Is paying a college football coach over $77 million not to work sinful?

Texas A&M University will pay its former football coach, Jimbo Fisher, $77.5 million not to coach.  Fisher will receive $7.2 annually through 2031.

The Aggies are currently 6-4 overall and 4-3 in the Southeastern Conference.  

The university’s athletic director, Ross Bjork, told reporters that the buyout would come from the athletic department and 12th Man Foundation (A&M booster club). If you’re wondering how much money the 12th Man Foundation has at its disposal, consider the $160 million dollar check they presented to the athletic department at halftime one day before Fisher’s release.

In its own report released last year, the foundation has $500 million in outstanding obligations.  According to ProPublica, in 2021, the 12th Man Foundation generated $41 million in revenue, had $73.8 million in expenses, and held $212 million in assets and $47.2 million in liabilities.

Before we get too sanctimonious over Texas A&M’s situation, let’s remember college football coaches get paid a lot of money.  

Here are the top ten paid coaches for 2023:

Josh Heupel, Tennessee, $9 million

Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M, $9 million

Lane Kiffin, Mississippi, $9 million

Matt Rhule, Nebraska, $9.25 million

Ryan Day, Ohio State, $9.25 million

Mel Tucker, Michigan State, $9.5 million

Brian Kelly, LSU, $9.5 million

Lincoln Riley, USC, $10 million

Dabo Swinney, Clemson, $10.5 million

Kirby Smart, Georgia, $11.25 million

Nick Saban, Alabama, $11.7 million

Now, back to A&M and how much $77 million means — the largest buyout in college sports history.

Let’s assess A&M’s tuition and room-and-board costs. In-state tuition per semester costs $12,400, while out-of-state tuition is $40,600. Room and board for students runs $13,100.  

Therefore, the total cost to attend A&M for an in-state student is $25,500, excluding grants and scholarships. For out-of-state students, the price is $53,700.

According to the university’s website, A&M had 58,269 undergraduates in 2022. Instead of paying their former football coach not to work, A&M boosters could have given every student $1,330.04 this academic year.  

Or, they could have paid the tuition of 6,250 in-state students. Even more so, they could have told 5,916 students they did not have to pay for room and board this year.  

But, nope, they decided to pay an old white man who already has more money than most of the population even more money not to work.  

Thus, I return to my original question. Is paying a football coach millions of dollars not to work sinful?  

While I want to wait to pass judgment, a larger question looms within this conversation. Is American culture’s obsession with sports sinful?

Let me begin by stating that I do not think sports are sinful. I love sports. I love participating. I love watching. I love the competition. I love the storylines. I love the foam fingers and the food.

However, when sports became big business, athletes and fans began to cross the line from enjoyable recreation to capitalistic entertainment. In 2022, the global sports industry generated $486 billion. By 2027, projections will increase to $623 billion.  

Sports have become such a constant for people that families often center their lives around training for their children, watching games on television and spending money they do not have on overpriced tickets. And don’t even get me started with sports gambling.  

People’s sports obsessions can cross a line simply by placing sports above life. Society loses its way when sports take top priority in a culture.  When the marginalized and oppressed are secondary to wins and losses, then culture has lost its humanity.

We have lost our way when we pay players and coaches more than teachers and social workers.  We have lost our way when we spend more time talking about going for it on fourth and goal than how we can address the growing wage gap or the rising tide of autocratic policies.

In the parable of sheep and goats in Matthew 25, Jesus reminded his followers: “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”

The rich and privileged will ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?”

The answer will be, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

Again, sports are not bad. I also do not pretend to judge athletes or those associated with sports for making loads of cash. However, when everyone’s priorities turn away from human decency and justice, then maybe we should reevaluate our priorities.  

Instead of paying $77.5 million to a coach not to work, we could invest those funds in marginalized students drowning in student debt. We could incentivize the next generation of public educators and social entrepreneurs to help create better communities.

I want to conclude by noting that we as a society should come up with better ways to invest $77.5 million than making the wealthy wealthier. We could make a big difference in some students’ lives that might benefit more than one white man and his family. 

Now, that is a big win!  

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