Bill Snyder is a coach who gave voice to a big concern about college football these days.
It is headed in a crazy direction, and has been for some time.
I first met Snyder, the head football coach at Kansas State, in 1996 in a press conference leading up to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. It occurred the week before his team played and lost to LaVell Edwards and BYU.
He seemed to be a man who loved the sport and had a deep regard for his football players and program. He seemed a little on the serious side, but his demeanor was that of a grandfather who’d lived a fine and achievement-oriented life.
Snyder has watched college football change into something he’d never have recognized back when he got into the business.
Snyder’s seen college football turn into a big business. It’s a game that has chased lucrative TV contracts, and salaries of head coaches have gone from where they once were in the realm of a college teacher to that of a CEO of a multi-million dollar corporation.
He’s seen the dismantling of the majority of conferences and long-time relationships. He’s seen a select number of commissioners in elite conferences act like squatters, rushing to stake claims on land or gold mines. In his region alone, he’s seen the Southwest Conference, Big 12, Big Ten, Conference USA and Mountain West Conference trade membership like musical chairs. He’s seen politicking, selfish campaigns and schools abandoning rivalries that have endured most of a century.
Snyder says the changes have been “dramatic” throughout his career.
“I think it’s in a bad place right now, and I think it’s in a bad place for a variety of different reasons,” he said.
The coach spoke these words this past week on KSCP Radio in Kansas City.
“We’ve allowed it to become money-driven. We’ve allowed it to become TV-driven. We’ve allowed athletic programs or football programs to mean more to a university than what the university was really supposed to be all about. The last I heard, these were educational institutions, and that’s what it needs to be about. It’s not driven by values. It’s driven by dollars and cents, and that’s unfortunate.”
And it’s true.
In many states, a football coach is the highest paid public employee. Those salaries have skyrocketed because of the marketplace that has piggybacked on a competitive system that has become an arms race.
Schools find themselves having to pay big money to keep coaches, or hire coaches deemed to be capable of getting the football program into a BCS bowl game and possible run at a national title.
To keep a good coach, schools have to ante up or they’ll lose them. Utah State anted up and still lost Gary Anderson to Wisconsin; Utah promised an indoor facility to Urban Meyer and still lost him to Florida.
But it isn’t just head coaches.
Right now, assistant coach salaries are increasing faster than that of their head coach bosses. The average salary of a major college football assistant is $250,000, more than the average salary ($215,000) of a U.S. Supreme Court justice, according to USA Today.
The highest paid assistant coach is USC’s Monte Kiffin at $1.5 million, and when he retires, the guy who’ll take his place as the richest is Clemson’s Chad Morris ($1.3 million), who was a high school coach in Texas three years ago.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this is the American way. I’m all for a coach to make as much as someone is willing to pay them. It is Capitalism 101. Our entertainment figures get paid tons of money because as a society, we allow it and do it.
But, like Snyder said, it is headed for a bad place.
Things are a little out of whack.
LSU, Ohio State and Texas have sports programs that bring in $60 million - $100 million in revenues. It makes sense you’d throw $3 million - $4 million at a football staff.
But then you have 19-year-old kids taking out student loans of $70,000 to $100,000 to get undergraduate and post-graduate degrees that shackle them for decades — the price of education.
Asked how he’d go about changing things in college football, Snyder said it would be a tough job.
“You’ve got to understand the issues to have a solution. It’s a hard task; I certainly understand that. I look around and see so much pressure being placed on athletes and coaches to perform well. That is kind of a driving force, and I understand that any profession that you happen to be in if you’re not a productive individual in that profession or career, you run the risk of losing your position. I read it and see some things, as well, where it’s all about the student-athlete. And sometimes we say things that really aren’t accurate. “
Then Snyder concludes with this confession: “I’m grossly overpaid for what I do, and I think that’s probably part of what creates the issue. A lot of problems and solutions are not as easy to come by.”
I respect Snyder.
He speaks honestly of these times that make us scratch our heads.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company