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Saban: Underpaid At $5.3 Million?

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Alabama coach Nick Saban may be underpaid at $5.3 million a year if you believe some economists. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images.
Alabama coach Nick Saban may be underpaid at $5.3 million a year if you believe some economists. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images.

What effect has Alabama coach Nick Saban had on the SEC and the University of Alabama in only six seasons?

Saban makes $5.3 million annually and is underpaid. After winning his third national championship at Alabama last year, many college football experts and fans expect history to be made this season as the Crimson Tide is predicted to win a record third-consecutive BCS National Championship.

Saban’s record since arriving in Tuscaloosa in 2007 is 68-13, with three national titles and an SEC title. The amount Saban has affected the University of Alabama and college football in general may be difficult to measure, but the impact has been dramatic.

The Magic Of Nick Saban: Recently, a Harvard assistant marketing professor, Doug Chung, presented evidence in a 45-page paper titled “The dynamic effect of college athletics” indicating the positive benefits a strong football season can bring to a university. According to Chung, one "successful" season increases sales revenue by 18 percent and university applications by 17 percent.

How much would the University of Alabama benefit from winning three consecutive national championships?

Forbes magazine staff writer Tom Van Riper and Zach Barnett of Football Scoop answered that question in describing the Saban effect in Van Riper’s recent article, “The Magic of Nick Saban: Everyone Wants to Go to Alabama." Alabama’s athletic net profit margin increased 250 percent from 2007 to 2012 (2012 produced revenue of $124.5 million and profit of $19.4 million, according to data from USA Today, up from $67.7 million in revenue and $7.1 million in profit in 2007).

While the increase in football revenue isn't a surprise, the non-football benefits cited by the Forbes article are amazing. Some of Van Riper’s numbers:

• Undergraduate enrollment has grown by 33 percent since 2007.
• Alabama's faculty has increased by 400 since 2007.
• Out-of-state freshman enrollment has jumped from under 33 percent to more than 50 percent.
• Out-of-state tuition has grown by more than 125 percent.
• The flood of applications has allowed Alabama to lower its acceptance rate from 64 percent to 53 percent.
• Revenue generated by the 2012 freshman class is more than 225 percent greater than that of the 2007 freshman class.
• Donations to university scholarships and facilities topped $600 million for the first time in school history.

Alabama Now Is The “It" School: A strong athletics department is the only window through which many alumni and fans ever see a university. When a school is on TV every week, potential students see the success and want to be a part of it. Alabama is now the “it school” in college football. USC was the “it school” in college football from 2002-08 and Miami from 1983-91 and 2001. Branding is so important now for any organization and ESPN has branded Alabama football as a winner. Students who watch SportsCenter and other ESPN programming frequently see Alabama as a perennial leader in attracting scholar athletes and it helps imprint a sense of brand awareness in the minds of high school seniors trying to decide where to pursue a degree.

Academics: No coach has done a better job of building an athletic program from the inside out than Saban. Among all the accolades Saban has received for athletic and university achievements, he nearly hides in obscurity when it comes to academics. Earlier this year, former Alabama quarterback Phillip Sims, who transferred to Virginia, and former Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson (who played Alabama in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game) were dismissed for poor academics.

The NCAA in early June praised Alabama as one of only 13 schools for their outstanding Academic Progress Rate (APR). The Crimson Tide was the only SEC football program and one of five Alabama sports to receive an NCAA Division I public recognition award. These awards go to programs that had multi-year Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores in the top 10 percent of their respective sport for the 2011-12 academic year. The NCAA recognized Alabama women's golf for the third consecutive year and the women's tennis team collected its second consecutive APR recognition. The 2013 national champion men's golf team and men's basketball team also were honored.

Alabama's multi-year APR score has increased each year under Saban. During Saban's first season in 2007, Alabama had a score of 955. Last year, the Crimson Tide tied for third in the SEC with 970. This year the score was 978. The NCAA has distributed a public recognition award to an SEC football program just three times since 2004-05.

The secret behind the academic success for Alabama athletics lies in the Bill Battle Center for Athletic Student Services. Jon Dever, associate athletics director for student services, carries out Saban and the late Mal Moore’s academic plan. The staff of 10 full-time employees is supported by five academic interns and more than 90 part-time tutors who work in the remodeled Paul W. Bryant Hall. Not too many ardent fans care about Alabama’s APR scores late in the fourth quarter in a key SEC conference game. But academics are an integral part of Saban’s “process” and he uses it in the recruiting pitch to prospective recruits and their parents.

Other Sports Feed Off Saban’s Success: The Alabama men’s golf team won its first national championship, beating Illinois in Woodstock, Ga., June 2. It’s the Crimson Tide's eighth NCAA title since 2009 (three in football, two in women's gymnastics, one in women's golf, one in softball and now one in men's golf). It could have been the 10th, but the men’s golf team lost to Texas last year on the 18th hole and the 2013 gymnastics team lost to Florida after leading going into the final event of the NCAA championship.

