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Pac-12 football ROI: Deion Sanders becomes the third highest-paid coach as Colorado antes up

Pac-12 football ROI: Deion Sanders becomes the third highest-paid coach as Colorado antes up

New Colorado coach Deion Sanders stole the stage, the show and the day at his introductory news conference Sunday, but the most interesting comment — the prime quote, if you will — came from Buffaloes athletic director Rick George.

Asked about Sanders’ considerable annual salary, George said:

“We don’t have the money yet, but I know we’ll have it, so I’m not worried about that piece.”

George didn’t elaborate on the source of the anticipated funds.

One possibility is the Pac-12’s next media rights agreement, which could be finalized early in 2023.

Another option: Pledges from a donor base suddenly energized by Sanders’ arrival.

But the funding details are less significant than the up-front commitment itself from Colorado’s administration.

“This is the time for us to put all the chips in the center,” George added, “and it’s time for us to make a significant commitment to athletics and this football program.”

Pac-12 presidents and chancellors have long been more hesitant to invest heavily in football than many of their peers in other Power Five conferences.

The refusal to pay top dollar for coaches and facilities, combined with the desire to place football on the same plane as Olympic sports, contributed to an on-field deterioration that has undermined the Pac-12’s brand.

Commissioner George Kliavkoff, appointed in May of 2021, has made football investment a centerpiece of his tenure.

“Historically, I don’t think we’ve made a great case for the ROI of footbalI,’’ Kliavkoff told the Hotline earlier this year.

“I’m not going to take the opportunity to speak to my 12 bosses” — the presidents and chancellors — “without talking about it. It’s going to be a constant topic.

“They are going to get tired of hearing it from me.’’

Whether Colorado chancellor Phil DiStefano and university system president Todd Saliman got tired of hearing it from Kliavkoff, George or both, the message resonated.

With an outlay of more than $50 million for Sanders and his coaching staff, according to the Denver Post, the Buffaloes have joined an expanding club.

One by one, it seems, some Pac-12 campuses are supporting football like never before.

Oregon has long been all-in when it comes to resource commitment, with a major assist from donor Phil Knight.

USC lured one of the top coaches in the country, Lincoln Riley, with one of the most lucrative contract offers in the sport. (Riley’s salary has not been disclosed but is believed to approach $10 million annually.)

Utah did the same with its stadium renovation and a long-term contract for Kyle Whittingham.

Now, here come the Buffaloes, reportedly paying an average of $5.9 million annually for Sanders — almost double the amount of his predecessor, Karl Dorrell.

(CU has allotted about $5 million per year for Sanders’ assistants.)

The cash outlays vary, of course, and are based on campus economics. Washington State’s investment cannot compare to USC’s in raw dollars. But the Cougars are more committed to football, relative to their budget constraints, than many schools in the conference.

With Sanders under contract and only one school with a vacancy (Stanford), the salary structure for Pac-12 coaches looks like this:

1. USC’s Lincoln Riley
Average salary: $9 million (estimated)
(Source: The Hotline)

2. Utah’s Kyle Whittingham
Average salary: $6.83 million
(Source: USA Today)

3. Colorado’s Deion Sanders
Average salary: $5.9 million
(Source: Denver Post)

4. Oregon’s Dan Lanning
Average salary: $4.85 million
(Source: Oregonlive.com)

5. Cal’s Justin Wilcox
Average salary: $4.75 million
(Source: SI.com)

6. UCLA’s Chip Kelly
Average salary: $4.7 million
(Source: ESPN)

7. Washington’s Kalen DeBoer
Average salary: $4.5 million
(Source: Seattle Times)

8. ASU’s Kenny Dillingham
Average salary: $3.8 million (estimated)
(Source: The Athletic)

9. Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith
Average salary: $3.76 million
(Source: Oregonlive.com)

10. Arizona’s Jedd Fisch
Average salary: $2.8 million
(Source: Tucson.com)

11. Washington State’s Jake Dickert
Average salary: $2.7 million
(Source: Spokesman.com)

The investment in football, Kliavkoff said, “leads to better recruiting, which leads to winning, which leads to direct and indirect revenue and alumni engagement.

“And we’ve seen that it leads to more applications, which allows universities to become more selective in admissions.

“I can’t imagine a more obvious ROI than investing in football.”

It appears Colorado’s administration agrees.


*** Send suggestions, comments and tips (confidentiality guaranteed) to pac12hotline@bayareanewsgroup.com or call 408-920-5716

*** Follow me on Twitter: @WilnerHotline

*** Pac-12 Hotline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.

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