This past winter, I wrote an article discussing the major college football coaching decisions during the 2021 season. See Is This The Product That Major College Football Truly Desires to Produce? There, I discussed the domino effect that firing college coaches has, ultimately leading to coaches jumping ship for these now vacated and seemingly better opportunities, i.e., Brian Kelly; Lincoln Riley; and Billy Napier. Id. In addition, I briefly discussed the buyouts that universities are willing to pay to both fire coaches and then to hire coaches away from their current situations. For example, last year, USC reportedly paid a $12 million buy out to cut ties with former head coach Clay Helton. Id. Similarly, LSU agreed to an 18-month buyout with former head coach Ed Orgeron for $16.95 million and, finally, the University of Florida agreed to a $12 million buyout for former head coach Dan Mullen. Id. These mind-boggling amounts are persistent slaps in the face of college athletes and their pursuit of compensation from their respective institutions, and, only a few weeks into the 2022 season, it appears that the cycle will continue.
Scott Frost and Nebraska
The first major firing of the 2022 college football season was that of Scott Frost, formerly, of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Specifically, on September 11, 2022, Nebraska Athletic Director Trev Alberts announced that the university would be “making a change in leadership of [their] football program, effective immediately”. Thus, after four seasons of leading the Nebraska Cornhuskers to a cumulative 16-31 record, Scott Frost would be left without a job and Nebraska would then begin its search for the next head coach. Id.
Interestingly, the decision to fire Coach Frost came only three weeks into the season, which included a loss to Big-Ten foe Northwestern (in Ireland), a win over North Dakota, and a home loss to Georgia Southern. Id. Yet even more interesting than the quick firing was Nebraska’s decision to fire Coach Frost before October 1 of this season.
Specifically, because Nebraska decided to fire Coach Frost on September 11, 2022, they had to honor his $15 million buyout clause. Id. However, according to terms of his agreement, that buyout would have been cut-in-half had the university waited until October 1, 2022, less than a month later, to fire Coach Frost. Id. Moreover, when Athletic Director Scott Frost was asked about the decision to fire Coach Frost on September 11, 2022, and not wait until October 1, 2022, the Athletic Director’s response was:
“At this point I just felt like … we owed it to our players to them a different voice, a slightly different vision, some confidence … [w]e need to inject something into this team to give them confidence and help them compete.” Id.
Herman Edwards and Arizona State University
One week following the firing of Nebraska head coach Scott Frost, Arizona State University decided to part ways with now former head coach Herman Edwards. Coach Edwards began the 2022 season at 1-2, bringing his career record at Arizona state to 26-20, before being relieved of his duties. Id. Moreover, it is reported that Arizona State University will honor the remaining portions of Coach Edwards’s contract as a form of his buyout. That means that Coach Edwards will receive the remaining $900,000 for the remainder of 2022, plus $3.6 million in 2023, and $3.8 million in 2024, totaling approximately $8.3 million. Id.
Uniquely, the $8.3 million buyout that the University will now honor is also in conjunction with whatever discipline is handed down on the program following the completion of a current 15-month NCAA investigation. Specifically, the NCAA has been investigating the Herman Edwards led Arizona State football program for allegedly hosting prospective recruits during the 15-month, non-contact period brought on by the pandemic. Moreover, five assistant coaches left the program in the wake of the investigation, which then negatively impacted recruiting and ultimately led to a transfer portal exodus during the 2022 offseason. Id. For example, under the weight of the investigation, Arizona State lost its starting quarterback, defensive lineman, two starting receivers, and several others to Power 5 programs through the transfer portal. Id.
Needless to say, the $8.3 million buyout is not the only debt that Coach Edwards will leave on the university following his departure.
Player Compensation Era
As mounting pressures loom on institutions to provide their college athletes some form of payment, the head coaching buyouts pull strongly against any argument claiming that colleges cannot or should not pay their athletes.
For example, Nebraska has spent nearly $35 million in buying out of now four fired football coaches, and two men’s basketball coaches over the past 15 years. In addition, although Coach Frost is gone, each of his assistants have contracts through the 2023 seasons, of which several will likely be bought out so that the next head coach can have a clean slate to establish his program. Id. The reality of these exorbitant buyouts is made easier with the $70 million per year that Nebraska will receive under the new Big Ten media rights deal beginning in 2023. Id. Nevertheless, the fact remains, while institutions like Nebraska and Arizona State search for monies to pay coaches who no longer work for them, institutions will directly pay their athletes $0.
Although college athletes are able to earn compensation opportunities through likeness opportunities and through academic performance checks in the wake of NCAA v. Alston, none of these are set in stone. College football, and college sports as a whole, cannot remain a place where the boss of a group of people, i.e., the Head Coach., makes millions and millions, while its workers are fixed at $0. Understanding that this basis has been the foundation for decades worth of arguments, the fact is, when institutions are freely willing to pay coaches millions and millions of dollars to no longer work for them while at the same time paying their athletes nothing, something is extremely broken.
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