College football coaches get fired all the time, but the most recent one on Sunday raised fresh questions at a time of pandemic-induced austerity on campuses.
In terminating head football coach Will Muschamp, theUniversity of South Carolina will be on the hook for a buyout of about $13 million, according to sports website the Athletic. That comes as the school has instituted cost-saving measures like mandatory facultyfurloughs to bridge a widening budget gap brought on by Covid-19. The move shows that college football programs aren’t letting revenue shortfalls stand in the way of conducting business as usual.
“The optics are horrible,” said David Ridpath, an associate professor of sports management at Ohio University and former president of the Drake Group, which advocates for academic integrity in intercollegiate sports. “This goes against all the so-called values of college sports.”
Muschamp was fired following a 59-42 loss to the University of Mississippi. He finishes his stint in Columbia with just 28 wins to 30 losses, so under normal conditions it would come as little surprise.
But just two months ago, Athletic Director Roy Tanner told the college’s board of trustees that his department faced a $58 millionrevenue hit due to the pandemic. And President Bob Caslen had earlier estimated the entire university was expecting revenue to fall by $165 million.
“The budget outlook before us is more serious than any the university has faced since the Great Recession, and the loss of revenue next fiscal year could surpass the recession in terms of a single-year impact,” Caslenwrote in a June message on the school’s website. “It will require a new level of creativity and shared sacrifice from our entire campus community.”
Muschamp’s buyout is far from the largest ever. The University of Notre Dame famously paid former coach Charlie Weis $18.9 million in 2009 to leave South Bend. And just last yearFlorida State University dished out $17 million to cut ties with Willie Taggart.
Ironically, it was expected that even poorly performing coaches would be spared under current conditions.
“I really thought Covid was going to buy people some time,” said Ridpath. “Presidents are kowtowing to boosters and others.”
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