Recently, USA Today published results of its annual study regarding salaries for college football coaches. The study covered those universities in the Football Bowl Subdivision, more commonly known as "big time." It found that new coaches in 2012 will make 35 percent more than their predecessors last year.

Recently, USA Today published results of its annual study regarding salaries for college football coaches. The study covered those universities in the Football Bowl Subdivision, more commonly known as "big time." It found that new coaches in 2012 will make 35 percent more than their predecessors last year.

If this did not cause a stir among those who have high-end tailgating equipment and officially licensed hoodies, it did raise eyebrows among those who struggle to understand the function of big-time sports on university campuses, especially the public ones.

In the past six years, according to USA Today, salaries for football coaches have increased nearly 55 percent. At Ohio State, the hiring of Urban Meyer, who has an annual base salary of $4 million, and his staff, which will make a combined $3.22 million this year, is an example of the trend.

Meyer's deal is riddled with perks and incentive bonuses that will push his take well beyond his base. His salary is about triple that of OSU president E. Gordon Gee, a fact that Gee does not find problematic, ostensibly because the football program sustains the athletic department. Meyer was the best coach available and he was lured with the going rate for those at the top of his profession. Who could have a problem with that?

"We've long gone past anything that's reasonable," Ohio University sports-management professor David Ridpath told The New York Times last month.

Ridpath is a member of the Drake Group, a collection of academics who push for integrity in college sports. He went on to tell the Times:

"If you put too much value on a program, it starts to swallow the university. It starts to guide the moral compass. Soon, a coach is going to make $10 million a year. There's just no stopping it."

According to Money magazine, college professors earn an average salary of just over $81,000. There are those who believe Meyer's salary, by comparison, represents a garish skewing of priorities. Others counter that the physics department does not turn an $18 million profit.

Gee and his athletic director, Gene Smith, used to be vocal opponents of escalating salaries. Now, they are willing to pay $7 million to $8 million a year for a football coaching staff that wins, and makes good television. Such is the price of doing business, especially after a year of scandal.

They have to keep up with Texas, the heavyweight of football-revenue producers, and so does everyone else. Twenty-five FBS schools have made coaching changes for 2012 and, according to USA Today, the majority of these schools are paying buyouts to the old coaches or increasing the salary for the incoming coach, or both. In some cases, there is an instant bang for the buck in the form of ticket sales, alumni donations and other related revenue.

Not everyone will keep up. There are 120 schools in the FBS. Outside the Southeastern Conference, there are few programs that make enough, spend enough and interpret the rulebook liberally enough to win a national title. They are chased by an upper-middle class from the power conferences. The biggest class is an expanding lower class of schools that cannot keep up.

According to the most recent reports by the NCAA, 22 athletic departments among FBS schools made money in 2010. There are 64 coaches who make more than $1 million, and the number rises every year. These are not apples and oranges. They point to a trend.

The NCAA might govern collegiate athletics, and there are times it actually cares about ethics and integrity and morality, not to mention education. But it does not control football's bowls. The power conferences do, and they are separating themselves. Cranking up coaching salaries is just another method, like creating television networks.

It follows, logically, that these conferences will ultimately run their own football show, without NCAA impediment, and without a thought about how they fit in the mission of higher education. They are almost there.

After that, they will get to work on basketball.

marace@dispatch.com