Impact of the Urban Meyer Contract Extension

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Ohio State announced details of a contract extension for head coach Urban Meyer, worth roughly $6.5 million over the next seasons. The three-time and current reigning national championship winner Meyer is now the second-highest paid coach in college, behind Alabama’s Nick Saban.

When breaking down the estimated value of Ohio State football, Urban Meyer’s $6.5 million isn’t an unreasonable total. Forbes estimates the Buckeyes were worth $83 million in 2014 and turned over a profit of $39 million — and that was before Ohio State won the inaugural College Football Playoff.

A key part of these coaching contract extensions in today’s era of college football is the impact for assistant coaches and support staff, and Urban Meyer’s should be no different. Assistants’ salaries have ballooned right along with that of head coaches. Just two years ago, former Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris became the first $1 million assistant — a staggering number, given the public backlash that ensued less than two decades ago when Steve Spurrier and Bobby Bowden were the sport’s first $1 million head coaches.

Today, 72 of the 128 FBS programs that report their football financials have head coaches making seven figures. The premium placed on top-level assistants means more support staff will start cracking that figure, especially after Clemson lost its million-dollar OC to the head coaching job at SMU.

Ironically, none of Meyer’s Ohio State staffers ranked in the top 30 for assistant salaries in 2014, Doug Lesmerises of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reported in December.

Less ironic, then, is that Urban Meyer lost defensive offensive coordinator Tom Herman to the University of Houston just days after Lesmerises’ report. Of course, the two things are likely complete coincidence; coordinators like Virginia Tech’s Bud Foster who remain committed to one program as assistants are rare. Moreover, few head coaches have established coaching trees quite as fruitful as Urban Meyer has.

Still, the financial impact Meyer’s extension has on his assistant staff could be profound.

As coaching salaries climb, the debate over financial compensation for the revenue sport athletes — ergo, football and men’s basketball — intensifies. Staggering wages for head coaches like Urban Meyer and coordinators like Morris befuddles the more ardent supporters. And, swelling right alongside head coach and staff salary is the harshness of rhetoric.

Defend the current model of amateurism and risk being called everything from stupid to outright evil. John Oliver devoted an entire show to the current NCAA model — something he didn’t even do when analyzing the Syrian civil war. The primary target of Oliver’s viral tirade, Dabo Swinney, was served scorn on par with Oliver’s vitriol for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Of no coincidence: Dabo Swinney is the head coach of the same Clemson program that employed the first million-dollar coordinator.

A seemingly effective way of sharing the record revenue big-time college football generates is, when an extension like Urban Meyer’s is crafted, conditions for the athletes are included in the same way that assistant pay is part of such negotiations.

Of course, the hurdle then isn’t the head coach or the university athletic administration. Title IX is perhaps the single greatest obstacle advocates of college athlete compensation have to climb, as CBSSports.com’s Jon Solomon covered in this excellent report from last summer.

As it should be: Title IX is an important piece of legislation that opened doors for women in sports and has significant impact on other facets of college life like the reporting of sexual assault. That’s a whole lot more difficult to demonize.

The Title IX quandary doesn’t mean the athlete compensation debate is done, however. Far from it. Whenever an Urban Meyer adds to his already sizable paycheck, or an assistant adds another zero to his bank account, fuel’s added to this long-burning fire.

For Ohio State, extending Urban Meyer is a no-brainer. Trying to restructure athlete compensation is anything but.