Northwestern (6-2) is going to play Auburn (6-4) in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day, which gives us a nice springboard into the college football racket.
Start with this: 10 days ago, Auburn paid coach Gus Malzahn a reported $21.7 million to go away. Read that again.
Then remember No. 14 Northwestern lost 22-10 to No. 3 Ohio State this Saturday. If the Wildcats had won that Big Ten title game, there might be some folks yelling for the mighty Purple to be in the College Football Playoff, with the spot Ohio State now has against No. 2 Clemson. (Fans yell about much less, you know.)
Then consider that Ohio State has four assistant coaches making more than $1 million a year. Read that again. We are not talking about the head coach.
That man, Ohio State’s second-year leader, Ryan Day, makes $5.75 million this year. Well, subtract a ‘‘pandemic reduction’’ of around $200,000 from his income. But jack it up again by the $400,000 or thereabouts he gets for making the playoff. Plus a bump if his team wins the title game.
There are even more cash surprises out there for Day, like the contents of adult Easter eggs, such as the $150,000 he gets paid if his team ever has a cumulative 3.5 GPA. (That entitlement has long been one of my favorites — players study; the coach profits.)
Money goes all over the place at OSU, except, of course, to the players. What they get now, the same as Northwestern’s players, to a lesser degree, is the chance to perform on TV, entertain millions of viewers, risk injury and possibly get or spread a dangerous virus in the midst of a pandemic.
But the coaches? Hi-yo, Silver!
Even Buckeyes strength coach Mickey Marotti is a wealthy man. According to a USA Today report, he makes $787,000 a year. And strength coaches are guys we used to call ‘‘meatheads.’’
But enough about Ohio State. Just one more thing, in general.
Please realize how much these coaches do not want their teams to lose. To them, Johnny Wideout is not a ‘‘student-athlete.’’ He’s a meal ticket. A huge, ornate, Crystal-infused mega-meal.
This goes for all big-time coaches. Amazing, but at least 32 offensive line coaches — the men who tell fat kids how to block —make $390,000 or more.
Yes, Northwestern is in on the money, too. And why not?
Indeed, if there’s any equity in big-time, unpaid-worker college football, it might be that in Evanston, if you can work toward the degree you want, then graduate, the value of your scholarship is about $76,000 a year. That’s if you’d be paying full freight, of course, which only rich students do.
At Auburn, a scholarship is less of a deal — $32,000 a year for in-state students — but still something. The point is the deal’s not granted in money, coach-style, just in services.
But because not as much is expected on the field from Northwestern athletes — maybe the expectation of studious behavior is why none of the players has yet had to quarantine because of COVID-19, while Ohio State had 22 players out Saturday — winning big games is almost shocking.
Coach Pat Fitzgerald already makes more than $5 million a year, and now he’s being courted heavily by other schools and the NFL, fists waving with cash. You can almost guarantee that if the Cats whip unranked Auburn, he’ll be ready to pursue the really big money.
After all, because of NU’s improvement in sports — without the scandals that typically accompany such success — highly respected longtime athletic director Jim Phillips will be leaving soon to become commissioner of the ACC.
It’s not like Phillips was making peanuts at NU, either. His $2 million-plus salary was the highest for ADs in the Big Ten. But he’ll do way better in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Back to the original point. Fired coach Malzahn had led Auburn to the national title game in January 2014. In 2017, his team beat two No. 1 teams, Georgia and Alabama. In eight years, Malzahn never had a losing season.
But what had he done for Auburn lately? Apparently not enough.
Kevin Steele is the school’s interim coach until a new man is picked. Which may be for gazillions. We’re talking SEC football here, folks, so nothing’s normal.
But the Big Ten’s not a beggar’s cup for coaches, either.
You’d like to think the Citrus Bowl experience is about fun and games.
How does money sound instead?
For more from Rick Telander, visit his website at ricktelander.com.