ARBOR WEALTH: Wrigley Field, Saban and Big and Rich

Margaret McDowell | ARBOR WEALTH

“Time to get on down to Florida … for the game!” from “Comin’ to Your City” as performed by Big and Rich

As a fair-weather Cubs fan who attended games at Wrigley Field quite sparingly, the extent of my sports allegiance is shallow and casual.  So when I moved South 33 years ago, I was completely unprepared for the passion which accompanies college football in “y’all” country.

I never watch an entire game, though I will admit to an affinity for the song “We’re Comin’ to Your City,” played at top volume on televisions throughout my neighborhood each Saturday morning. Something about a “College Game Day Show?”  All I know is that the noise drowns out the Cooking Channel.

But a recent article in The Economist piqued my interest about college athletics. The magazine estimates NCAA annual revenues at $10 billion. The argument that coffers will be depleted if student-athletes are given a living wage in addition to a scholarship seems laughable in this context.

In 41 of 50 American states, a college coach is the highest paid public employee. Urban Meyer’s net worth is said to be approaching $18 million. Nick Saban’s net worth is estimated at $15 million; his annual salary is $5.6 million.  My son, a Florida grad, says this demonstrates Meyer’s superior financial acumen. 

At $3.7 million annually, Gator hoops coach Billy Donovan is Florida’s highest paid public employee. Saban is Alabama’s highest paid public employee.  Bulldogs’ Head Coach Mark Richt is the highest paid Georgia public employee, at $3.2 million. 

The economic impact of college football on local communities is not insignificant. For the players, though, it would be fascinating to analyze their participation in “return on investment” terms. What is the actual risk and reward for them?

It certainly appears to be a one-sided affair, like buying a penny stock and hoping the company will take off. The odds that a college player will advance to the professional level, simultaneously gaining employable skill while avoiding serious injury, are stacked heavily against him. And as The Economist observes, he gets nothing financially for his considerable efforts. Except his scholarship. “Most student-athletes technically live in poverty,” notes the magazine, “because their scholarships do not cover the cost of living beyond room and board and the NCAA bars them from signing independent endorsement or licensing deals … For decades, college sports fans cheered for their alma maters without worrying that the best coaches earn millions … while the best players live hand to mouth.”

One wonders about the long term financial prospects for collegians who don’t turn pro.  Some actually pursue serious academic careers, but a large number fail to graduate with marketable skills. And many major in pigskin, while the mentors around them major in money.

Margaret R. McDowell, ChFC, AIF, a syndicated economic columnist, is the founder of Arbor Wealth Management, LLC, (850-608-6121 —, a “fee-only” registered investment advisory firm located near Sandestin. This column should not be considered personalized investment advice and provides no assurance that any specific strategy or investment will be suitable or profitable for an investor.