Andy Staples ($$) recounts the events leading to
Jimmy Sexton hosing South Carolina South Carolina AD Ray Tanner making the decision to reward Will Muschamp with a significant contract extension because he’d just led the ‘Cocks to a national title SEC title divisional title bowl game comeback over Michigan.
The date is Jan. 1, 2018. The town is Tampa, Fla. Michigan is playing South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. This is not the Outback Bowl where Jadeveon Clowney hit Vincent Smith so hard that his helmet popped off and then Clowney cradled the ball with one hand like a mama dragon cradling one of her eggs. This is the Outback Bowl that took place five years later, the one you probably half paid attention to while you waited to watch Oklahoma and Georgia tee it up in the Rose Bowl. In that Michigan-South Carolina Outback Bowl, the Wolverines lead 19-3 until South Carolina scores on a 17-yard Rico Dowdle run with 2:25 remaining in the third quarter.
This sparks a blistering stretch during which the Gamecocks outscore Michigan 20-0 in about six minutes. South Carolina adds a field goal late to cap a 26-19 win that runs the Gamecocks’ record to 9-4 for the 2017 season. The Gamecocks have won six of their final eight — losing only to College Football Playoff participants Georgia and Clemson. Of course, three of those six wins (Arkansas, Tennessee, Florida) are against teams that fired their coaches during the 2017 season…
… Muschamp was hired at South Carolina in December 2015 on a five-year deal that started at $3 million a year and included a $100,000 raise each subsequent year. If Muschamp had been on this deal when he got fired, South Carolina would owe him about $300,000. (Which, lest we get too carried away by the figures, is still a considerable sum.)
But Tanner and company got very excited about that furious close to Muschamp’s second season, a season which ran his record at South Carolina to 15-13 overall and 8-8 in the SEC. They also may have been scared that Muschamp might depart for — where?— Arkansas? Tennessee? There were quite a few jobs open during that hiring cycle, but Muschamp didn’t seem a fit for any of them. And even if he was, couldn’t Tanner just find someone else at that price point to go .500 in the SEC?
Apparently not. Muschamp, who already made $3.2 million a year, received a $1 million a year raise. He also was extended through 2023. The buyout remained 70 percent of the amount remaining on the contract.
And here’s the thing. The reason athletic directors like Tanner routinely get used by agents like Sexton is because there’s so much excess money in the system at the P5 level, since nobody has to pay the hired help anything close to real world wages. That money has to go somewhere and you can only spend so much on waterfalls and barber shops in facilities.
Sure, it’s wasteful, but Tanner’s peers are doing the same thing and why not? It’s not like the money’s gonna run out… er, wait.
The pandemic may be a once in a lifetime event — at least we hope so — but you know what’s not? The possibility, which grows ever stronger, that college athletes are going to get a piece of the pie. And should that happen, people like Tanner are going to be faced with all these ridiculous ticking time bomb coaching contracts that were made in a different economic setting than the one they’ll be facing.
It’s kind of analogous to what Georgia Tech has had to deal with in replacing a head coach who ran the triple option, a lot of short term pain because the personnel infrastructure left behind is wholly unsuited for the new circumstances. Except in this case, instead of wins and losses, you’re looking at profits and losses.
This is why the NCAA and its member schools are fighting player compensation, even third-party NIL compensation, tooth and nail. Once the idea of college athletes receiving payment for their services becomes accepted in the public’s mind, it’s not far at all to realize that the source of such payment will become normalized, too. And the number of athletic departments built to sustain that in the short run can probably be counted on one hand. With a finger or two left over.