Boise State University football coach Chris Petersen led the Broncos to a 56-24 thumping of Arizona State on Dec. 23 in the MAACO Bowl played in Las Vegas — the gambling capital of the U.S. But it wasn’t until he returned to Idaho that he really hit the jackpot.
The coach, who finished his sixth season, signed a five-year contract that will pay him $2 million next year and increase to $2.8 million in 2016. He received $500,000 in his first year, and his pay for the 2012 season will be higher than that of 30 other BCS-conference coaches and make him 33rd-highest in the nation.
Yes, that’s a lot of money to pay a man coaching a sport at a school the size of Boise State. And he’s worth every penny.
There will be detractors who question continued raises for a football coach at the same time the school is jacking up its tuition and dropping less-popular classes. Parents faced with rising expenses could be tempted to ask why that money couldn’t go to help make college more affordable for students not fortunate enough to get scholarship help. And, they might argue, producing engineering and medical graduates does far more to benefit society than producing a good football program.
But there’s more to it than that. Merchandise sales of Boise State gear — shirts, car flags, jerseys, caps, bumper stickers — have soared across the country. The Broncos rank 38th in the nation in merchandise royalties, higher than the universities of Maryland and Virginia, two Atlantic Coast Conference schools. Much of that can be attributed to the success of the football program, and it brings in money to the school that benefits academics — not to mention retailers, wholesalers and the economy in general.
Still, the university needs to ensure the money is being used to benefit academics.
And taxpayers aren’t on the hook for the raise. Most of that money will come from boosters and revenue generated by the athletics department.
Petersen also does the state proud by doing things the right way. In the past two years, only Stanford University has finished higher in the “Academic BCS.” His players are active in the community, and the coach doesn’t tolerate self-glorification on the field. Just ask Austin Pettis, the receiver who did a back flip while scoring a touchdown in the first quarter against Wyoming two seasons ago and was benched for the final three quarters because of it. The coach also donates some of his own money to academic programs.
Petersen has taken BSU football to a level once thought impossible. Storied programs like UCLA and Penn State have tried to lure him away. There are no guarantees, but for all he has done — and for all the potential he brings — it’s money well spent.