All Aboard the Trolley of Make-Believe: Let’s Cap Coaches’ Salaries!

Brandon Viall Editorials 72 Comments

Fellow readers, I’m going to let you in on a little secret about myself.  I’m a dreamer and a rule breaker!  

You see, I woke this morning pondering a possibility that may be legally impossible, morally questionable, but that is–from this sports fan’s perspective at least–quite fascinating.

Join me, if you will, aboard Mr. Rogers’s Trolley of Make-Believe as we ponder the question, What if we capped the salaries of college coaches?

Our pondering begins with the 1998 case Law vs. NCAA. In Law, the NCAA attempted to limit the salaries of some coaching positions.  The coaches sued–and won: the court issued an order permanently enjoining the NCAA from limiting coaches’ salaries, reasoning that the collusive act constituted a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

ESPN Video

Dabo Swinney (left) is pleased that he beat Nick Saban again, as his salary of 9.3 million per year tops Saban’s measly 8.85 million. (Pre-COVID)

The Sherman Act, sponsored by Ohio Senator John Sherman, was passed in 1890 to prevent monopolistic corporate practices such as price fixing. The Act prohibits two types of “monopolistic” actions.  The first includes acts “void of competitive rationale.” The second includes acts that have an “adverse effect on competition.”

Exceptions have been developed over the 130 years of cases interpreting the Sherman Act.  Cases such as Rodgers v. Ga. Tech Athletic Assn. have found it acceptable, for example, for companies to “collude” to limit compensation in the form of non-monetary benefits such as air travel, tickets, etc.  Absent a judicial exemption, the only ways of implementing industry-wide compensation caps otherwise violative of the Sherman Act are through federal legislation or voluntary, collective compliance by the payees, i.e. through collective bargaining.

In addition to legal issues, there are practical issues with implementing a coaching cap. Larger, more richly-endowed schools have competitive and financial interests in preserving their ability to attract big-name coaches with big-money contracts. And coaches, at least the more highly-paid ones, have an interest in maximizing their financial values in the open market. And let’s not forget the fans–remember, the Sherman Act was designed to protect the consumer–who may receive lower entertainment value with compensation-capped coaches.

Corvallis Oregon

On the other hand, there’s a case to be made that a coaching compensation cap would have long-term benefits for the financial health of college sports.  A cap might also make places like Missoula (Go Griz!), Eugene and Corvallis more attractive to big-name coaches, with location and quality of life issues playing a more important role relative to compensation?

As Kristi Dosh suggests in her recent Forbes piece, an agreement among colleges to cap coaching compensation would likely constitute “naked horizontal price fixing,” a per se violation of the Sherman Act. With larger colleges incentivized to retain their bargaining power and coaches benefitting from market-driven salaries, there is likely a lack of practical impetus to accomplish a cap via federal legislation or collective bargaining.

Not that any of that will prevent us rule-breaking trolley-riders from pondering the idea….

Brandon Viall
Missoula, Montana
Top Photo via

Phil Anderson, the Volunteer editor for this article, is a trial lawyer in Bend Oregon.



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Great News!

Deommodore Lenoir has opted back to the Ducks and will play at corner for the upcoming shortened season. This means two things…

1) We will be solid, if not great or corner with Lenoir and Mykael Wright; throw in Nick Pickett at safety, and we only have one inexperienced player to inject into the secondary.

2) My friends, this is why I tell people to refrain from trying to win an argument on this site, and just post your opinions and let others post theirs. Because we are all wrong half the time as I was with Lenoir in my article recently. (And happily so!)

GREAT news!


McKinley perhaps an option early on, based on experience. Bridges, Stevens, etc. then worked in?

I very much like that thought, as McKinley is quite experienced and we could plug DJ James or Dontae Manning into the nickel-back position.

Steve Stephens and Bennett will get their shot, but Verone’s experience lets them ease into the safety position.

I can exhale now!


Can I add more news, it appears Boise state Grad transfer jordan Happle is also a duck. his twitter bio says oregon and he added an oregon logo to his banner.

He plays safety and is portland native

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

I was holding off until they have an official announcement, but it is not a secret now–so why not share more good news?

Interesting side notes: Happle wanted to play for Avalos at BSU, was projected as a starting safety this year for the Broncos and intercepted Herbert when we played Boise State a few years ago in the Bowl game.


Per UtahDuck’s link, Happle played for Avalos in 2017 & 2018, so, with as full as the safely room now appears, Avalos must have firm plans for him in Eugene.

