Brett Bielema shocked Wisconsin and the rest of the Big Ten by upping and leaving Madison for the Arkansas job following a second straight Big Ten championship in 2012. Part of his reasoning for leaving for Arkansas and the SEC was the money available for assistants, according to ArkansasBusiness.com:
They were talking money that I can’t bring them at Wisconsin. Wisconsin isn’t wired to do that at this point. I just felt for me and for my future and my life and what I want to accomplish in the world of college football, I needed to have that ability to do that, and thankfully I’ve found that here at Arkansas.
Apparently, his words were taken to heart, not just by the Badgers, but by the rest of the Big Ten. Just one offseason later, the Big Ten has put its money where its mouth is in the recent hires of James Franklin as Penn State head coach and Doug Nussmeier as Michigan's offensive coordinator.
Franklin agreed to a six-year deal, expected to be worth $4.5 million a year per Bruce Feldman of CBSSports.com.
According to the USA Today database of coach compensation, that would put Franklin at No. 7 in the nation. It would also mean that four of the top 10 coaching salaries in the country would belong to Big Ten teams.
Ohio State's Urban Meyer leads the way at No. 6 ($4.6 million), PSU's Franklin at No. 7 ($4.5 million), Michigan's Hoke comes in at No. 8 ($4.15 million) and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz ($3.9 million) would be No. 10.
But that is just head coaching salaries we're talking about. The best piece of news may be what is happening with the assistant coaches, and it's the area where the Big Ten seems to have taken the words of Bielema to heart the most.
Let's not forget that in 2011 Bielema had to replace three assistants and then had to replace six of the nine assistants in 2012 as well. He was well aware of what the lack of competitive salaries for assistants was doing to his team and the rest of the Big Ten.
However, this offseason, the Wolverines are showing the Big Ten is willing to swing for the fences, and were reportedly making Nussmeier one of the top three paid assistants in college football.
However, Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon put that report to rest, telling Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com that Nussmeier wouldn't be making more than defensive coordinator Greg Mattison:
I don't know where those reports come from. I don't even know if those people know what coordinators are even being paid, because in some cases, that's real hard information to get. We put together a package for Doug that's consistent with what we've done here at Michigan. And you'll all get a copy of it when it's done. But we don't have a contract yet.
Whether or not the report is true, Nussmeier's salary is likely to be in same range as Mattison. That means he's due to make around $850,000 a year, which would make him tied as the highest-paid assistant in the Big Ten alongside Mattison.
ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg reported in December on the Big Ten's top-paid assistants, with Mattison ranking No. 1 in the conference. Mattison was also fourth nationally according to the report.
It would also mean Nussmeier would make more than the man he replaced, Al Borges, who earned $700,000, per the USA Today database of assistant coaches salaries.
Nussmeier isn't the only assistant coach hire coming in the offseason here, as SI.com's Pete Thamel is reporting former Wisconsin and Arkansas defensive coordinator Chris Ash has accepted a role as co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach at Ohio State.
It will be interesting to see how much Ash will get paid at OSU, as he will be leaving a $550,000 annual salary behind at Arkansas.
No matter who is coming and how much they are being paid, one needs to ask how the sudden shift is happening. After all, we're talking about pretty significant investments by athletic departments.
It can't just be because of the warning shot Bielema fired when he departed Wisconsin, either.
One of the biggest reasons this shift is possible happens to be from the area that the Big Ten has an advantage in—the Big Ten Network.
According to Stu Durando of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Big Ten was expected to pay out a record $25.7 million to each school in 2013. The report also says that nearly $19 million of that payout is coming from television and $6.6 million comes from BTN alone.
Those are game-changing numbers that allow teams to invest money much quicker than in the past, and after investing in facilities the conference can now turn its attention to paying more competitive salaries across the board.
In the past, the Big Ten has been concentrating on upping the facilities it offers across the conference, and a lot of schools have been able to use the increasing revenue from the conference to pay for it.
With a lot of those projects near completion or already done, the conference's schools can now look to invest funds elsewhere.
Over the next few years, that cash cow of BTN will only continue to produce for them with the addition of the DC/Baltimore and New York/New Jersey television markets, as well as the TV rights coming up in 2016.
The increasing trend of the Big Ten being willing to spend on coaching salaries, combined with the upcoming influx of cash for the conference, means it could be setting itself up to be a serious challenger in college football coaching circles for years to come.
These type of hires all serve as proof that the Big Ten realizes that in order to get the most out of the talent brought into the conference, it also needs to pay the best coaching talent it can, too.
Will the investment of higher salaries turn in immediate results? That's yet to be determined, but if it sees success across the SEC and in other pockets of the college football world, the Big Ten needs to keep up with the Joneses or risk losing all relevancy.
Thankfully, the league realizes this and is entering the race at perhaps just the right time.
*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.
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