Trends in College Football May Not be Sustainable

Darrel K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium, UT vs. Kansas, 2017 (Photo by Lynn Woolley for WBDaily)

Attending a Texas Longhorns football game is a luxury I permit myself about once a season. It’s not an inexpensive way to spend an afternoon anymore. Beyond that, the game is changing in ways that make it harder to be a fan.

“Name Image and Likeness” (NIL) money has turned the starting lineup into professionals. The Transfer Portal has eliminated a great deal of school loyalty and has created an easy way for coaches to move out players they no longer need. The old bowl system of rewarding players with an extra game is collapsing as players have no interest unless it’s part of the playoff.  Coaches have become multi-millionaires with gigantic payoffs if they get fired.

What could go wrong? For the answer, keep your eye on ESPN and Fox Sports.

Random Samplings is a service of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Texas A&M always seems to be at the forefront of making coaches richer.

And that’s even when they fire them. Eyebrows were raised when the Ags fired head coach Jimbo Fisher for not bringing a national championship to College Station. The buying out of his contract cost more than $75,000,000. That’s a fortune that would impress Scrooge McDuck.

Video: Jackie Sherrill weighs in on NIL and realignment.

The origins of wanting a football championship so badly that money would be no object may go back to 1982 when the Aggies brought in Jackie Sherrill from the University of Pittsburgh. His resume was impressive as outlined on the Panthers website:

As the Panthers’ head coach from 1977-81, Sherrill cemented Pitt’s stature as a national football powerhouse.  A former top lieutenant to John Majors, Sherrill took the reins of a Pitt program fresh off the 1976 national championship. He would build upon that success by fashioning a 50-9-1 mark from 1977-81, including a 4-1 bowl record and four Top 10 finishes. Sherrill’s .842 winning percentage as Pitt’s head coach is the highest in the football program’s history.

The Aggies took note and found a way to lure him to College Station:  Per Wikipedia:

On January 19, 1982, Sherrill was hired by Texas A&M as a replacement for Tom Wilson, signing a record six-year contract for over $1.7 million.

And even legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno took note of the new money-driven way of running a program:

When asked about retirement, Joe Paterno once said that he would not, because it would leave college football in the hands of “the Jackie Sherrills and the Barry Switzers”.

Sherrill left with a winning record against the Texas Longhorns, but no national title. In hiring Jimbo Fisher, the Aggies were still searching for that rarefied air occupied by programs like Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan, Southern Cal, and their much-despised rival, the University of Texas.

Video:  Jimbo gets canned – CBS News

The University of Texas proves it can spend money on coaches as well.

The only thing that matters in college football anymore is winning the title.  It’s worth any cost.  Colleges see the pathway to that title as: hiring head coaches who have done well somewhere else. Forget the fact that “somewhere else” may have had a team loaded with talent. Remember, UT’s Mack Brown was let go, but he was a fabulous coach when he had many of the country’s best players in 2005, and Vince Young as quarterback. Really good players always seem to make for a really good coach.

UT’s current coach, Steve Sarkisian, had really good players in 2023 – good enough to beat Nick Saban’s Alabama team and make it into the 4-team national playoff.  They lost in the first round to Washington, but then something happened. Saban, who had earlier called the state of college football “unsustainable,” decided to retire. That worried the powers-that-be at UT, who feared that Alabama might poach Sarkisian. You’ll recall he was the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 2019-2020.

That meant a new contract for Sark, according media reports, worth $10.3 million in base pay.

Scrooge McDuck and Jackie Sherrill would be impressed. That’s close to double his previous fortune of just $5.8 million. Local media reports in Austin have detailed the automatic raises and other perks that Coach Sark will get to induce him to stay in Austin.  (You know, like Jimbo Fisher was induced to stay in College Station before A&M lowered the boom.)

Sark will get a $100,000 raise each year after the 2024 season.  That means he’ll pull in $10.9 million annually by the time he serves out the ten years. That’s assuming he keeps winning and doesn’t get fired like poor, rich Jimbo.  Or that he doesn’t get an NFL offer that’s even larger.

That means Sark has to keep winning even though the competition in the SEC will be tougher. 

Remember, most SEC coaches are highly paid as well, and they have much of the nation’s best talent too. But when Texas A&M shows the folly of these long contracts with ridiculous payouts, UT simply follows suit and doles out the bucks.

Per KXAN-TV, here are some of the incentives in Sark’s new contact:

  • $150,000 each year that Texas plays in the SEC championship game and $300,000 if Texas wins it
  • $100,000 if Texas makes it to a non-CFP bowl game
  • $250,000 if Texas plays in the first round of the CFP (it will expand to 12 teams next season)
  • $500,000 for playing in the CFP quarterfinals
  • $750,000 for playing in the CFP semifinals
  • $1 million for playing in the CFP national championship game
  • $1.25 million for winning the CFP national championship

And there’s more:

  • He’ll get $200,000 if he’s named the national coach of the year by one of the seven recognized outlets
  • And an extra $100,000 if he’s named the conference coach of the year.
  • He’ll receive more tickets for home and away games as well. He’ll get 12 for every home game, up from eight, and he can buy up to 20 tickets.
  • He’ll also retain the use of a suite for all home games.
  • He’ll get eight tickets for each away game with the option to buy 20 and up to eight for postseason games.
  • A suite is included for postseason games. He’ll also get six tickets to all other Texas Athletics home games.
  • Sarkisian also gets to use the university’s private jet for 20 hours per year and two cars, like he did under the previous contract.

It kind of reminds you of school superintendents and city managers, doesn’t it?  They’re on a smaller scale salary-wise, but they have dammed nice contracts.

So, what could go wrong?

Perhaps nothing.  College football has a lot going for it. With 133 schools in Division I, colleges can produce exciting games with smaller teams often coming up with big upsets. Remember the rise of Boise State?  Remember TCU’s magical season?

By comparison, the NFL has 32 teams, they play each other over and over, and “on any given day” each can beat the other because they’re all pretty much the same. I switched allegiance to college football decades ago because of that very reason. College football is simply more fun.  Or was.

But here’s what to watch. All this money comes from selling tickets and from the TV networks. So, let’s say that UT, with 101,000 seats is a constant sellout.  At $75 per ticket (which is about what I usually pay), that’s $7,575,000 brought in at the gate.  A couple of sell-outs and the coaches’ salaries are covered.

If Texas loses in the SEC and the attendance goes down, that’s a problem.

Cord-cutting is the other problem. ESPN and Fox Sports only have money to purchase rights for millions of dollars if people are paying big money for cable nets. These two networks account for the biggest share of the money with CBS and NBC also putting up a lot of dollars. Note that none of these networks wanted the Pac 12 after it started falling apart. They didn’t see big profits coming from the Pac 12. The conference fell apart without a TV deal.

If cable TV essentially goes away sometime in the near future, then what happens? It will be replaced by live streaming networks, and how will that turn out? Of course, we can’t know until it happens.

We know this.

High-priced tickets, and multimillionaire coaches are only sustainable so long as the fans are still going to the games and watching on TV. NIL, the Transfer Portal, conference realignment, and the decline of most of the bowl games will have an effect. We just don’t know precisely what it will be.  Nick Saban said it’s “unsustainable” and he got out.  The networks and the fans are still there.  At least for now.

Lynn Woolley is a Texas-based author, broadcaster, and songwriter.  Follow his podcast at  Check out his author’s page at  Order books direct from Lynn at https://PlanetLogicPress.Square.Site.  Email Lynn at

This book is totally sustainable. And at a reasonable price!

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