Buckeyes' Status as CFB's Most Valuable Program Proves Urban Meyer's Underpaid

Ben AxelrodBig Ten Lead WriterJanuary 12, 2016

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 21: head coach Urban Meyer of the Ohio State Buckeyes looks at the scoreboard in the second quarter against the Michigan State Spartans at Ohio Stadium on November 21, 2015 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The confetti has hardly been cleaned up in Glendale, Arizona, as Alabama still celebrates its 45-40 victory over Clemson to capture the 2015 College Football Playoff Championship.

But while the Crimson Tide may have reclaimed college football's throne on the field, as far as money is concerned, Ohio State remains the sport's reigning champ.

Just hours before Alabama took the field at University of Phoenix Stadium, the Wall Street Journal's Andrew Beaton named the Buckeyes college football's most valuable program for the second consecutive season.

According to Ryan Brewer (via Beaton), an assistant professor of finance at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus, the Ohio State football program is currently worth $946.6 million, edging out Texas ($885.05 million), Michigan ($811.30 million), Notre Dame ($723.59) and the Crimson Tide ($694.87).

And while the Buckeyes' value dipped from $1.1 billion a year ago, their status as college football's only team worth more than $900 million is nothing to scoff at.

Surely that number will find itself attractive to prospective advertisers and sponsors such as Nike, whose athletic apparel contract with the school was valued at $4.3 million in 2015. It's a deal that is looking more and more like a steal for the apparel provider as it moves toward its 2018 end date.

Of course, there's a difference between "value" and "profit," and in USA Today's annual rankings of program revenue, Ohio State trailed Oregon, Texas, Michigan and Alabama. As an overall athletic department, the Buckeyes reported revenue of $170.9 million from 2014-2015, according to CBS Sports, trailing just Texas ($179.6 million).

But Ohio State director of athletics Gene Smith asserted last November, "If I wanted to just have more money than Texas, we’d have more money than Texas."

Considering the estimated value of the backbone of Smith's department, it'd be tough to disagree. Which raises the question: Why doesn't Urban Meyer make more money?

Collecting $5.8 million, Meyer made the third-most of any college coach in 2015 and just .0061 percent of his program's estimated worth. Even when the now-fifth-year Ohio State head coach hits his 2015 contract extension's average salary of $6.5 million, Meyer will make just .0068 percent of his program's current worth.

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 10: Head coach Urban Meyer of the Ohio State Buckeyes looks on against the Maryland Terrapins during a game at Ohio Stadium on October 10, 2015 in Columbus, Ohio. The Buckeyes defeated the Terrapins 49-28. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Gett
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Buckeyes fans would love to believe that its team's head coach is irrelevant to its value, that if it wasn't Meyer on the Ohio Stadium sideline, it'd be another big name maintaining the football program's value. And yes, there's certainly a strong case to be made that the players on the field deserve a much larger piece of the pie than the scholarships they receive for their services.

Tradition, history and a large alumni base—and larger fanbase—all play significant factors in the Buckeyes' value as well, as evidenced by Texas' strong standing despite its recent string of disappointing seasons. But make no mistake about it: Meyer is the CEO of Ohio State football and the man most responsible for the Buckeyes' status as college football's most valuable program.

Don't believe it? Just look at the last season Ohio State spent without Meyer standing on its sideline. Mired in a scandal that resulted in the departure of head coach Jim Tressel, the Buckeyes endured a 6-7 campaign in 2011, which culminated with sanctions that handicapped Meyer's debut season in Columbus in 2012.

Off the field, the financial numbers indicated a program in need of a jolt, with the Wall Street Journal valuing the OSU football program at $520 million at the end of the 2011 season—the seventh-most valuable program in all of college football.

Accumulating a 12-0 record while dealing with postseason sanctions in 2012, Meyer helped boost the Buckeyes' value to $586.6 million, up two spots to the fifth-most valuable in college football. In 2013, Ohio State's value jumped to $674.8 million—fourth in college football—before nearly doubling from its 2011 worth with an estimated $1.1 billion—with a "b"—in 2014.

The Buckeyes' value may have slipped this year, but so did those of the rest of college football's programs. Ohio State football is still worth more than any other program in the country and is only trending upward entering 2016.

And it's not difficult to see the reason why.

In Meyer's four seasons in Columbus, the Buckeyes are 50-4 and have remained in the national title hunt every year, including a chase for the Associated Press' national championship when they were ineligible for postseason play in 2012. Meyer has inked four top-seven recruiting classes and will sign another in three weeks, proof that the future of Ohio State is in good hands, even as the Buckeyes prepare to dominate the ticker of the upcoming NFL draft.

Terry Gilliam/Associated Press

Even if 2011 was an outlier, Ohio State football was never as valuable during the height of Tressel's decade in Columbus as it is now. In 2007, coming off back-to-back national title game appearances, Forbes slotted the Buckeyes' program as the 10th-most valuable in college football at an estimated $71 million.

As far as college coaches are concerned, Meyer's properly paid, trailing only Alabama's Nick Saban in annual salary. But with Meyer admitting that the NFL came calling this winter, the marketplace could dictate that he's in line for another raise, as it'd be hard to imagine Meyer not garnering more than the five-year, $32.5 million contract Chip Kelly signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013.

According to CoachingHotSeat.com, 10 NFL coaches made more in 2015 than Meyer did at Ohio State. The demand he would draw as a big-name candidate if he were to test the waters would surely make him one of pro football's higher-paid head coaches.

"I don't want to get into that. I'm not naming teams," Meyer said when asked about receiving overtures from the professional ranks. "It makes you think, just because of the respect, but I love where I'm at."

Returning to Ohio State, Meyer will have his work cut out for him, returning just six total starters from his 2015 team. But with the way he's recruited, the Buckeyes are a safe bet to remain in the playoff conversation through the bulk of the season, which has become the standard he's set in his first four seasons at Ohio State.

"What does the future hold?" Meyer asked rhetorically last week. "The future's extremely bright."

Looking at the financial numbers, that rings true in more ways than one. And it may just mean that Meyer is in line for another well-deserved raise sooner than later.


Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.


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