'Bama wins $32M bet on Saban as profits soar

December 16, 2009

The University of Alabama won its bet on Nick Saban.

In fact the gamble - a $32 million, eight-year deal that made Saban the highest paid college coach - paid off better than anyone might have hoped.

Records from the U.S. Department of Education show Tide football made nearly enough money in the 12 months ending June 30 - $38.2 million - to cover not only the $4 million per year of Saban's orginal contract, but also the one-year extension he recently signed that upped it to $4.7 million annually.

``That makes it pretty much an open-and-shut case,'' said James Cover, an economics professor at the university.


Especially considering it is an almost 40 percent gain from the year before Saban was hired in 2007. By comparison, domestic corporate profits in the United States have plummeted 27 percent since 2006, according to statistics from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

This year could be even better than the last for Alabama, with the Crimson Tide set to play Texas in the Bowl Championship Series title game on Jan. 7. Fans barely recall those pre-Saban days when Alabama was an also-ran in the national title discussion.

Along with BCS bowl money, Alabama will rake in cash from the Southeastern Conference, sales of licensed Tide merchandise, tickets and donations. Florida's football revenues jumped $7.2 million to $61.3 million this year after it won the national title last season, records show.

Alabama officials raised more than a few eyebows when they opted to make Saban the nation's highest-paid college coach almost three years ago, signing him after he left the NFL ranks and the Miami Dolphins. At the time, Oklahoma's coach Bob Stoops was reportedly the highest-paid college coach with a contract worth just under $3.5 million in 2007.

Saban is proving to be worth the money. He has led Alabama to two straight SEC title games and two straight lucrative BCS bowls while compiling a 25-2 record over the last two seasons. The school may have raised the salary bar to new heights, but it's hard to question whether it was a good financial investment.

Football continues to pay the bills for other varsity sports and the department still wound up with a $22.1 million profit last year.

Recession-plagued construction is at a standstill in some areas, but huge cranes stand over Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. It's being expanded to raise its capacity to 101,000 at a cost of more than $80 million.

Alabama's jobless rate climbed to 10.9 percent last month, but the waiting list for Crimson Tide football tickets is more than 10,000 names long.

On University Drive, stores are selling Southeastern Conference championship shirts as quickly as they can get them after 'Bama's 32-13 convincing win against Florida last week.

David M. Jones, who runs Alabama Bookstore, said he has been swamped with fans buying hats and T-shirts ever since the SEC title game. Excitement over Alabama football has helped his business weather the recession.

``We call it the Saban effect,'' Jones said. ``It was a great investment three years ago, and he's continuing to pay dividends.''