For those of you perched atop The Swamp screaming down about the perils of the economy, I hear you.
For those of you proclaiming the indignities of watching state budgets decrease while sports revenues (in some places) increase, I feel you.
And for those of you riding the ever-present point of reality that loudly states there are more appropriate ways to allocate funds than to shell out more money to a football coach, I’m with you.
But hear me out for a second before you all line up to take a big, forceful Gator Chomp to my jugular.
Urban Meyer’s six-year, $24 million contract extension that will raise his annual salary to $4 M per year is a lot of money to give a coach that works for a state-funded school that is fighting, like many others, to stay above water financially.
But it is a contract that Meyer deserves, for reasons that go far beyond the proverbial gut reaction of, “A football coach is making what?!?!?”
Meyer’s impact is more profound than his sparking 44-9 record at Florida. Yes, it goes deeper than the era that has won two National Championships in the last three seasons; turned Chris Leak into an exceptional college quarterback; morphed Tim Tebow into God’s swingman; and operates a well-oiled assembly line of NFL prospects.
This is not to minimize the impact that the recession has had on the university. UF has been patching holes and cutting costs like everybody else. The University of Florida is planning to make $30.6 million worth of specific cuts for the ’09-10 fiscal year. They hope to reach a budget reduction of $42.2 million next year.
Where are the budget cuts coming from? The university is sniffing through a variety of dark corners, including layoffs of nine faculty and 49 staff members. The Educational Psychology program is getting the ax. The Internationally Educated Dentist Program is being transitioned to non-state funds.
The Documentary Film Institute in the College of Journalism and Communications is closing. UF is merging the Mental Health Center and Counseling Center within Student Affairs. And that’s only a sample.
There’s no denying the fact that the university needs help wherever it can find it. But that’s the point that is being missed. Urban Meyer is a big part of providing help to the university through his program, his identity, and his own pocket.
Where would the school be without Meyer’s powerful and influential mug being spread across the elite land of college football year after year? In even deeper trouble, that’s where.
The university doesn’t pay Meyer’s salary. The backbone of the athletic department, the University Athletic Association (UAA) does. Meyer could turn his shoulder to the troubles of the university since they don’t feed him, but he’s not doing that. He does the opposite.
In fact, the entire athletic department does the opposite. Athletics Director Jeremy Foley isn’t in a pinch, but he knows that the university is and is looking for ways to help University of Florida President Bernie Machen, who told Foley he expects the UAA to help the university where possible.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, with a $84.5 million budget for ’09, a $100 million marketing package with Sun Sports, and big TV deals with ESPN and CBS, the UAA does what it can. Since 1990, the UAA has contributed approximately $45 million to academics, an average of about $2.4 million per year.
UF brings in huge revenues due to the success of their sports programs. Two recent National Championships in men’s basketball contributed heavily to the final tally, but there is no mistaken that it is Meyer and his football program driving the revenue bus.
In a recent SportsBusiness Journal study, UF generated the third-highest revenues in college football and overall earnings. In ’07-’08 alone, the football program reportedly made $66.1 million in revenues, behind only the University of Texas and the University of Georgia. Florida’s overall earnings checked in at $106 million for the year.
Providing that extra cash via donations through the UAA should be enough support from the athletic department in order for the university to hold their ground until more prosperous times return. But Meyer doesn’t stop there.
In October, 2008, Meyer and men’s basketball coach Billy Donovan were named co-chairmen of the Florida Opportunity Scholars Program. Machen created the program to assist first-generation, financially disadvantaged students who are working hard towards earning their bachelor degrees.
The initial goal of the program is to raise $50 million. Meyer has committed to adding $1 million to the program from his own pocket over the course of his contract.
Not that UF or Gator supporters will care (because this money doesn’t go to UF), but in December, 2008, Meyer gave thanks to his prior employer by joining Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham as the first people to donate money to the Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin Family Scholarship.
The scholarship will help fund the Utah’s football program, a university that isn’t nearly as lucky to have the resources, or power, to generate the same revenues as an institution such as Florida.
That all goes with ignoring one of the basic roles a college coach performs: an establishment of authority and leadership for young men and women. That’s a role that Meyer fulfills unfailingly.
With huge advertising and TV dollars in place, college sports have become big business. As much as some want to imply that these are “kids” playing kids’ games, that isn’t the truth. Kids don’t play on ESPN with thousands and thousands of fans wearing their jerseys, praising them, or, at times, mercilessly taunting them.
Lost in the shuffle is the parent figure that a coaching job entails. College coaches don’t get to choose whether or not they want to raise young adults to be successful citizens that contribute to society. It comes with the gig.
Eighteen-22 years old is a period of maturation and growth for all, not just athletes. It’s a time to grow up. If a coach doesn’t ask that of their players—ask them to better themselves as people as much as athletes—then he or she is failing their university and position.
Are programs still going to have stains? Are players of great coaches still going to have run-ins with the law? Of course. People of all ages make irrational choices when faced with temptation. But by all accounts, Meyer excels at his job as football coach and example.
It’s not all about the dollars, but when you add up the revenues that Meyer’s program generates, the financial relief that comes from the UF athletic department, the time and money that Meyer gives to various programs, and the job he does with grooming young men, does he deserve that $4 million to per year? I say yes.
There’s much more to a man than merely his salary.
You can reach Teddy Mitrosilis at email@example.com.