Given his two years in Avalos’ scheme I would not be surprised to see him as the starter over McKinley for the Stanford opener. Almost a player/coach at this point.


I’m not certain he gets the nod over any of the current safeties, Pickett has like 30 starts and verone has 10 last season. He has never started a game even at boise state(although he was the projected starter this year). He is likely a high quality depth player. He may get the start if they do shuffling to get someone else over to Nickel and he picks up the start at Safety.


Interesting. Curious that he would leave a prospective starting position @ Boise for a backup spot @ UO. Maybe a free year in a grad program he really likes?

Similarly, if I’m Avalos wouldn’t I want to give back up reps to other guys on the depth chart who have more than one year left in the program?


I truthfully think he is being picked up as insurance, With breeze leaving and Lenoir opting in that gave us a total of 12 DB’s.

At CB we now have Lenoir, Wright, Manning, Bridges, and DJ James.

Nickel is Jamal Hill.

Safety is McKinley, Pickett, Williams, Stephens, Greenfield, and now Happle.

I am confident Picket, Lenoir and Wright stay in their respective spots but as for the rest of the DB’s I am not sure. I also don’t see a lot of confidence in Stephens on the defense despite being on the team multiple years freshman wright, hill, james and bridges all received more playing time than stephens did. Luckily i am not a betting man but my guess is Happle now becomes the third Safety in the depth while Mckinley shifts to be sole start alongside picket. I think Hill maintains his spot t nickel and bridges and williams cover in at nickel. Greenfield is also interesting in being our lowest db signee last year but also enrolling early I think he will likely get his time on the field in a reserved role in garbage time.

so final guess on the depth chart is

CB1: Lenoir, James
CB2: Wright, Manning
Nickel: Hill, Bridges or Williams
Safe1: Pickett, Williams, Stephens
Safe2: McKinley, Happle, Greenfield

Back to happle, I think it gives us a lot of experienced depth. Lenoir Picket and McKinley are the only ones with D1 starts, Williams adds in his starts coming from JC, and Happle has 3 years of playing time. Add in playing time from Wright, James, and minimal time from Bridges and it looks a whole lot deeper than it was looking 2 days ago. Plus Happle is from Portland and while oregon doesn’t produce a whole lot of elite talent is sure does benefit them in local recruiting to have these kinds of welcome home stories.


Thanks for your thoughts. I’d only add that I think Williams is being under-rated. He started seven games and was a Freshman All-American for Illinois in spite of being a 2/3 star (Rivals/Scout) out of HS. He then played that one JC season at College of San Mateo

Reports were he consistently ran with the 2s in the truncated UO Spring Practices.

Lots of pieces to put together.


I agree, I think Williams will be great, and he is the one I am least confident on as where he belongs in the depth chart. I also think he is skilled enough that he could make a play at both Nickel and Safe. my biggest concern with him is just learning the language. Every coach uses slightly different phrasing and words, calls their coverage different things and while he was an early enrollee, I think Pickett and Mckinley have an easy advantage here and Happle literally started in an Avalos system. My guess is he pushes Pickett the whole year but never actually steals the position. I also think he gets to make some great plays when oregon moves to cover three with the nickel being the third safety.

Jon Joseph



This transfer reminded me of the Bennett Williams transfer as well. Another proven, experienced player, just not in our system. Will be interesting to follow.

Ah, Charles, the power of FishDuck!!! Yesterday it was Terrible News, today it’s Great News!!!. You get it all at FishDuck,. It could be that the great will actually be even more impactful than the terrible for this season.

I do think Breeze was going to be a/the leader on defense this year. Troy Dye was the heart of the defense, Breeze was poised to take his spot, maybe Fat Mac can carry the load? There is plenty of talent, but who is going to bring that extra edge, Dye had over the past few years?

I am excited to see who it is, because the number of players who can potentially step up is large. It might even be a freshman, exciting times indeed!

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

We have a ton of experience on defense returning as yes, Jordon Scott,(senior) but also Austin Faoliu, (senior) Mase Funa and Thibs on the defensive line? Add a host of others who played a ton and considering Lenoir and Pickett….I am not worried about leadership on the field!

David Marsh

Well McKinley will probably get a starting spot somewhere. Whether that is Holland’s spot at Nickle or the other Safety position.

Overall Lenior’s return makes the Ducks feel a whole lot better after the loss of Breeze yesterday.


