College Sports Paid Over $500M in 'Dead Money' to Fired Coaches Over Last Decade

During an 11-year span, college sports programs paid a total of more than $500 million to football and basketball coaches after they were fired, showcasing how often "dead money" circulates among athletic institutions, a new ESPN report has revealed.

An analysis of financial records at public universities found that Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) programs spent over $533 million to pay fired coaches from January 1, 2010, to January 31, 2021, ESPN reported on Friday.

Overall, the report found that football accounted for 75 percent of the dead money with $402.3 million, while men's ($116.3M) and women's basketball ($15.1M) were responsible for the remaining payments. In total, a whopping 112 athletic coaches were paid more than $1 million not to work during the 11-year time period.

The payments varied by conference, with the Southeastern Conference (SEC), Pac-12, and Big Ten paying a combined total of more than $371 million—far more than the Big 12, and Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), which together paid a total of $98.9 million. Non-Power Five schools also combined for $62.8M in payouts, according to the report.

Among the schools that paid coaches the most—with at least $20 million each—include Auburn ($31.2M), Nebraska ($25.8M), Texas ($21.5M), Ole Miss ($20.4M), and Kansas ($20M).

The most paid coach included Will Muschamp, who was given $6.3 million to stop coaching football at the University of Florida in 2014, and an additional $12.9 million to stop coaching at the University of South Carolina in 2020. Behind him included Charlie Strong, who received a total of $11.8 million from both Texas and South Florida, and Todd Graham, who was given $11.1 million from Arizona State, according to the report.

The top 10 paid coaches received a combined total of more than $100 million to stop working for their teams.

"Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson famously warned mammas to not let their babies grow up to be cowboys. The country music stars might have encouraged them to be fired college coaches instead," the ESPN report stated.

The report also noted that the financial records did not include payments for many of the coaches who were fired during or after 2020-21 seasons—making the total likely much higher than the $533 million figure.

Some critics have noted that the report highlights a broken financial structure within college sports.

"Institutions threw away more than half a billion dollars...on richly-compensated coaches, instead of using the money to support the education, health and safety of college athletes," Amy Perko, CEO of the Knight Commission, an independent group that works to change the mission of college sports, told Axios.

"If far-reaching steps aren't taken soon to control runaway spending on coaches, hundreds of millions of dollars will just continue to be wasted," Perko said.

College Football 'Dead Money' Report
College sports programs paid more than $500 million to coaches after they were fired, according to a new report. Here, players for Texas A&M and Auburn University are seen during a game at Kyle Field on November 6 in College Station, Texas. Bob Levey/Getty Images