College sports is a billion dollar a year business. At the moment, aside from their scholarships, the athletes who play football and other sports at NCAA schools don’t get to share in the windfall. (Fault Lines tackles the subject of whether that could soon change in its new film “State of Play: Football Players and the NCAA," airing Sat., June 21, at 7pm ET/4 pm PT.)
Coaches, however, do get a piece of the revenue. According to a 2013 study by the sports blog Deadspin, in 27 of the 50 U.S. states, the highest paid public employee is the football coach at the largest state university. South Carolina is one those states. Steve Spurrier, aka “The Ol’ Ball Coach,” who heads the program at the University of South Carolina, makes $1.05 million annually in base salary. That’s twice as much as the second-highest paid state employee, the university’s athletic director, Ray Tanner.
Spurrier’s certainly has the credentials to back up his paycheck, which will ultimately reach $4 million per year: He’s won a national championship and has been the named coach of the year in the Southeastern Conference, college football’s premier conference, seven times. He even won a Heisman Trophy as a quarterback at the University of Florida.
Compared to Spurrier, the base salary earned by Dabo Swinney, the head football coach at in-state rival Clemson University, is paltry. At $252,350, it ties him for the 70th most highly paid official in the South Carolina.
Swinney is 25 years younger than Spurrier and doesn’t have nearly the resume of The Ol’ Ball Coach. But the future looks bright for Clemson’s leader. He won the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year award in 2011, which is given to the top coach in all of college football. He’s led Clemson to 10 wins in each of the last three years and to the prestigious Orange Bowl in 2012 and 2014 seasons. After he won this year’s Orange Bowl, Clemson rewarded him with an 8-year contract that could be worth more than $27 million.
The math behind Swinney’s average yearly salary of $3.39 million under his new contract is not exactly straightforward. This is actually a contract extension, so his base salary is essentially unchanged since 2009. Via a FOIA request, Fault Lines was able to get a copy of Swinney's original contract. (A request for the addendum that spells out the new terms of Swinney's contract was not furnished by Clemson University by press time.) Below is an annotated version of the 2009 contract with some of the more interesting clauses, outlining some of the most noteworthy perks, incentives and payment mechanisms, highlighted.
The Fault Lines investigation into college sports, "State of Play: Football Players and the NCAA," premieres on Al Jazeera America on Saturday, June 21, at 7 p.m. Eastern time. It will air again that evening at 10 p.m. Eastern and Sunday, June 22, at 2 a.m. Eastern.