The short answer is yes. Look around and you see examples of how Syracuse athletics needs to constantly shop on the discount racks. “Jim Boeheim makes a plea to Syracuse fans to step up their NIL donation game” is a headline that blared at the Post-Standard’s website last week. Obviously, legendary coaches at larger, more deep-pocketed schools don’t have to ring the dinner bell like this.
So when things like indoor practice facilities or more robust nutritional departments are questioned, there’s always a scramble for SU. Where does the money come from?
It’s not that SU fans are apathetic (look at the record Carrier Dome crowds), but the cash doesn’t flow in the same way as other schools. And the demand for a winner (at least in football) isn’t as vicious as it would be other places. The sports passion in town is clearly basketball. If hoops faltered there would be a pretty massive outcry. Even with a basketball program that has been a contender for 40 years, Boeheim is still pleading for the fan base and donors to care even more… with their wallets.
But SU football (and every other sport) is always under the spotlight of “how much do people care?” And for John Wildhack that question is burning on Dino Babers contract. It’s no secret the program has been brutal in the last three years. Aside from the magical ’18 season, it’s just been a decade-long slog. And yet the AD still refused to put any pressure on his head coach this summer by saying definitively “Dino is not on the hot seat.”
Conjuring up your best Brian Windhorst, “Now why is that?”
Because as ESPN’s Pete Thamel reports, a buyout after this season would cost SU $10M, and this is not an athletic department that has ten-large to throw away. He made $3.9M in ’20, which means coughing up $10M to just take a hike is more than 2.5x his annual salary. Then you have to pay someone else, and let’s assume the person Wildhack feels can fix this mess costs about that much as well.
Syracuse frankly doesn’t have $14M ($10M Babers buyout + $4M new salary) to spend on the ’23 Syracuse football head coach, and therein lies the awful predicament. If the most legendary figure in the school’s history needs to ask for donations to recruit basketball players, there’s no way there’s any appetite to pony up $14-$20M for football coaches. The ACC TV deal is a good one for SU (and could be better), but that money doesn’t solve everything.
For Rutgers to have turned around the football program in the ’00s took incredible heavy lifting by Greg Schiano and a few deep-pocketed alumni and boosters to spur development on the stadium and practice facilities. Now the Knights can rely mostly on the insane Big Ten money that pours in from TV. But Schiano had to win, at least marginally, to curry that favor. And Babers keeps missing on that part of the equation.
Schiano had five consecutive winning seasons, with four bowl wins, a few huge nationally televised moments, and was momentarily ranked in the AP’s top 5. He created momentum, and could guarantee a return on a booster’s investment.
That ’18 season reminded us all how fun a great football team can be, but Babers had to string some of those years together. When Rutgers finished ’06 at #12 in the polls, they followed that up with three more seasons of 8+ wins in a row. For SU, after ’18 it was right back into the tank, which is the norm for the Vanderbilts, Kansas’, and Oregon State’s of the football world. Those schools also don’t have donors that can outspend mistakes.
Babers has always been upbeat, and conversational. He’s the type of guy who is easy to root for. But the results just aren’t there. Yet, there’s no whiff of pressure on him. Is Syracuse too cheap to fire Babers? Yes, because even if Wildhack wants to, he doesn’t have the funds to pull it off.