Tommy Tuberville=Mark Gottfried?

The Tommy Tuberville supporters have finally come out of the woodwork. Good for them. It was sad that I was one of the few publicly supporting Auburn’s fine coach. However, the Tub lovers need a better argument than they’ve come up with. What are they saying? The economy sucks.

Yes. We know that. A recession is a reality (though it looks like we avoided a depression.) But is keeping Tommy Tuberville because the economy is bad really a good reason?

Here’s the mainstream media beginning to boost Tuberville’s cause:

Buying out the remainder of Tuberville’s contract would cost $6 million. It would also require paying Tuberville’s assistants, some of whom are on two-year contracts. Auburn is already paying two offensive coordinators (Al Borges and Tony Franklin) not to coach.

There’s also an ex-baseball coach and his assistant being paid this year. Fans grumbling about Jeff Lebo and the men’s basketball team should be aware that it would cost $2 million or more to buy out his contract, and it would take an equally large sum to lure a big-name coach to take his place.

The basketball teams will move into a new arena in a couple years, and the athletic department needs money to pay for up-front costs now and bond debts in the future. Other facilities projects are wrapping up, ongoing or about to get started.

And, of course, all of this is happening in the midst of one of the country’s worst economic climates in decades.

Can Auburn raise the money needed to do all of the above? Of course. But should it? Is it really worth raising an obscene amount of money to oust a coach who has one of the league’s best records since the last time he was almost fired in 2003?

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This was the same lame argument used to defend Alabama’s Mark Gottfried. We were told over and over by people around the program (and by members of the press) that it would cost too much to terminate Gottfried.

You can’t forget the bottom line, but is this the best way to view the economics of a coaching change?

Maybe not.

The Sports Economist blog provides a valid counterpoint in the example of Tommy Bowden:

The fundamental point is that buyouts are not the key economic issue. They key issue is that coaches salaries, particularly in Tommy Bowden’s case, are proxies for player talent. Bowden was paid $1.8 million per year in part because of his ability to stock the Tiger dressing room with loads of (largely uncompensated) talent.

The $3.5 million buyout is being paid out of a “rainy day” fund that has been built up specifically for this, or some similar purpose. The contract states that it will be paid out over six years, or about $600,000 per year. This is the right context: buyouts are a form of insurance in a high stakes game; tragedy triggers the “lump sum” buyout, but it is effectively an annual cost, part of the cost of doing business in major college football. Moreover, $600,000 is not a ton of money in today’s college football world. And in the context of Bowden’s salary and ten year’s of coaching at Clemson, it’s a decent reward for a pretty good job. Further, if Tommy takes another FBS job, I’d bet those payments will cease.

When coaches fail to deliver either recruiting success or success on the field of competition, then triggering the insurance policy would be a wise move. Why endure smaller crowds? Why endure declining interest in fans at the game (buying concessions and spending dollars in the town) or fewer people buying pay per view football? Why endure no NCAA tournament money?

The economics of winning or losing is easier than Gottfried or Tuberville supporters want us to believe. Win=more money for the program. Lose=less money for the program.

Does it make sense to continue losing because you are afraid of paying a little bit of money. And in the big world of college athletics a million or two isn’t that big of a deal. As an investor, one of the most important things you can learn is when to cut your losses and walk away. Being afraid of walking away when you should is a recipe for losing your investment.

Is it any different in the world of athletics?

And has Tuberville descended into equality with Gottfried? Is this the only thing Tuberville supporters can cite as a reason to keep him?