful of gas stations spread throughout the state as a cherry on top?
What if—in an effort to keep Kevin Sumlin from dashing for the NFL—Texas A&M backed up a Brinks truck of guaranteed dollars and threw in a small percentage of ownership in a line of car dealerships spread throughout the Lone Star State?
Hypothetical? Certainly. Outrageous? Perhaps not anymore, or at the very least it appears to be where we’re trending.
In a decidedly copycat sport—from uniforms, to scheduling, to salaries, to facilities—Rich Rodriguez’s new contract at Arizona could serve as an icebreaker, a lightbulb moment for administrations and boosters to form an lucrative alliance.
The money, according to Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples, is just lovely by its lonesome. Rodriguez’s new five-year contract will net him $2.2 million per season. This contract is also incentive-laced, including triggers like a $200,000 bonus for winning the Pac-12 South and a $1 million bonus for winning a national championship.
This is nothing groundbreaking, of course. Shoot-for-the-moon incentives have become a fixture in the coaching world, and the Rodriguez deal is no different. It’s the other aspect of this contract, however, that could soon set a blueprint to follow, for better or worse. At one point in time, incentives were a trailblazing addition to coaching fine print. Now, such contract clauses could have company.
An Arizona donor has helped pad this deal further, offering up equity to Rodriguez, basketball coach Sean Miller and athletic director Greg Byrne. This “major university benefactor"—as outlined by the Board of Regents—has offered 500,000 units of a master limited partnership. Each unit is currently valued at $35.36 for a total of $17,680,000.
Rodriguez was granted 175,000 units of the 500,000, which equates to $6,188,000 right now. The only caveat for him to cash in on such options is that he has to stay at the school for eight years to receive this payout, whatever it becomes. If the price of the unit goes up in that time, his payout will go up; if the company struggles and the units drop in value, his payouts decrease.
Unlike any coaching contract until now—at least the deals being celebrated publicly—this fluctuating incentive is not tied to record or national championships. It’s built on longevity, a strategic attempt to slow down the coaching carousel and keep the Wildcats coach on the same sideline a while longer.
It is both brilliant and vaguely alarming, mainly because there’s no telling what’s next. If there’s one thing we know about this sport, it rarely stops with the first move. The one-upping is consistent and expected, and that could certainly be the case here.
As FootballScoop.com points out, universities around the country are playing close attention:
Rodriguez could, in theory, be among the wealthiest coaches in college football - with only a small portion of that wealth coming from Arizona's athletic budget.
In talking with both coaches and agents within college football, there is no question how massive this contract clause could be within the profession. The word "game-changer" was used by multiple sources. It is impossible to overstate the proverbial eyebrow raise this news caused among college football's top-tier coaching ranks.
This sport has money buried in the mattress, tucked away in safes and stored out of sight in offshore accounts. It’s not just the coaches, athletics directors and television money padding the pockets of school employees, either. It’s the alums standing patiently on the sideline next to their Scrooge McDuck vaults, anxious to spend their money and perhaps buy a winning program.
It’s why stadiums are being upgraded around the country at a greater pace than ever, why college locker rooms now have waterfalls and why football facilities are starting to look more like five-star hotels and less like buildings dedicated to collegiate athletics. The money is flowing—sometimes from relatively mysterious avenues—and teams are taking full advantage by spending it.
Even though booster impact has long been a part of college football, the ante has been upped in recent years. This latest move by Arizona brings the entities a little bit closer, however, and the results are to be determined.
If wealthy donors are poised and willing to offer up equity in their companies to individuals, the entire coaching landscape could theoretically change. In a sport built on competitive advantages—i.e. whoever has the most money—this is just another way to widen the gap between those programs with remarkable means and everybody else.
On the bright side, this new-found equity could help stabilize the coaching carousel, which has become especially active and volatile in recent years. If coaches have a reason to stay, then perhaps they won’t sprint from campus to campus as often.
Or, perhaps the booster involvement will escalate to the point where equity is now assumed in certain deals from certain teams—a part of the regular ol’ pitch to coaches during the yearly reshuffle. That’s where this brilliant endeavor could grow teeth.
It might not be a matter of where you are or how much your athletic department profited in a given season, but rather if you’re on the good side of a one-percenter willing to share. At a time where the sport is becoming seemingly more corporate, the direct influence of corporations becoming the negotiators only elevates this to another level.
Perhaps what’s most concerning, however, is that this sport rarely stops to admire moderation.
It doesn’t stop with 500,000 shares, not when there are wealthy alums sitting quietly in the back willing to double this investment if and when the time is right. With as much money and resources as some of these wealthy donors have to offer—some of the wealthiest individuals in the world—there’s no telling where this movement might take us.
If Rich Rodriguez—an outstanding college football coach—has already set a steep market, what happens when one of the nation’s elite signal-callers and recruiters get involved?
We'll likely find out soon enough.