Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Can a college football coach really be worth $5 million?

Yes, according to a new report out of Vanderbilt University that compares football coaches to corporate CEOs.

The researchers argue that coaches create value for their schools - winning teams bring in lucrative television deals and put meat in the seats - in much the same way CEOs generate revenue for their shareholders.

"If one believes that CEO compensation is set by the market at an appropriate level, and that employment contracts reflect this equilibrium," the researchers write, "then one should reach the same conclusion about football coaches."

That's a huge "if," however.

When the New York Times published a story Tuesday about the report, many took to social media to reject the precept that CEO compensation is set by the market at an appropriate level.


@patrick_hruby @NYTSports if only there was a historical analogy of an underpaid workforce enriching their masters . . . .— The.NYC.Married.Guy (@NYCMarriedGuy) September 2, 2014


Those Twitter users aren't an anomaly.

A Huffington Post/YouGov poll earlier this year found that two-thirds of Americans think CEOs are paid too much.


Growing income inequality is an increasingly prevalent part of the public discourse, which also drives the sentiment.

In the 1950s, CEOs made about 20 times as much as a typical worker. Now, they make closer to 200 times the typical worker.

But that disparity is even greater in college football. The average Division I football coach made about $1.5 million in 2013. The average football player? $0.


While coaches deserve to be compensated for bringing revenue to their schools, critics of the college football system point out that even minimum wage earners in a corporate environment are compensated with wages, while the student athletes who deliver for their coaches on the field are not.

Nancy F. Koehn, a historian at Harvard Business School, argued in the Washington Post recently, "Such interdependence means that it is hard to precisely delineate, much less quantify, any one individual’s contribution, even that of the most senior manager, to a firm’s performance."

It is true that football players usually receive scholarships and other perks. But those perks don't come anywhere close to rivaling the million-plus that some coaches command.


Former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon filed a lawsuit on behalf of Division I men's basketball and football players alleging that the NCAA violated antitrust laws by banning athletes from profiting from their own names, images and likenesses.

Whether players should be compensated has been the subject of heated debate in recent months, with the recent O'Bannon court ruling finding that the NCAA violated antitrust laws by prohibiting athletes from being paid for use of their names, images and likeness.


That decision could bring some modest compensation to football players.

Randall S. Thomas, one of the report's authors and director of the Law and Business Program at Vanderbilt, told Fusion whether CEO compensation is appropriate is not an issue they examined in this report, but that he has a "lot of sympathy" for student athletes.

Hopefully, he said, the recently decided O'Bannon case will impact their compensation.


Right now, if college football coaches are CEOs, their players are unpaid interns.

Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.