clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Why is it that hard to believe in the legitimacy of the Group of Five?

I get that there are precedents here, but give the little guy some credit when they deserve it.

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

So every week, Matt Hinton (who, by the way, is an SB Nation alum) goes onto his computer and bangs out a weekly recap of college football action, among other articles that he writes for ESPN's Grantland. It is often rather SEC heavy, because of obvious reasons that have to do with those guys being good at football. I generally am a fan of his writing, and that includes this week. With one small exception.

As you may or may not know, Memphis beat then 13th-ranked Ole Miss 37-24. In his brief synopsis of that event, Hinton writes the following (emphasis mine):

There’s a long way to go before anything is decided in the AAC, which still boasts two other ranked, undefeated teams (Houston and Temple) in addition to Memphis, and I’ll have more on the race to represent the mid-major conferences in the major bowl games later this week. For now, let’s just say this: Justin Fuente is about to get paid.


Again, although the natural tendency after a game-changing win like this is to launch the countdown to 12-0, the Tigers still have significant November hurdles to clear at Houston and Temple, plus a home date with Navy. There’s also the inaugural AAC Championship Game, if they make it that far. If any mid-major outfit is equipped to make that run, though, it’s Memphis, if only because of Lynch. And if the next six weeks go according to plan, they’ll double as Fuente’s farewell tour en route to a program that can actually give him the resources to sustain it.

That last part is absolutely absurd.

To just flatly assume - based on Memphis' pre-Fuente history I'm guessing - that their current coach has no choice but to leave if he wants to get the kind of resources necessary to not just win, but win with regularity, is ridiculous.

Yes, it is certainly true that the Memphis Tigers have long suffered and struggled as a football program, enough so that the last season and a half has been a shock to everyone outside western Tennessee. That said, if you actually take five seconds to look for information, you can see how silly that comment is on its face.

Fuente currently makes $1.4 million annually in base salary; I know that's a fraction of what somebody like Nick Saban makes, but I wouldn't exactly call that not getting paid. He also coaches in the most financially well-off Group of Five conference when it comes to compensating their football staffers (for reasons including but not limited to geography and The Artist Formerly Known As Big East BCS Football).

His salary would be tops in the Sun Belt, Conference USA, or the Mid-American, and would be second only to Fresno State's Tim DeRuyter in the Mountain West. That same number currently ranks him as either the third or fourth lowest paid in the American Athletic Conference (unless you really think Matt Rhule makes $650K); he could get a 50% raise and still not be the highest paid coach in the conference.

Memphis is also in the process of building a brand-new $15 million dollar indoor practice facility, among other things that are part of their $40 million worth of athletics construction that they have in the works.

Look, it is most certainly true that a fair number of Group of Five programs operate on small budgets. But here's the thing - neither Memphis nor anyone else outside the very bottom of the AAC is in that boat.

It's time to stop pretending they're the stepchild that can't afford nice things.