From the Press Box: How much is too much? $600 million?

Opinion and Insight

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Big money keeps talking as the prolific bowl season continues.


I bleed crimson. My passionate support of the University of Alabama athletics, principally the 17-time national champion football team, is no secret.

However, last week the university announced a spending program that took my breath away and caused me to stop a “Roll Tide!” before I could finish it.

Bama Athletic Director Greg Byrne led a press conference to announce a new 10-year facilities upgrade program called “The Crimson Standard.” The cost? A measly $600 million.

What do you get for $600,000,000? All this, and more.

There are plenty of videos out there that already hype the incredible facilities currently in place. I have seen the weight rooms in Ames and Iowa City. They are child’s play compared to the one in Tuscaloosa.

The school recently finished a new nutrition center (for all athletics, not just football) that will be staffed by five full-time chefs and 13 nutrition specialists. Think about that for a moment.

Nick Saban, probably the greatest collegiate football coach of all time, will make a base salary of $7.5 million this year, and it will rise to over $10 million a year before it ends five years from now. Of course, he makes a few extra million on the side with TV shows, endorsements, appearances, yada yada yada.

Is he worth it? That depends on your point of view.

Hired in 2007, he has won national titles in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2017. With a break or two, the 2013 and 2016 could easily have been Bama’s as well.

Last year the football program, after all expenses, generated an $83 million profit. In that light, $7.5 million for the coach is a great deal. That $83 million is more than paying for all other sports at the school.

Here is the rub, and it does grate, even on a crazed fanatic like me . . . the football team I root for represents the University of Alabama. A university. Not a collection of a few hundred skilled athletes playing a dozen or so sports but an institution of higher learning.

According to the school’s own data, a total of 38,563 undergraduates were enrolled in 2016-2017. That number is more than double from 25 years ago.

The cost for an in-state student to attend the university, based on 15 credit hours, full room and board, fees, estimated book costs and extraneous costs, is placed, by the school, at just under $30,000 a year. For an out-of-state student, the costs soars to nearly $50,000 a year.

The athletic department — and this is, principally, football money — has been quite generous in pouring funds into academics. New buildings have been built, dorms built and remodeled to be top-of-the-line (so far as dorm life goes!) and there has been much investment in the graduate programs.

Alumni, private donors and “corporate friends” will be the ones creating the $600 million stack the school will use for The Crimson Standard. The total raised has already reached $143 million, with the Sabans generously chipping in a cool million of their own.

It will not work out this way, of course, but at an average of $60 million a year, The Crimson Standard, were it designed to do so, could give every single undergrad a $1,500 stipend and still have money left over. Hmmm.

After all, those 38,000-plus undergrads, even were they all in-state, pay (and this is simplifying the matter considerably) in the neighborhood of $1.4 billion each year for their educations. But wait, lets spend $600 million dollars on athletics.

A six-foot high stack of 2016 brand new $100 bills contains, for the sake of argument, approximately 1,6744 bills. Let us call it $1.6 million. If you had 37 six-foot tall stacks you would not reach $60 million. And they are aiming to spend that amount 10 times over.

Roll Tide? More like ka-ching.

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