Money Where Their Mouth Is

(This is fluffy financial cotton candy for our fanbase *drools* Mmmmm, financial cotton candy... There's little in here that you probably haven't read before, but laid out as a timeline it's pretty exciting to look at as an MSU football fan. An update/expansion of that recruiting/player development post from last year is coming soon, pinky swear.)

What does it take to be successful in college football? Well, it takes coaching, talent, and luck. And money. If the world of college football has taught me anything, it's that you better have money. If your school is willing to invest, and is smart about it, it can build a successful and profitable football team. Look no further than Oregon and Oklahoma State, or Texas and Ohio State. On the other hand, you can have a successful team, but lose it all if you aren't willing, or are unable, to pony up the cash to keep the parts together.

And it has also been found that a successful football team can bring the rest of the university a wide range of benefits, both academic and financial. Though it hasn't always supported its football program to the fullest extent, it seems like Michigan State has finally figured all of this out.


1999: After a 10-2 season, Nick Saban leaves town for LSU, with many believing the main culprit to be a lack of financial commitment from the university towards him (he made $697,000, a salary that was basically doubled at Louisiana State), his assistant coaches, and the overall pushing of the program to a higher tier. Also, he is kind of a job-hopping power tool.

2000: Michigan State officially makes former Saban special teams coach Bobby Williams its head coach to the tune of a $485,000 a year contract, for five years. If you're tilting your head sideways and making confused dog noises as to how losing a coach over a money dispute could possibly lead an administration to cut the next coaches' salary by about 1/3rd of the previous amount, welp...

2001: Bobby gets us to a bowl! And wins it! MSU admin pulls out their checkbook for a $50,000 raise and a two year extension. Bobby Williams, the $535,000 man, is now signed through 2006 y'all!

2002: And the $535,000 man is fired.Take it away sportsline.com:

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State football coach Bobby Williams was fired Monday, two days after the Spartans dropped to 3-6 with their worst loss in 55 years.

...

A 49-3 loss at Michigan on Saturday dropped Michigan State, which was ranked as high as 15th this season, to 1-4 in the Big Ten

OK, maybe fiscal stinginess isn't always such a bad thing.

2003: John L. Smith arrives. The university tosses him a six year, 9.75 million dollar contract, a little over $1.6 million a year. And he rewards us, with 8 wins and a Big Ten Coach of the Year award! The adminstration, maybe a little wary, maybe a little cash poor after their initial bump in salary to 1.6, keeps Smith where he's at.

2005: The school spends $64 million to add 3,000 seats, new suites, and a new press box, as well other adminstrative offices, all encased in a beautiful brick, stone, and glass facade that many fans wish could be emulated around the rest of the stadium someday. (*Sighs wistfully* someday...)

2006: The Big Ten Network is launched.

2006: And... he's gone:

Smith will finish the season as the struggling Spartans’ head coach, but he won’t be back in 2007.

...

Just two weeks ago, the Spartans (4-5) pulled off the greatest comeback in Division I-A history by rallying from 35 points down to beat Northwestern 41-38. The next week Michigan State lost 46-21 at Indiana to fall to 1-4 in the Big Ten.

...

Smith is in the fourth year of a six-year contract that pays him about $1.5 million annually. Michigan State said it will honor the last two years of Smith’s contract, which will cost about $3.1 million.

2007: Michigan State hires Mark Dantonio, head coach of the Cincinnati Bearcats on a 5 year, $1.1 million dollar a year contract, one of the lower salaries in the Big Ten at the time according to the Associated Press. Most weren't quite sure what to make of the hire, and the salary looked like a step back. But at his opening press conference, the AP related this anecdote:

At his introduction, he displayed the 2002 championship ring he won as Ohio State's defensive coordinator.

"I wear this championship ring very, very few times, but I wear it for a reason," Dantonio said. "I wear it to symbolize what can happen when you have the resources, when you have the players, and most importantly when you have the commitment."

He wasn't necessarily talking about financial commitment, but he might as well have been.

2007: The Big Ten Network pays out each school about $18.8 million in 2007.

2008: MSU, with the help of private donors, invests 15 million dollars into the Skandalaris Football Center, upgrading the old, and outdated, Duffy Daugherty Football Center into state of the art football facilities, with upgraded weight rooms, meeting rooms, and practice facilities.

2008: Following a nine win regular season, MSU gives Dantonio a $2 million bonus, about a 270,000 dollar raise in his base salary.

2011: Following an 11 win season in 2010, and a 4-1 start to the 2011 season, Dantonio was given another improved contract, with a $32,000 dollar raise, various other bonuses, and a position in the Athletic Department upon his retirement.

2012: The Big Ten network pays out about $25 million dollars to each school in 2012.

2012: And then MSU got rid of one of its final commitment troubles, something that contributed to Saban's '99 exit, by paying significant money to retain and reward the MSU assistant coaches, group whose continuity contributed greatly to the Spartan's success. The position coaches were given between $18,500 and $33,000 each while offensive coordinator Dan Roushar received a $75,000 bump, and crucially, promising defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi got a $267,000 increase to an even $500,000 a year. Yes, this means our DC is now making Bobby Williams money. If this article was distilled into one sentence, that would be the one.

2012: Michigan State funds and installs three new video/audio boards in Spartan Stadium, at the cost of $10 million dollars. The largest of the three boards, is the 5th biggest in the entire country.

2012: Mark Hollis is given a $205,000 raise, bringing his yearly compensation up to $600,000 a year.

Next? Plans are for another $10 million dollar expansion, from private donors, to pretty up the North End of the stadium with a plaza, to renovate the Stadium's locker rooms, and to add other recruiting amenities.

The Big Ten is in an interesting place right now. If MSU is serious about decisively passing Iowa, Penn State, and Nebraska, staying on top of Michigan, and catching Ohio State and Wisconsin in the Big Ten, this might be the team's best chance in decades.

The BTN is essentially throwing $20+ million 'free' TV dollars at each B1G school every year. And make no mistake, this is basically football money. Some schools aren't putting this directly money back into football, or are only doing so piecemeal. MSU is aggressively, aggressively, putting its money from the BTN, and from the renewed fan interest (remember all those Spartan Stadium and Breslin Center spots from Izzo and Dantonio to get people to sign up to be boosters, the, immensely successful it looks like, drive to sell more season tickets, and the increasing of ticket prices?) gained during its mini-Renaissance, into strengthening its current perch near the top of the Big Ten standings. And they're moving now.

For a long time, arguably dating back to when MSU got nailed by the NCAA in the mid-seventies under Denny Stolz, and continuing through the, um, colorful George Perles years, through the four (!) athletic directors of the 90's, and through Ron Mason, there was always an undercurrent of institutional strife between the university, the AD, and the football team. As you'd expect, this dysfunction was a heavy anchor on football ambitions. After decades of hemming and hawing, and inter-university factions, it seems that Michigan State has finally got some serious unity and momentum behind the Spartan's college football program, and they're beginning to throw their financial weight around. Objectives and problems are calmly and rationally addressed as they come up, and no one is looking over their shoulder at any other part of the University-AD-Football team triangle.

It's definitely not 1999 anymore. How refreshing.

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