A bit tangential but a way to deal with the inequity in college sports is to have some sort of revenue sharing agreement. The pie is big enough to ensure that all schools are in the black. This might put a lid on obscene coaching pay to a degree.

What’s ironic about coaches invoking anti-trust laws to protect them is that college football and basketball are defacto cartels which benefits them immensely in the first place.


I was watching a game last Sunday, and all the talk was on this RB from some school I can’t remember, drafted in the 6th round by a team I can’t remember either now either. He was tearing it up. He was 5’9 about 200, and fast.

But not as fast as LaMichael James. Who knows, this guy might fade into oblivion by next week. But, he hasn’t been the only RB I’ve seen playing in the NFL, that puts me in the nostalgia pit. Joey had a tough time, but at least he was able to get in some games and play. LMJ got drafted by Harbaugh and the 49ers, then traded to Miami. In his 4 years he got 44 carries, 11 per year. He did average 4.4 yards on those carries.

It really does come down to where a player is picked, what system they’re in, more than how good you really are. But, it would have been fun if LMJ had found himself in a good situation.


LMJ was a great college back that was plugged into a cutting edge offense. He was a bit one-dimensional and undersized at the time for the NFL. RBs today are utilized much more in the passing game and can get away with being on the small side if they can run routes and catch the football. Kenjon Barner is an underrated former Duck, he’s still in the league because he’s versatile.


You might also ask if trying to curb CEO pay has worked. You can tax income and they get stock options. Tax the options and they get the golden parachute, benefits, spouse pay etc.

It is kind of like having a great D talent, you need a great D coordinator. You need brains behind the attempt to stop something from happening. The offense is always going to try and make you look foolish.

This has been our bread and butter for decades, an offense which makes you look foolish that is. Our offensive innovation has been our secret ingredient for a long time. CK was the top example of this trend.


That is very true, from the Joey Billboard to the uniforms to Kelly and the Blur, Oregon and Phil realized that Oregon had to do something to standout from way up there in the Pacific Northwest, the fact that Oregon really did make defenses look foolish was icing on the cake.

I believe that Mario is also being innovative, he is certainly changing the way offense is being played at Oregon, and while he isn’t making the other defenses look as bewildered as before, it’s every bit as frustrating, and the coaches don’t like it, re; the All Pac-12 selections.

Jon Joseph

Mario was a guest, via Zoom, on today’s Paul Finebaum show.

Told Paul that he is watched so much SEC football that Paul should hire him as an SEC analyst.

Great interview; the man is pumped up and ready for the season to begin.


I go back and forth on Paul, sometimes he is PAWWWWL, completely annoying and sometimes he comes off as fair & realistic. He is a huge critic of Lazy, and he’s called him much worse, Larry, so we can’t jump on him for that, and he dismisses the relevance of the Pac-12, citing that it hasn’t had a real national presence since the Mariota teams; sorry purple, your appearance against ‘bama doesn’t count.

Jon Joseph

I skip the phone calls; he is a very good interviewer. Before I stopped listening to Billy Bob from E Bullwhack, MS, I noticed that on the phone with fanatics, he goes into Dixie mode.

David Marsh

I think the other reason why there were so few all pac selections is that Cristobal is embarrassing them. He is out working them and taking the highest rated recruits in their states and bringing them to Oregon.


Yesterday, Braxton Burmeister was 9-25 for 163 yards, 1 TD, ! INT, ran for 2 TD”s and 54 yards in 15 carries in Virginia Tech’s, 38-31 win over Duke.

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck

Good for him, but not good enough for here!


Excellent news Charles!

In the college games I’ve watched so far, missed defensive assignments have – even more that usual – played a significant role in game outcomes. As many here have noted, the game experience of our defensive backfield has taken a big hit from the loss of (currently) Holland, Graham, & Breeze.

I’d hoped that in year two of the Avalos’ system the Ducks could incorporate in many new tweaks to keep other coaching staffs off balance, but that may be limited by the introduction of so many inexperience players in the DB group. The front seven may also encounter limitations in blitz packages etc. by needing the DBs to synch as well.

Lenoir’s return a big, big plus.


Welcome Brandon, thanks for the ponder piece. The next several years will certainly be interesting times in sports marketing and management as Covid, social, and environment causes continue to play themselves out.

The ripple effects of these forces, and the resultant economic dislocations, will likely have a significant impact on the entire college / university structure in the United States. All professional and university sports will be hard pressed to simply survive in their current form.

