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Misunderstanding the MRP of College Coaches

Reader Trent sent me this column by Greg Easterbrook on all the attention (and cash) heaped on college football coaches. There are other bloggable points in the column, but I focus on the following (which Trent pointed out as well):

Next is the winner-take-all aspect of modern economics, nodding here to Robert Frank of Cornell University, who has documented this phenomenon. Coaches at the top of pro and college football today earn 50 times what a high school varsity football coach earns. Not a single one of the top pro or college coaches is 50 times more able than the typical high school coach. I'd estimate that today's very best football coaches, such as Bill Belichick or Carroll, are approximately twice as good at what they do than any high school football coach who won a 4A or 5A state championship this fall – but Belichick and Carroll earn 50 times as much. At the high school, small-college, big-college and NFL level there are several thousand skilled, competent football coaches of approximately equal ability – coaching skill at the small-college level is especially overlooked. Of the several thousand able football coaches, a handful become rich while the rest labor for typical wages. This distorts our perspective of coaches, as winner-take-all economics distorts our perspective of Hollywood figures, CEOs, rock stars and the rest.

This is a gross misunderstanding of the marginal revenue product of college coaches. I am unsure how one would measure the marginal product side of the ledger. Assume Easterbrook is correct in saying "that today's very best football coaches, such as Bill Belichick or Carroll, are approximately twice as good at what they do than any high school football coach who won a 4A or 5A state championship this fall" (or is twich as productive at the margin). Then the average "very best" college coaches will be worth 50 times as much as the average championship college coach if the added productivity is worth 25 times as much to the average fan. Casual observation of comparative ticket prices, TV exposure, game attendance, etc. suggests this is likely the case.

Come to think of it, this would make an interesting research project, so get to work. 😉