The increased exposure of winning BCS National Championships draws better athletes and coaches in other sports, generates more money to pay higher salaries and increases recruiting budgets to recruit top athletes to Alabama in all sports.

Match Made In Heaven: Mal Moore was the perfect athletic director to work with Saban. Too many insecure or controlling athletic directors become envious of a coach’s success, leading to ugly divorces when the program begins to stop winning championships. Moore’s dogged pursuit of Saban landed him the biggest coaching coup in college football history. Many people scoffed when they initially heard rumors of Saban’s impending hire at Alabama. An unhappy Saban had just finished two indistinguishable years with the Miami Dolphins and his agent Jimmy Sexton contacted Moore exploring the possibility of getting back into college coaching. Moore jumped at the chance to hire Saban. He first sold Terry Saban and then her husband.

Moore had the vision and more importantly the courage to ask for donations during one of the worst recessions in the history of the nation. He realized in the early 2000s the university had fallen behind in the “arms race” of facilities and knew he had to create a plan to catch up. The detailed plan encompassed more than $240 million of capital improvements to University of Alabama athletic facilities. Not only did the plan benefit football, but all athletic programs and every Alabama student-athlete, coach and administrator. Moore wanted all athletic teams and student-athletes to be nationally competitive at the highest level. He used the vision to convince Saban to join him in implementing the plan.

Coaches Looking For The Mental Edge: Many college coaches keep trying to copy the Saban blueprint and reinvent “the process.”  Because of the current historical run, Saban is a despised but respected coach. After Alabama beat Texas, 37-21, to win Saban’s first BCS National Championship at Alabama (Jan. 7, 2010), Texas coach Mack Brown admitted “we need to become more physical like Alabama.” Saban is a tremendous believer in obtaining a “mental edge." He hires motivational organizations and individuals like Dr. Kevin Elko and the renowned Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE). Several years ago, after reviewing the Pacific Institute's benefits for athletic programs, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said, “I want the same package Nick Saban has at Alabama."

Even with his Big Ten roots and SEC pedigree, Saban is not a true college coach. He is an NFL coach. His recruiting pitch to high school juniors, hiring of assistant coaches and making appearances as a ‘proud father’ during the first round of the NFL Draft present a distinctive NFL flavor. Saban learned well from his tenure as assistant coach with the Cleveland Browns from 1991-94 under future Hall of Fame coach Bill Belichick. Many NFL general managers annually admit before the NFL Draft that Alabama players are “NFL ready” their first day of training camp.

Saban gives each player a three-ring binder detailing every goal and how to achieve the goals. It’s a blueprint that Saban has used to become the best coach in college football.

Detractors And Criticisms: No matter how much Saban has accomplished in college football, he is not without his critics. His reputation for years was that of a hired gun who had no loyalty to a team or program. A lot of the criticism came from 2005-06 as head coach of the Miami Dolphins. Reports indicate he made a 300-pound lineman cry after a particular bad practice. He reportedly once ignored a player suffering from convulsions without stopping to check on the player’s medical condition (Saban has repeatedly explained that he was not aware of the severity of the situation). Some Dolphins fans will not forgive Saban for leaving Miami to take the Alabama job.

During a press conference Dec. 21, 2006, Saban denied rumors he was interested in the Alabama job. Saban adamantly denied any interest in the Alabama position.

"I guess I have to say it,” Saban said. “I'm not going to be the Alabama coach.”

Ten days later, Mal Moore introduced Saban as the next Alabama coach.

During his tenure at Alabama, Saban has been accused of finding loopholes in the NCAA recruiting rules. Many college football pundits believe the “bump rule” is named after Nick Saban because it was reported that he had a “chance” encounter with prized recruit Barry Sanders Jr. in January of 2011. Sanders later signed with Stanford.

The NCAA doesn't allow contact with a recruit before July 1 following the completion of his or her junior year of high school. Contact is defined as "any face-to-face encounter" between a recruit and his or her family with a university representative that exceeds a simple greeting. Sanders Jr., a top running back prospect in 2011 and the son of an NFL great Barry Sanders, was a high school junior at the time. Extended conversations with juniors aren't allowed.

After media reports surfaced on the meeting, Saban defended himself.

"It was just a greeting, and that's fine the way I understand the rule," Saban replied. "There was no set-up. It was strictly I ran into a guy in the cafeteria in the school and I greeted him and asked him about his injury. So, you know, I'll defend myself on that one."

Saban is a polarizing personality and a frequent topic of conversation of coaches on the offseason appearance circuit with boosters and fans. In January, Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin, speaking to a group of high school students, referred to Saban as "Nicky Satan." In May, one of Saban's own former assistants, Tim Davis, now an offensive line coach at Florida, called Saban "the devil himself" at a booster meeting. Franklin and Davis later apologized publicly for their comments.