In 2024 I’m guessing that Larry will still be employed by the Pac12, and there will be no federal salary caps on coaches’ salaries, though a few feckless state legislatures who (with no skin in the game) might prefer to grandstand rather than pursue meaningful reform (e.g. all image licensing) may choose to meddle with the topic.

It’s a dark, but possible future. OTOH, I was convinced there would be no Duck football in calendar 2020, and I’ve continued to caution folks not to be dismissive of USC this year, so hey, my two cents.


Fair point. Federal loopholes / accommodations for sports already do exist.

Jon Joseph

OT 2 – Oregon is up to 12, from 14, in the Week 5 AP Poll. SC at 27; Utah 33; ASU 46; UW 47.

CBS Jerry Palm’s Bowl projections.

Playoff – Rose Bowl – 2. Ohio State vs 3. Alabama/ Sugar Bowl – 1.Clemson vs. 4. OREGON!

Alamo – ASU vs Iowa State – ISU’s victory over OK on Saturday was its 1st W in Ames vs the Sooners since 1960; 60 years. Great W coming on a day when Jack Brice was featured on College Game Day. ISU’s Jack Brice Stadium is the only CFB stadium named after an African American. In 1923, Brice died of injuries suffered in a game vs a B1G opponent.

Texas has changed the name of its field to honor Heisman winners Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams. This did not help Texas against TCU.

Fiesta Bowl – USC vs Boise State (With the MW back, AP #15 BYU has added a game at Boise and vs San Diego State.)

Sun – Stanford vs UVA

Holiday – UW vs VA Tech

Independence – Oregon State vs Army

Las Vegas Bowl – Utah vs LSU

LA Bowl – UCLA vs San Diego State

Anyone with eligibility left please report to the Ducks DB room.

Jon Joseph

I double checked. Palm does not have CAL going bowling. I think this is just wrong. I believe CAL will go to a bowl before Oregon State and UCLA and depending on the week 1 outcome, possibly UW?

Jon Joseph

2 Other takes –

Bill Connolly’s SP+ has the Ducks at 12. ESPN Football Power Index has Oregon at 6. (But behind 5 Wisconsin?)


Cal and Stanford the two campuses to most likely have off field intrusions into bowl chances?

Garbers’ healthy return a big early benefit for Bears (vs other North teams with new/ish QBs), so I’d be leaning in their direction as well.

I cannot speak for Brandon, but it is possible that he might feel that by limiting the salaries to the coaches–some money is freed up to share with the players?

Jon Sousa

…which brings up 2 of their demands – salary caps and compensation.

I had no idea that the salary caps were illegal. I just thought they would never happen. Thank you, Brandon!

Santa Rosa Duck

Brandon, thank you for this article. This is simply not going to happen. No one will take on the Anti Trust attorneys.

How about Brady Breeze checking out yesterday? Now we will be replacing three defensive stars in the secondary. We can reload but depth could be an issue.

Jon Joseph

OFF TOPIC. I hope you don’t mind Brandon but considering that the Ducks is a work-in-progress championship team I thought I’d share these statistics.

I think Nick Saban is earning his pay?

Alabama has not lost to an unranked opponent in 13 years. The last loss to an unranked team came in 2007 against LA Monroe in Saban’s 1st season with the Tide.

Since 2008 Bama has 17 more wins and 9 fewer losses against ranked opponents than any other team.

Since 2008 the Ducks is 32-20 versus ranked. 80-18 versus not ranked.

To be elite, Ls against unranked opponents have to be extremely rare. It does happen. For example, Clemson lost to Pitt and Syracuse in back to back seasons and still made the playoff both years. But Ohio State’s bad road L against Purdue cost it a final 4 bid. Ohio State’s L against Iowa also cost it a PO bid but Iowa was ranked at the time.

Would stats like Saban’s at Bama justify paying the Ducks HC $8M+? Possibly, but I think Autzen would have to be expanded. Bama’s stadium sits 100,000+.

Then again, could Oregon draw 100K fans?


That shot of Saban and his, “it’s not about the money, it’s about the opportunity, (spreading his arms” for them to play this game that they love so much” was as disingenuous as anything I’ve ever seen.

Of course it’s not only during a pandemic that have players facing a risk by playing. The sport itself is a risk that the players throw a blind eye too. Broken bones, torn ACL’s, concussions, CTE. These are all by products of playing that the players risk, as the coaches watch.


Brandon, you might want to revisit your hyperbolic death by pandemic statement.

Jon Joseph

Cui Bono? Who would benefit from a cap on CFB coaches salaries?

