As the money has exploded in college sports over the past decade and a half, so, too has everything else: the contracts, and the expectations. Programs with more money in their coffers award larger contracts to their coaches, and those contracts come with larger severance packages.
At the same time, the athletics department as a whole is highly leveraged in terms of facility commitments elsewhere, and so the money grows to a point where it becomes more expensive not to contend for conference titles. Look at, say, Florida State and Arkansas from this past season: when your high 8- or 9-figure facility projects are put in danger by an apathetic fan base, the actuary table flips to where the bean counters in the athletics department determine a coaching buyout that approaches $20 million is suddenly the most frugal path forward.
Apply that logic across the entire Power 5 and you get nearly half a billion dollars in severance payments to football and men's basketball coaches over the past 15 years.
A study by Athletic Director U found that Power 5 schools pay an average of $758,905 per year to buyout coaches in the two money sports.
Here are the 10 highest-payers in coaching severance packages in football, with the head coaches employed over the studied period listed in parenthesis. (Not every school had all 15 years of data available; for instance, Tennessee had seven years on record and Texas had 11.)
1. Florida -- $24.8 million (Ron Zook, Urban Meyer, Will Muschamp, Jim McElwain, Dan Mullen)
2. Nebraska -- $24.3 million (Bill Callahan, Bo Pelini, Mike Riley, Scott Frost)
3. Kansas -- $23.7 million (Mark Mangino, Turner Gill, Charlie Weis, David Beaty, Les Miles)
4. Auburn -- $21.4 million (Tommy Tuberville, Gene Chizik, Gus Malzahn)
5. Tennessee -- $20.2 million (Derek Dooley, Butch Jones, Jeremy Pruitt)
6. Texas -- $19.1 million (Mack Brown, Charlie Strong, Tom Herman)
7. Arizona State -- $18.9 million (Dirk Koetter, Dennis Erickson, Todd Graham, Herm Edwards)
8. Louisville -- $18.5 million (Bobby Petrino, Steve Kragthorpe, Charlie Strong, Bobby Petrino, Scott Satterfield)
9. Texas A&M -- $17.1 million (Dennis Franchione, Mike Sherman, Kevin Sumlin, Jimbo Fisher)
10. Colorado -- $16.8 million (Gary Barnett, Dan Hawkins, Jon Embree, Mike MacIntyre, Mel Tucker, Karl Dorrell)
It's interesting that this study drops now, as administrators across the country examine their budgets with a red pen in one hand and a scalpel in the other. Even assuming a full football season is played (an assumption that seemingly gets bigger by the day, as we sit here on March 30), it seems a given that ADs across the country will be extreeeemely hesitant to pay a 7- or 8-figure buyout when that money will be already allocated toward staving off cuts elsewhere.
What will be really interesting if that attitude carries forward into 2021, or if we see a figurative severance boom once the coronavirus crisis is fully behind us. But that's a study for another day.