On Dec. 1, 2017, Jimbo Fisher resigned from Florida State to accept the head football coaching position at Texas A&M. Fisher had secured a fully guaranteed $75 million contract, meaning if he is fired without cause, Texas A&M would owe him all the money left on the contract.
This sent waves through college football — most contracts feature a buyout that allows universities to fire coaches without having to pay out their entire contract. Still, Fisher is not the highest-paid coach on a yearly basis. At Alabama, Nick Saban earns $9.75 million per year. According to USA Today, the average salary for the top 32 highest-paid football coaches weighs in at $5.75 million.
Meanwhile, the average S&P 500 CEO earned $12.7 million in total compensation in 2020, not too far ahead of Coach Saban. Why so much? Revenues have exploded in recent years, with athletic conferences inking rich contracts with TV networks and even setting up conference-specific television networks.
The Big Ten conference brought in $768.9 million while the SEC took in $728.9 million in FY2020, for example. With TV contracts expiring in the near future, the biggest conferences may be able to secure even more lucrative deals.
Colleges aren’t limiting themselves to primetime on the major channels. The Big Ten, for example, set up the Big Ten Network, now in partnership with Fox Sports. The deal is worth more than a billion dollars and will pay out more than $250 million per year.
As for individual programs, the biggest athletic departments, like Ohio State, can pull in more than $200 million per year. With so much money on the line, big programs can afford expensive coaches.
Meanwhile, athletic conferences looking to access the biggest media markets have been snapping up colleges. The Big Ten lured Maryland away from the ACC, for example, with the promise of more ad revenue.