What is the price of success? Hundreds of hours of practice? Film study? Weight-lifting? Sprints? Or maybe it has a more tangible price tag — let’s say around $100,000,000?

The 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship showcased two powerhouse programs: the Clemson Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide. Alabama is widely considered one of the greatest football programs of all-time, seeking its 17th championship, and has undoubtedly been a dynasty under head coach Nick Saban looking to claim his fifth national title in the last eight seasons. Clemson, after defeating the Crimson Tide last night, has now claimed their second national championship (1981-1982 season), avenging last year’s 45-40 loss in the national championship.

It’s no secret how much hard work and sacrifice is required to achieve the pinnacle of college football success. Year-in and year-out we see that hard work displayed on the biggest stage in college sports. What we don’t see are the receipts, price tags, or checks. “Work hard and you will succeed” is the crux to the ‘American Dream,’ which may be reason many people fail to notice the monetary means that helped propel the most successful college football programs to their current hierarchy.

Breakdown of Coaches’ Salaries

When Saban was hired in 2007, the university paid him $225,000 — other expenses such as bonuses and insurance raised his total to about $3.5 million. Alabama tasted its first championship in almost 20 years in 2009 and Saban saw his first significant pay raise jump to $5.1 million—add some bonuses and the total comes out to just short of $6 million. Saban has seen relatively slight pay bumps the last few years, maintaining around $7 million. That’s enough to place him as the second highest paid coach in college football; second-year Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s $9 million makes Saban’s bankroll seem modest.

Clemson’s head coach Dabo Swinney was hired in 2009 at $250,000 — a similar starting tag as Saban (bonuses brought the total salary for Swinney’s first year to just under $820,000). Gradual increases bring the Tiger coach up to $4.4 million for this past year, good enough to sit at No.12 among Division I football coaches. (All figures via USA Today)

Don’t forget, head coaches can’t do it alone. Both schools leave $5.3 million to divide among their assistant football coaches: the teams’ athletic sites list nine for Clemson and fourteen for Alabama.

To put these numbers in comparison, the state governor of Alabama has an annual salary of $119,950; however, Robert J. Bentley, the current state governor, has refused compensation for his public office since elected in 2010.  South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley receives $106,078 for her title, yet also has been known to donate almost half of her earnings to charity.

Though dwarfing many legislators’ incomes, both Alabama and Clemson can afford the high-priced coaches. In 2015, the schools saw total revenues of $149 million and $83.5 million, respectively.Clemson, whose expenses totaled $82.9 million last year, sits at 39th in total revenue among Division I schools. The picturesque program Alabama, who spent $132.4 million last year, earned the fifth highest revenue total in Division I.

In 2014, academic spending of Clemson and Alabama came to about $16,000 per full-time student. In that same year, Alabama’s athletic spending totaled more than $323,000 per football player whereas Clemson spent a meager $219,000 per football player, both of which were noted in the Knight Commission Spending Database. Take out all football players from the athletic spending, and Clemson loses almost $60k per student athlete ($98k/student athlete) while Alabama loses a staggering $82k per student athlete ($134k/student athlete).

Clemson sponsors sixteen sports other than football while Alabama sponsors fourteen besides their gridiron gang.  In 2014, Clemson set aside $15.4 million for coaches’ salaries while the Crimson Tide staffs received $23.1 million in compensation, per the Knight Commission Database. The Clemson football staff owns about two-thirds of that money, leaving just more than $5 million for the sixteen other coaching staffs to divvy. At Alabama, the football staff claims more than half of the salaries owed to the University’s coaches. Both universities have set aside about one-third of their total coaching money to just one man: the head football coach.

It is important to note Clemson and Alabama’s spending in comparison with the rest of the country. In terms of academic expenses, both schools are on par with their respective conferences as well as the national average of $15k/student. Regarding overall athletic funding, Alabama’s conference, the SEC, averages $187k/student athlete, comparable to the Tide’s $206k. The Tiger’s $155k/student athlete is slightly higher than their conference, the ACC, average of $130k.

Both schools and conferences are higher than the national average of $111k/student athlete.  The national average among Division I schools for football is $123k/player, whereas the ACC average is closer to $170k/player. Clemson’s spending per football player ($219k) doesn’t even margin with the SEC average which totals to more than $222k/player. All fall pale in comparison with Alabama ($323k/player), where the precedent for success is set.

At the end of the day, football is king, as both Clemson and Alabama have been the definition of putting ‘your money where your mouth is.’ Seeing that these two schools played for a National Championship for the second consecutive year, you could say it has paid off.


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