Lost revenue is the major trickle-down effect of the coronavirus pandemic shutting down college sports programs, most of which depend heavily on football.
The longer everything remains dormant because of mandated social distancing, there’s less discretionary cash earmarked for donations and ticket sales which are the lifeblood of college athletics along with TV money and conference/postseason distribution.
Athletic directors are already figuring ways to cut costs, such as reducing staff sizes, slicing travel expenses and as a last resort getting rid of some sports.
But there’s also an expense being overlooked – firing coaches before their contracts expire and having to pay the buyouts.
So, in the current unpredictable financial atmosphere, any coach on the hot seat might be given a temporary reprieve because the dollars involved to dump them aren’t available.
It didn’t cost the University of Texas a dime to jettison eighth-year women’s basketball coach Karen Aston last Friday because her contract expires Aug. 31.
Her 2019-20 team was about to collect its seventh straight NCAA tournament bid. She had a four-year stretch of three Sweet 16 appearances and an Elite Eight, and after her first season never finished worse than third in the Big 12.
But she was also 1-18 against two-time national champion Baylor and newly minted Naismith Hall of Fame coach Kim Mulkey.
Texas immediately hired former Texas A&M assistant Vic Schaefer, who at Mississippi State did the impossible in eight seasons as the Bulldogs’ head coach. In the remote locale of Starkville, he built a program that went to five NCAA tourneys including losses in the 2017 and 2018 national championship games and a 2019 regional finals defeat.
Obviously, women’s basketball, once a powerhouse for 31 seasons at Texas under legendary coach Jody Conradt, still matters. They hired Schaefer because the Longhorns are tired of losing to Baylor.
By the same token, you wonder if anybody really cares about LSU women’s basketball, which advanced to five straight Final Fours from 2004 to 2008 but hasn’t finished better than third in the SEC in the last 10 seasons.
The last nine years have been under Nikki Fargas, whose program has mostly wallowed in breakeven mediocrity (167-116 overall, 75-69 SEC, 5-6 in six NCAA tourneys including three straight first-round losses).
This past season was a bit better, a 20-10 record including 6-5 record against ranked teams and a likely NCAA tourney bid before the season was cut short. The Tigers lost their last five of seven games, clearly affected by the loss of fifth-year senior Ayana Mitchell (a top 100 recruit in the Class of 2015) to a career-ending knee injury vs. Texas A&M on Feb. 5.
LSU finished seventh in the SEC at 9-7, the sixth time the Tigers have finished sixth or worse in league play.
The reason Tigers’ women’s basketball has fallen and can’t get up is simple.
During her time at LSU in which there have been 13 new SEC head coaching hires, Fargas has only signed eight top 100 rated high school players including three current players.
In that same period, South Carolina and Mississippi State the two most dominant teams in the SEC with a combined four Final Fours, a national championship, seven regular season SEC titles and six league tourney championships, have signed 23 and 12 top 100 players respectively.
Until Fargas signed Tiara Young of Walker a year ago, the last six high school players who won Miss Basketball in Louisiana signed elsewhere.
A year ago, national champion Baylor coached by former Louisiana Tech and Hammond High star Mulkey, had on its roster Miss Louisiana Basketball winners Kalani Brown and Cara Ursin and LSU grad transfer Chloe Jackson. That trio combined to average 32.9 points and 16.1 rebounds.
Brown was an All-American in 2019 and Big 12 Player of the Year in 2018. Jackson was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four after scoring 26 points and the game-winning basket in the title game against Notre Dame.
By all accounts, Fargas, who is the longest tenured coach in the SEC, has some positive qualities. Her players graduate, she is good in the community and she hasn’t been heard on an FBI surveillance tape making “a strong-ass offer.”
Apparently, that was enough two years ago in 2017-18 when she parlayed a third-place tie in the SEC regular season into a three-year contract extension despite the fact she was barely breaking .500 in league play after her first seven seasons.
The extension included no raise to her annual salary of $361,988 but added a $200,000 per year buyout for the remaining years on the contract.
If former LSU athletic director Joe “The Search” Alleva hadn’t extended Fargas, her previous contract would have expired last May after her 2018-19 team finished 16-13 and seventh in the SEC and failed to make the NCAA tourney.
Instead, new LSU AD Scott Woodward inherited Fargas’ new deal and the buyout, meaning it will cost him $400,000 if he wants to fire her immediately.
But he probably won’t for several reasons, the most obvious being the financial uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Also, it is not Woodward’s mode of operation to cut loose a coach after watching them for just one season. As Texas A&M’s athletic director, he fired football coach Kevin Sumlin after watching his teams for two seasons and fired men’s basketball coach Billy Kennedy after viewing three seasons.
Woodward replaced them with high-profile coaches Jimbo Fisher and Buzz Williams respectively. He hired both without the help of a search firm or committee.
Colleagues who have worked with Woodward say he is extremely competitive, that he wants as many as of his sports teams as possible to be of championship-caliber.
If that’s the case, it’s not a matter of if but rather when he replaces Fargas. And it’s a good bet he already has a short list of who’s got next.