Source: USA TODAY
For college coaches who can get incentive bonuses, some seasons are bad, some are good and some are really good.
Then there’s the season Todd Graham is having.
The Arizona State football coach, whose incentive package is one the most lucrative in college sports, already has racked up nearly $800,000 in bonuses — and that’s with two games remaining in the Sun Devils’ season.
If the team wins both, Saturday night’s Pacific-12 Conference championship game at home against Stanford and then the Rose Bowl that would follow, he will get at least $1.2 million more. That’s without winning the Bowl Championship Series national title, which the 13th-ranked Sun Devils (10-2) won’t even play for, and without counting money he could get for national coach-of-the-year honors and/or the team’s academic performance. (He was named Pac-12 coach of the year on Monday, an honor that gives him a $50,000 bonus.)
Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, whose team can win the BCS title, also is among the 16 public-school coaches who began the season with the possibility of at least $1 million in bonuses. He still has $750,000 for on-field achievements and $200,000 in coaching awards available beyond the $250,000 in extras he already has gained.
Graham’s bonus take so far is greater than the guaranteed compensation being received by about a third of the 126 NCAA Bowl Subdivision head coaches this season, according to USA TODAY Sports’ recent compensation survey. It is more than double the guaranteed pay for Northern Illinois’ Rod Carey, whose 18th-ranked Huskies (12-0) likely will play in a Bowl Championship Series game if they win the Mid-American Conference title game Friday night against Bowling Green.
Graham is adding to $2.3 million in guaranteed compensation for this season, which places him just outside the 30 highest-paid football head coaches and in same neighborhood as Malzahn ($2.44 million, including forgiveness of part of the loan he received so he could pay a buyout to Arkansas State).
Arizona State senior associate athletics director Rocky Harris, who oversees marketing, communications and fundraising, says “our fans actually appreciate” that Graham is so heavily incentivized. The university used the same approach with Graham’s predecessor, Dennis Erickson, and uses it with other coaches.
“You invest in your coaches appropriately to keep them, but you don’t want to overpay for coaches either,” Harris says. “We and our fans want to win, and they want us to pay coaches when they do well. But they don’t want us to have a top-five-paid coach every year when we’re not having that type of success.”
Arizona State’s success this season comes at a critical moment for its athletics program.
In recent years, the program’s subsidy from the university has been among the greatest for a program in one of the six elite conferences. Even with the subsidies, it has fallen more than $1 million short of covering its annual operating expenses in each of the past four years for which national data are available — and more than $10 million short overall, in part because of buyouts paid to Erickson, his staff and former AD Lisa Love in 2011-12. (It is projecting it will show a modest surplus for 2012-13, according to data provided by Harris.)
So, while Harris says Arizona State was about $4.55 million ahead of last season in football ticket revenue alone this season, Graham’s bonuses could put a sizable dent in that. In a bigger picture, though, Harris says the amount of money raised through gifts of $5,000 or more to the athletics program from July through October surpassed that amount for the entire 2011-12 fiscal year.
That’s a significant development as Arizona State prepares to launch a fundraising campaign to help cover the cost of renovating Sun Devil Stadium and pursue a long-term goal of eliminating the university’s subsidy to athletics. Harris also says this season’s wins will help with 2014 season-ticket sales and related booster-club donations, just as last year’s win over rival Arizona and bowl victory over Navy provided financial momentum for this year.
Graham benefited from that momentum, too. His guaranteed compensation for this season was increased from $2.05 million under a contract revision and extension that was approved by the university’s governing board in late September, retroactive to July 1.
The new terms allowed him to get nearly $3.2 million in bonuses this contract year if he and the team met all of the deal’s top performance-bonus goals, including those related to academics.
That’s about 50% more than what he could have gotten last season and over $1.4 million more than any other FBS head coach could have gotten this season, not counting the value of contract extensions that a handful of coaches could trigger by meeting various goals.
The notion of contracts being weighted toward incentives extends beyond the elite conferences. Fresno State, Hawaii and San Diego State each offered the prospect of more than $850,000 in bonuses this season to coaches who make less than that in guaranteed money, and Fresno State’s Tim DeRuyter made it pay off.
DeRuyter, who is guaranteed $650,000, has assured himself of $375,000 in on-field bonuses, additional money in academic bonuses and he could get another $200,000 if the Bulldogs win the Mountain West title game and their bowl game.
That would put his bonus pay at around 90% of his guaranteed compensation — roughly equivalent to the percentage of guaranteed pay that Graham could get.