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What Is Wisconsin Willing To Spend On A New Head Coach?

Bret Bielema indicated that money -- namely how much the school spent on assistants -- may have been a big reason why he left Wisconsin. If the athletic department really is cash-strapped, how much will it be willing to spend on a new head coach?

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Jeff Gross

Yesterday, I spent way too much time asking why Bret Bielema was leaving Wisconsin, under the assumption that we would never hear the reasoning outright. My conclusion was something along the lines of "the SEC is that wonderful, I guess?" Matt Hinton, meanwhile, was way less wishy-washy:

For a coach whose ultimate goal is a national championship, the SEC is the conference that offers that opportunity - even, apparently, at a school that has not come close to a national crown since in two decades in the fold. If Bret Bielema is grasping at straws to get out of the Big Ten, who is trying to get in?

Turns out we should have given the new Arkansas head coach more credit. He was plenty forthright speaking at his introduction press conference Wednesday evening:

So it WAS the money, but not his own. While Bielema did get a nice pay bump for himself -- he is now one of the Top 10 highest paid coaches in college football -- an increase of $600,000 per year does not look out of Wisconsin's range, at least at a glance. No, what Bielema was after were resources, and it appears that the massive coaching turnover following the 2012 Rose Bowl loss to Oregon was perhaps more eye-opening to him than it was even to fans.

Wisconsin paid $1.973 million to its assistant coaches this year, putting the school ahead of only Indiana, Minnesota and Purdue in terms of its generosity towards underlings. Penn State and Northwestern do not disclose the salary information of their coaching staffs, but there is at least a reasonable chance that both schools are currently spending more. Both Matt Canada and Chris Ash are near the bottom of the league in coordinator pay.

What's in Wisconsin's pocket book

Wisconsin may need to spend big money to attract new coaches that will appease the rabbling masses. It's unclear whether they are able, at least to the same extent as other major athletic departments.

Wisconsin was behind only Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State in the Big Ten in terms of revenue generated by the athletic department during the 2010-11 fiscal year. They ranked No. 12 among all athletic departments, just behind Notre Dame. The problem is Wisconsin spent a lot of money, too.

Of the $93.6 million Wisconsin earned in revenue, nearly $93 million was tied up in expenses. The athletic department was just one of three schools in the conference not to report a net income of $1 million or more. The SEC reported even greater incomes according the USA Today database, with Arkansas showing a $12 million difference between revenue and expenses. Wisconsin is already among the Top 10 spenders in the country, and may not be able to shell out for top shelf coaches if money is tied elsewhere.

Then again, it's not like the cash flow is drying up any time soon. The numbers for 2011-12 won't be available until Spring, but every indication suggests that the athletic department will be receiving even more money from the Big Ten this year. The conference's demographic grab should, in theory, give schools even more money to work with thanks to the Big Ten Network. Wisconsin already has massive renovations planned, and to fund big ideas, Barry Alvarez will need to make sure the football team is winning games so that fans buy tickets. Few schools generated more money through football and basketball than Wisconsin.

If the numbers are to be trusted at face value, it's unclear whether Wisconsin will have the wiggle room to take on the $6 million buyout for Paul Chryst, or whatever it is. A lot could depend on the as-of-yet unreported 2011-12 numbers look like. Revenues have been on the rise in the conference since the Big Ten Network was launched in 2007, with another generous windfall forthcoming. Perhaps it's about time Wisconsin started throwing its weight around.