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Nice Work If You Can Get It

According to a USA Today review of Stanford University's tax returns released last Thursday, Stanford football coach David Shaw raked in more than $8.9 million in 2019. That amount included a $6.8 million base plus some deferred salary and a signing bonus.

To the best of my knowledge, Shaw didn't cure cancer in 2019. Last time I checked, he was still a football coach.

And his team's record that year was 4-8.

Were the information available earlier, Shaw would've ranked No. 2 in the USA Today 2019 football head coaches' salary rankings behind Clemson coach Dabo Swinney's $9.3 million and just ahead of Alabama coach Nick Saban's $8.8.

According to USA Today, Shaw's compensation is the most ever paid to a private school coach other than Duke's five-time NCAA basketball championship coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Any way you cut it, he is in pretty rarified air with the likes of Swinney, Saban and Coach K.

Ridiculously expensive air.

This isn't David's fault. He's a good coach and a good man. It's merely a reflection of the current insanity of college football and the incompetence of Stanford's administration.

You might recall that in May of 2020—just five months after the end of the calendar year in which it paid Shaw almost $9 million—Stanford announced it was eliminating 11 sports because of budget problems.

I said at the time that these sports were being sacrificed so Stanford could devote all its resources to fund football coaching salaries, recruiting budgets, and the facilities arms race.

(Fortunately, as we all know, the 11 sports were reinstated after a huge public outcry, relentless negative media coverage, lawsuits, and embarrassing national championships won by members of the cut sports’ teams.)

I’d be remiss if I failed to note that in its 2018 tax return, Stanford reported that President Marc Tessier-Lavigne made $1.1 million.

Think about that.

Of course, Stanford's defenders will argue that the university had to pay "market rate" for a coach of Shaw's caliber.


In my mind, Stanford shouldn't be forced to pay "market rate" to its coaches, if that market rate is being dictated by the likes of Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Georgia. Stanford is supposed to be different.

John Ralston made $30,000 when he coached Stanford to Rose Bowl wins over Ohio State (coached by Woody Hayes) and Michigan (Bo Schembechler) in 1971 and ‘72. Bill Walsh made $40,000 when he beat Georgia (Vince Dooley) in the Bluebonnet Bowl in ‘78. Coaches at other schools were making three times those amounts.

That was a long time ago, but the point is still valid.

Others will suggest Stanford has to overpay Shaw to prevent him from jumping to the pros. But if the price tag is $8.9 million and the collateral damage might include elimination of 11 sports, the cost is too high.

Ralston, Walsh, Denny Green and Jim Harbaugh all left for the NFL, yet Stanford is still standing.

As I have argued repeatedly, Stanford is not and should never be like any of those schools. Not in the type of players it recruits. Not in the application process. Not in its admissions standards. Not in the national obsession with making the college football playoff. Not in spending $3 million a year on recruiting. Not in the facilities arms race. And not in paying ridiculous coaching salaries.

Years ago Sports Illustrated ran an article about Stanford's success entitled "Disciples of Another Creed." Stanford has won and can continue to win on its own terms, setting an example of what's possible if you combine academics, athletics, intelligence, ingenuity, hard work, discipline, and creativity.

It's a special place. One that shouldn't be worried about "keeping up with the Sabans."

The Cost of Incompetence and Intransigence: It’s been an expensive year for the NCAA. Its lawyers have endured a beat down in the Alston compensation case and a 9-0 rebuke in the Supreme Court.

Now the NCAA has agreed to pay plaintiffs’ attorneys another $3.5 million in fees and costs covering the unsuccessful appeal to the Supreme Court. If approved by the court judge, the total payment by the NCAA to the winning lawyers in the Alston case will be $36.7 million, according to USA Today.

When you add in the $42 million in attorney’s fees the NCAA had to pay after losing the Ed O’Bannon video games case, the organization has had to cough up $79 million to the other side in these two high-profile cases related to “student-athlete” compensation.

All because the organization wouldn’t agree that its hallowed—and hypocritical—claims of amateurism were a farce, and that athletes deserved a piece of the billions their talents were generating for others.

Like the football coaches making $8.9 million.


Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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