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PHIL HARDWICK — How best to pay college football coaches’ salaries

PHIL HARDWICK

The biggest college football story of 2018 might not be about which team was the national champion, but how many NCAA football coaches received over $5 million, and where the money will come from to pay those relatively stratospheric salaries. Not to worry, the market has a way of sorting out these things. But just in case, I had a “convergence” experience that may be of interest to the collegiate fundraisers.

Those who are in the business of raising or donating money to college football programs have seen the price of admission go up substantially in the past several years. According to USA Today’s 2018 NCAA Salaries webpage (http://sports.usatoday.com/ncaa/salaries), 13 football coaches earn total pay of at least $5 million this year. Not surprisingly, Alabama’s Nick Sabin tops the list at $8,307,00, followed by Ohio State’s Urban Meyer at $7,600,00, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh at $7,504,000. At number seven on the list is Clemson’s Dabo Swinney at $6,543,350. Georgia’s Kirby Smart comes in at number 6 with $6,603,500. It’s not difficult to see the connection between pay and gridiron success. Assistant coaches’ salaries at some top schools are now in the quarter of a million dollar range. So what are the money raisers to do?

A few weeks ago, while reading an article on this subject, a mysterious – some would say miraculous – thing happened. I looked up from what I was reading to see a television program about a certain, legendary national Division I-A football team. The show pointed out that some of the supporters of the football program were so fanatical that dozens of them had their ashes secretly spread on the field after their deaths. Shortly thereafter, I received a letter from my church about its new columbarium program. Hmmm. Convergence had occurred.

Convergence is a term that gets used a lot in business publications. It means that things are approaching each other or coming together. Think of it as a junction where things meet at the same place at the same time. The business world is especially interested in convergences that result in new products or services or a new way of doing things. For example, cell phone and e-mail technology coming together, or high oil prices and ethanol. In the advertising world there is a clever ad about how chocolate and peanut butter accidentally “converged” to create Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups ®. What’s converging in this case is the acceptance of the columbarium as a final resting place and the desire to “spend eternity” at one’s favorite college or university.

A columbarium is a structure with recessed cavities, or niches, for storage of ashes of those who have died and been cremated. Cremation is becoming increasingly accepted in the United States. The Cremation Association of North America reported that in 2017, the US cremation rate was 51.6%. In 2000 the cremation rate was approximately 26 percent. Mississippi had the lowest creation rate in 2017 at 22.5%, while Washington, Nevada and Oregon had rates just over 75%.

Several schools have already gotten into the columbarium act. In November 2007, The Citadel dedicated a columbarium at the base of the school’s bell tower so that those whose ashes are enshrined therein will be “Alumni Forever.”  There are 403 niches, each of which can contain two urns. In 2002 the University of Richmond completed construction of a columbarium with 3,000 niches. Notre Dame recently completed two mausoleums containing over 1,000 crypts.

There are others, but this writer could not find any that are specifically marketed to rabid sports fans. Oops, allow an amendment to that statement. A South Carolina real estate developer purchased land across from the University of South Carolina’s William-Brice Stadium to build an above-ground monument to hold cremains of Gamecock fans who have passed away. At the proposed site there would be three 8-foot-tall monuments holding 2,400 spaces, or niches, for funeral urns and be in the shape of the letters U-S-C. The black marble letters would have lighting on top. Niches would cost between $5,000 and $10,000. The project received local government approval, but has had backlash from university officials and some members of the public.

Alumni loyalty is a powerful thing, especially when it comes to sports and logos. A Wall Street Journal article way back in 2002 reported that about 50 schools license their emblems to a casket maker who sells caskets and urns with the school emblem emblazoned thereon. Yes, the school gets a percentage.

Now imagine a family weekend on campus where the loved ones check into the alumni house or a local motel, visit the columbarium that contains the ashes of their dear departed, attend a tailgate party and then go cheer the football team on to victory.

So where am I going with all this?

Answer:  To the end zone.

That’s right, the end zone, or at least a few feet behind it. Imagine a columbarium right behind the end zone where alumni and fans could have their final resting places almost on the field of play. The universities would charge a hefty initial price and an annual maintenance fee. The income would be designated towards paying the salary of the football coach.

I know a few alums who would not have it any other way when they pass on.

» PHIL HARDWICK is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist. His e-mail is phil@philhardwick.com.

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