If you follow news in the sports world, particularly related to college football, you have already heard about the enormous buyout of the contract of Jimbo Fisher, the head coach at Texas A&M. While coaches are hired and fired all the time, this event is noteworthy because of the amount of the buyout. Just over $76 million dollars.
I am not a huge fan of Jimbo, mainly because he left Florida State in a rather distressed state. Perhaps that was not all his fault, but FSU certainly had years of work to do before finally returning to prominence this year.
However, as an Auburn fan, I am happy to see this extravagant buyout amount because it is more than three times what Auburn paid Gus Malzahn. That was the previous high-water mark in extravagant payouts for college coaches.
This is not your grandfather’s football game. Funding for college football has more than tripled in the past 15 years. Even the doormats of different conferences receive huge checks as their share of the television contracts negotiated every few years. For instance, Vanderbilt’s current share of funding from the SEC is approximately $50 million.
It is hard to feel sorry for Texas A&M. According to USA Today, the Aggies had an income from all sports of just over $193 million in the 2022-23 season. They ranked seventh among the major colleges. They also are blessed (or cursed) with one of the richest alumni bases in the country.
Nevertheless, you must wonder where this spare no expense approach will take us. Outside the top 10 or 15 universities, no one else can compete with the staff, facilities and now the NIL (Name, Image, and Likeness) monies that are required to play ball with the big boys. That is before one includes the guaranteed buyouts that have become bigger each passing year.
A payout of $76 million to a person simply not to coach makes the argument against paying players more difficult to defend. The days of just playing for your team or winning one for the Gipper are long past. The portal makes it a challenge just to memorize the names and numbers of players from year to year.
If you can pay a coach that did not perform up to expectations an obscene amount of money just to go away, how can you defend not sharing with players a portion of the tens of millions of dollars generated by the teams that depend on these very players.
It is a complicated situation. No one loves college football more than I do, but I worry that the model we have enjoyed for generations is already gone. No one seems to know how this will settle out or if we will even recognize collegiate football in a few years.
In the meantime, the greatest job in this country may be that of a terminated collegiate football coach, making tens of millions of dollars. Meanwhile the cost of attendance in these same schools is putting an education out of reach for a large segment of our society.
The optics look bad but if anything ever took the sting out of getting fired, it is a $76 million severance package. Is America a great country or what?
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org