Good deal, right?
In the Southeastern Conference, in which Auburn plays, Chizik’s buyout clause is neither shocking nor abnormal. Fiscally, SEC football is more Trump than Gump. It is played in small-to-middling Southern towns but its economic reality is anything but small-minded. It is not football for the cheap.
Chizik’s firing Sunday became the latest chapter in the SEC’s economic reality, and who’s to say if it’s truly better for the game? Say what you will about consecutive national championships; the undeniable truth for schools in the SEC is that it takes millions to field teams and hire top-tier coaches — and fire them, too.
Color SEC football a deep, engrained shade of green.
In the last two years, six of the conference’s 14 universities have fired their head coaches. According to USA Today, those coaching changes have cost their universities an aggregate $26.5 million in buyout clauses.
Auburn, the loveliest village on The Plains, merely provides our current example.
Four years ago, the Tigers fired Tommy Tuberville, now coaching at Texas Tech University. His buyout clause at Auburn was more than $5 million. Thus, Auburn is on the hook for $12.28 million owed to two former head football coaches in a four-year span. And, don’t forget, there’s the money the university will owe its next coach and his lineup of assistants.
More than the statistics on wins and losses, these are the real numbers of SEC football. It’s how much schools are forced to shell out for coaches, for facilities, for everything it takes to compete in the best, and most expensive, conference.
Four SEC universities — Auburn, Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas — are making coaching changes this year. In Knoxville, officials there spent recent days trying unsuccessfully (thus far) to lure Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden out of the Monday Night Football booth with a contract that was said to be more than Nick Saban’s at the University of Alabama.
If you’re keeping tabs, Saban makes an average of $5.6 million a year and is under contract through January 2020.
The SEC’s arms race is unstoppable. How else to judge it? It seems marvelous today in Tuscaloosa, where Saban has produced two national titles in three years and possibly a third this season. Alabama is harvesting overwhelming athletic results for its willingness to pay a steep financial price.
Yet, this ever-increasing arms race is worth serious debate. We love our games; our universities reap tremendous benefits from them. But where does it stop? At a time when public universities are dealing with declining budgets and state appropriations — and crushing tuition increases for students — where does the justification for issuing multi-million contracts to coaches end?
Truth is, it doesn’t.
SEC football will never return to the days of sports-on-the-cheap. It is a Big Boy-Big Bucks game, a pay-to-play reality. The pressure to produce is immeasurable. Chizik won 33 games and a national championship in four years, but Auburn dumped him, in part, because his team tanked. It couldn’t wait. No amount of money could warrant keeping him on.
Don’t be surprised when a school hires the SEC’s first $10 million-a-year coach — and fires him, too. That day isn’t far away.