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Kolpack: FBS salaries going up, talent gap between FBS and FCS is not

North Dakota State Bison head coach Chris Klieman celebrates after the game Sept. 17, 2016, against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium. North Dakota State won 23-21. Jeffrey Becker / USA TODAY Sports

FARGO — Nick Saban got a raise Tuesday morning, May 2, because, well, it had probably been awhile. The amounts are staggering.

He received a $4 million signing bonus, meaning he was $4 million richer at lunch than when he woke up in the morning. His annual salary this season is $6.7 million and he gets another $400,000 simply by staying at the University of Alabama for the entire year.

He'll get more just for not moving than most FCS coaches make in a season. ESPN is reporting his total yearly income for 2017 will be $11.2 million. For coaching college football.

That's roughly half of North Dakota State's entire athletic department budget. In essence, Saban makes more cash in a couple of weeks than most FCS coaches do across the country in a year. That's not going to change anytime soon.

"Not, I don't think, at the rate we're seeing FBS salaries go up," said NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen.

If college football were a Monopoly game, FCS would build its stadiums on Baltic and Mediterranean avenues and FBS would build new stadiums every five years on Park Place and Boardwalk. The difference is massive and it's getting to the point now where people really don't care.

Nick Saban got a $4 million signing bonus? Jim Harbaugh makes $9 million? Whatever.

Here's the intriguing thing about all of these millionaires coaching FBS football programs: Take away the top 10 to 20 and the rest aren't necessarily that much better than some of the top tier FCS programs. So while the pay discrepancy between FBS and FCS programs is increasing, the gap in the talent level is much more in line with reality.

In fact, you could argue the talent level between FBS and FCS is as small as it's ever been. From 1991 to 2006, there were no more than two FCS wins over FBS in any given year. In 2013 there were seven, including NDSU's win over Kansas State. That was followed by six in 2014 and nine each in 2015 and 2016.

When the Bison defeated Iowa last year, NDSU beat the No. 10 head coach in the country in terms of salary, according to USA Today. Kirk Ferentz makes $4.5 million. In essence, taking into account Chris Klieman's yearly take of approximately $400,000 including bonuses, NDSU overcame a $4.1 million head coaching gap, which has to be one of the largest in FCS vs. FBS history.

Since nobody compiles FCS coaches salaries, for the sake of conversation, it's safe to say the average salary is around $250,000 a year. Larsen said his best guess is the FCS average is around $225,000 to $250,000.

There are four contenders to win the biggest FCS vs. FBS coaching salary gap this season: Jacksonville State ($250,000) vs. Georgia Tech ($2.9 million), Northern Iowa ($250,000) vs. Iowa State ($2 million), Youngstown State ($250,000, not including the Nebraska buyout for Bo Pelini) vs. Pitt ($1.6 million), Villanova ($250,000) vs. Temple ($1.1 million) and James Madison ($250,000) vs. East Carolina ($1 million). Jacksonville State, JMU, Youngstown and Villanova routinely put together teams physical and athletic enough to compete against the FBS programs on a one-game basis.

Most of the other FCS vs. FBS games will have too big of point-spread margins. Take Wyoming, whose head coach Craig Bohl knows something about these FBS and FCS matchups. The Cowboys are playing FCS Gardner-Webb (N.C.) this fall.

By then, who knows how many other high-profile head coaches will have new contracts announced.

"The FBS is going up at such a high rate because they're outdoing the last person that renegotiated a contract," Larsen said.

But it doesn't mean the FBS talent level is necessarily going up.

Jeff Kolpack

Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.

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