We’re long past the point of debating whether Nick Saban is “worth” his salary. The question of whether Saban should be the highest-paid coach in college football was heated for a while.

Detractors, aghast, decried the $4 million contract that Saban was given, even though he took a pay cut to move from the Miami Dolphins and back to college football. That dismay lasted roughly until the first A-Day game under Saban packed Bryant-Denny Stadium and changed the way colleges around the country approachedĀ  intrasquad games. The last starveling pockets of resistance disappeared after Alabama won the 2009 BCS championship. These days, you’d be hard-pressed to find a single person who’ll admit to being outraged by the salary, or a single SEC school that doesn’t wish they’d paid Saban $5 million themselves.

That’s because Saban has been as good an investment as Alabama could possibly have made. He’s generated 10 times more money that he’s been paid, and that’s just from his on-the-field accomplishment. He and his wife, Terry, have been just as valuable to UA and Tuscaloosa off the field through charitable giving and community building, some of it publicized and much of it done away from the spotlight.

Thus, Saban getting a raise and bonus, while it may have raised eyebrows in some places, didn’t really strike anyone but contrarians as excessive. Whether he makes $11 million, which is the approximate figure if you include the entire retention bonus in his 2018 salary, or whether it is “just” $8 million, if you prorate that bonus over four years, Saban is worth it.

That doesn’t mean people don’t have opinions about coaching salaries. Every time a coach gets paid, it leads to discussion about whether the system in which coaches receive monetary compensation while players are compensated with scholarships is fair. There can be reasonable debate on that issue and good points can be made on both sides. It’s just that starting at the top isn’t necessarily the right place to begin.

There are reasons, as we’ve said, that Saban now makes an eight-figure salary. Attempting to deprive the players isn’t one. While Alabama and the rest of the Southeastern Conference programs still support the NCAA “amateurism” model, there is no doubt that if pay-for-play did become the law of the NCAA landscape, UA could write the checks. In fact, SEC programs could write bigger checks than anyone (with the possible exception of the Big Ten.)

What happens then? After all, just because Alabama can do it,that doesn’t mean that New Mexico and Eastern Michigan (to cite two random examples) has the same cash flow. Their budgets, and those at dozens of other football-playing schools, are already tight. (We are sticking strictly to football players here, even though the implications in other sports are huge as well).

If Alabama is able to “pay” players more than Texas State, how long before that becomes a “competitive balance” issue? Bob Bowlsby, the Big 12 commissioner, has already raised the issue of staff sizes at some schools being an “advantage,” which was nothing more than a veiled shot at Alabama for having enough money to hire more assistants than Iowa State. So if conferences are already complaining about being outspent, how much louder will it be when players start getting a paycheck? I’m not saying they shouldn’t. I’m just curious about how compensation will be calculated, and whether Alabama will somehow have to start footing part of the bill for Eastern Washington.

For now, programs that can afford to pay a coach should do it, by all means. Alabama is just fortunate to have a coach that’s worth it.


Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.