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The Crazy Season of College Football, Salaries and…Philanthropy?

By May 8, 2015May 12th, 2015All Posts, Commentary, Donor Cultivation

Jeffrey D. ByrneJeffrey D. Byrne
President + CEO

This is what I call the crazy season of college football.  It’s when the college football regular season comes to a close and those teams with winning records position themselves for bowl games and the “all-powerful” BCS Championship.

First, I have a bias.  And admittedly, I am an offender of my own bias each year.  My bias stems from the obscene amount of money we put into our college athletic programs and salaries of athletic department staff, primarily coaches.  My offense (and contradiction) is that I’m a proud donor to my alma mater both as a season ticket holder (I hold four season tickets and tailgate at every home game) and as a contributor to the student athletic scholarship fund (so I can get parking privileges.)

Second, how about those salaries in college athletics?  The University of Alabama’s Head Football Coach Nick Saban was bringing in more than $5.6 million per year in a contract that ran through 2020.  But that was prior to his most recent contract extension (just announced over the weekend) which is reportedly worth more than $7 million per year and further extends the length of the agreement.  Yes, Saban’s record with the Crimson Tide is impressive with 79 wins and 14 losses (and three national championships in 2009, 2011 and 2012). Saban also led LSU to a National Championship in 2003.

Third, what do wins or losses do for college philanthropy?  Anecdotally, we can presume that winning teams 1) boost applications for admissions, 2) swell alumni excitement and pride, 3) increase alumni giving, 4) generate positive press, 5) result in bigger and better recruiting of freshman athletes and 6) can provide big fundraising gains for the individual and collective programs and the college or university.  (There is even documentation on the effects of athletic program success on the broader college/university.  My friend and colleague Dr. Patrick Rooney, Associate Dean of the Indiana University Lilly Family of Philanthropy, tells me there is plenty of empirical research on this cause and effect.) But does a losing season do the opposite?  I would think not.

So, as I watch the MU (Missouri) Tigers play the Oklahoma State Cowboys (1/2/14) in the Cotton Bowl, or the Auburn Tigers play against the Florida State Seminoles for the BCS National Championship (1/6/14), I guess I’ll be one of those “crazy” alums: cheering on my football team, cheering (or cursing!) my head football coach and talking afterwards about the benefits of the win (note I did not say “loss”) to my alma mater. 

I guess too, I’ll be getting out my checkbook and sending in a donation – so I can upgrade next year’s season tickets and my parking pass!  Yes, I’m just another crazy fan!

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