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Meyer deal proves recession hasn't hurt big-time college programs

Gentlemen, start your checkbooks. If you are a big-money booster for an SEC school, you'd better hope you didn't invest with Bernie Madoff, because your favorite athletic department is probably about to ask you to dig a little deeper.

Florida football coach Urban Meyer has agreed to terms on a six-year contract that will pay him $4 million a year. The deal makes Meyer, whose team has won two of the past three national titles, the highest paid coach in the SEC and the highest paid public university coach in the nation. That may not last long, though, because Alabama is reportedly working on a contract extension for Nick Saban, who is scheduled to make $3.9 million this season. Once that's finalized, expect LSU to chime in with a raise for Les Miles, who last year received a raise so he would make exactly $1,000 more than Saban.

The recession may have affected college sports, but it clearly hasn't made a dent at the top end. For now, the only coaches who will make more than Meyer are USC's Pete Carroll and Notre Dame's Charlie Weis. (Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops collected more than $6 million last year, but that was because of a one-time $3 million bonus.) Meyer's previous salary was $3.25 million, which ranked seventh in the nation and third in the SEC. Five of the 11 highest paid coaches are employed by SEC schools.

In May, Florida president Bernie Machen said he expected athletic director Jeremy Foley to make Meyer the highest paid coach in the SEC. The payday delay was purely political; in an era of university budget cuts and layoffs, it can appear tacky to pay a football coach so much. Of course, it should be noted Florida's athletic department does not require public funding and has donated more than $17 million to the university since 2005. It also should be noted Meyer has agreed to give $1 million over the life of the contract to the university's Florida Opportunity Scholars Program, which gives aid to first-generation college students from low-income families.

Meyer is the CEO of a program that, according to documents filed with the U.S. Department of Education, brought in $66.1 million in revenue in the 2007-08 school year. But the news of his new salary is a double-edged sword for Florida, just as the news of Saban's next contract will be for Alabama and the news of Stoops' next contract will be for Oklahoma. On one hand, school officials have sent a message to recruits saying they believe Meyer is worth more than his peers. "I believe that Urban Meyer is the best at what he does," Machen said in a statement. Also, the length of the deal should quiet all those silly Meyer-to-Notre Dame rumors that pop up every few months. On the other hand, those same officials seem almost apologetic when they reveal all those zeros to the world.

It's understandable. When you have to slice millions from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences' budget, it seems insane to keep bidding up the price on the guy who draws up the best Jet Sweep. But when boosters are willing to keep paying, and you need that guy to stay competitive, athletic departments have little choice.

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