Dabo, Nick’s and the vast majority of big time CFB coaches salaries are mostly covered by contributions from boosters.

I guess, in theory, ticket prices might go down? But I very much doubt it.

If their was a salary cap in CFB I imagine the better guys would move up to the NFL?

I do think it would be reasonable to put a cap on the # of ‘consultants’ a program can have. Saban’s ‘Home For Wayward Coaches’ never seems to run out of rooms.

Thanks for the take. The way things are going Mr. Roger’s may have to get off of the trolley and play safety or corner back?

Jon Joseph

Saban and Dabo’s salary are both paid 100% outside of university and student funds. This is more the rule than the exception in the P5.

Would boosters contribute the same amount in coaches salaries to the general student fund? I doubt it. Would you rather tee it up with Dabo or the Clemson prez?

IMO, the administration of CFB is screwed up enough as it is. Last thing CFB needs is Congressional oversight.

If anything, for public universities, if coaches pay is an issue, this should be a state and not a federal issue.

If the taxpayers in Alabama and South Carolina are not concerned about Nick and Dabo’s pay, why should Congress be concerned?


And cap the amount of top recruits a college can have too. Maybe make all stadiums the same size along with locker rooms same dimensions. Cap the amount any one alumni can give to a university. I am sure there are a lot of other wonderful ideas out there to level the playing field and ensure everyone gets a trophy, not going to happen.


One limit that has come about is on the amount of scholarships, I remember back in the 70’s when USC would come to Autzen and the number of Trojans was about the same as the fans in the stands. The reducing of scholarships definitely created a wider distribution of talent.

This could be full of Duck bias; I don’t think that salary is HUGE on Mario’s list. Sure, he wants to be paid and not taken for granted, and Oregon will have to respond to MC being on a lot of teams short lists. But, I feel like Dabo would be very upset if he wasn’t on top of the mountain. Of course, A & M paid a bucket load to get Jimbo and are still waiting.

Jon Joseph

Mario? UGA social distancing Auburn from the end zone on Saturday is worrisome. Gus Malzahn is being paid $6M+.

What would Auburn be willing to pay a guy bringing in the #3 ranked recruiting class to Eugene?

Jon Sousa

At least close to $$$8M.

Jon Joseph

Man, that would be hard for anyone to turn down.


It would be, and as much as I would love for Mario to stay at Oregon, and as much as I believe he really wants to build a championship program at Oregon, I couldn’t blame him for turning that much money down.

But, in the real world, coaches don’t stay at one team forever anymore, with rare exception$$$. It’s the way it works. So, it doesn’t mean the end of the world when your HC leaves. MC’s departure would be a part of the attractiveness that Oregon could display to prospective candidates for the job.

Jon Joseph

30,add in the facts that the COL in Auburn, Alabama is much less than in Eugene and Mario would be ‘next door’ to family in Florida.

However, maybe the better play would be to win it all at Oregon and wait for Saint Nick to retire? I do not see Dabo leaving Clemson to follow a legend and compete in the SEC W when he basically has the ACC ticket to the playoff.


Any chance that South Carolina might be eyeing Mario? Muschamp looking just as fragile as Malzahn. Another SEC team that shares a border with Florida, and whose fans may have more modest expectations?


Auburn recruiting way down (so far) for 2021 (Rivals #36), but pretty strong the last couple years.

Canary in the coal mine for Gus’s days on the Plains?

Jon Joseph

The scholly reduction was intended to even up the competition by spreading out the talent.

But with few exceptions, the top recruits, 4 and 5 star guys, continue to flock to the same dozen or so schools.

Again, Hats Off to Mario! Oregon is 6 in ESPN’s FPI rankings largely due to Mario’s recruiting. By 2021, the Ducks will have a Bill Connolly S+P+ Champ roster. More than 50% of the roster will be made up of 4 and 5 star recruits.

Jon Joseph

It didn’t happen in the Soviet Union, it’s not happening here. The guys who played on the great Soviet ice hockey teams were all in the military.

Think they were getting ‘ordinary’ army pay and benefits?

THAT is incredibly fascinating Brandon! Thanks for sharing your research, as it confirms what so many suspected…

Jon Joseph

KGB agents? I’m shocked!

As to whether athletics are based on fascist principles, I know it was a communist government, but did you check out the German Democratic Republic?

I do know that game enhancement drugs did not require a prescription or a trip to the pharmacy. I think a number of the E Germany lady shot putters could have started on the Ducks D line?