Saban and Day Contracts Reveal Money on the Line in Championship Game: Data Viz

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Lev Akabas and Daniel Libit
·4 min read
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Coming the same day that the NCAA was supposed to vote on new rules allowing college athletes the chance to earn some money, the CFP National Championship game serves as a stark reminder of where the wealth of intercollegiate athletics really flows–and likely will continue to, regardless of name, image and likeness reform.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Ohio State’s Ryan Day will enter Hard Rock Stadium Monday night having pocketed, just between the two of them, annual compensation roughly equivalent to the entire budgets of dozens of mid-major Division I athletic departments. Including bonuses, Saban has already netted $9,850,000 in the 2020 season, while Day has taken in $6,698,264.

Saban ranks as the nation’s second-highest-paid college football coach behind Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, and Day, in only his second full season at the helm in the Horseshoe, trails not so far behind on the list of America’s most handsomely compensated public employees.

But they are far from the only members of the 37% tax bracket club you’ll find along the sidelines Monday night. In addition to those for the head coaches, Sportico obtained the most updated employment contracts from the schools’ athletic directors, offensive and defensive coordinators, and directors of sports performance. As shown in this chart, Alabama is paying more for each slot, except for one: OSU’s top strength and conditioning staffer, Michael Marotti, is doing better than his Alabama counterpart, David Ballou, who was hired this past spring.

Some other notable discoveries:

COVID contrast
Ohio State’s quintet took a 5% pay reduction over nine months (for Day, that amounted to $236,778) as part of OSU’s efforts to defray athletics expenses amid the pandemic. While this amounted to peanuts in the totality of the Buckeyes’ costs this year, it was at least a symbolic gesture––one the Crimson Tide’s high-income individuals did not make.

Incentive structure
Both Saban and Day were due similar annual bonuses heading into Monday’s championship––$750,000 and $700,000, respectively—but only Saban stands to earn a direct bonus if his team takes the title. Per his contract, he will get an additional $200,000 if the Tide beats Ohio State.

Similarly, only assistant coaches on the Alabama side have a direct financial stake in the championship game––$24,500 and $10,000, respectively, for defensive coordinator Pete Golding and Ballou.

OSU’s coaches, though, have already boosted their earnings by making it this far. Offensive coordinator Kerry Coombs, defensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and Marotti are each due an incentive bonus amounting to more than half (55.25%) of their base salaries (that’s $773,500 for Coombs). Meanwhile, the equivalent members of UA’s staff earned sums worth 20% of their base salaries, a number that’s still in the six-digit range for each, for winning the SEC championship and reaching the title game.

It was unclear, as of publication, whether either coach cashed in on their teams’ differing academic goals: Day’s bonus is based on the team GPA number, while Saban’s is based on how his team graduation rate compares to fellow SEC schools.

Termination differentiation
It might seem strange to contemplate the end of their tenures right now, but consider this: What if either Saban or Day were to jump to the NFL? For Saban, it would be easy: His contract requires him to pay nothing in the event he ever decides to terminate his coaching contract, which is slated to run through February 2026.

Even if Saban were to leave for another college job, all he would owe Alabama is the promise not to contact any of the school’s recruits for one year––and to not disclose the Tide’s “confidential” information to another FBS school. Day, on the other hand, would need to ruminate over some serious cost-benefit analysis: If he were to leave OSU before the month is out, he would owe the school a payment of $3,500,000, in addition to covering the remaining contracts for all his coaching and support staff––a tab in the millions.

On the other hand, if Ohio State decides to ditch Day before his current deal expires in January 2027, it would owe him the remainder of his total compensation. If Alabama wants to say “see ya” to Saban, the school would owe four years’ worth of pay or the remainder of the money left on his deal, whichever is less. At present, the buyout tab of his contract would surpass $35 million.

Hold that (food) line
Lest one doubt the ferocity of Alabama’s contract attorney, there is a place where it will most assuredly put its foot down. As is stipulated quite clearly in each of the relevant agreements Sportico reviewed, ‘Bama insists that Saban, et al., pay for whatever food and beverage expenses they incur as part of the complimentary country club memberships comped by the school.

Drink tab
Speaking of refreshments, Day’s contract specifies he is to receive $10,000 for a single, 30-minute appearance promoting Coca-Cola, the Buckeyes’ official beverage sponsor.

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