TRAVELING MONEY: Bret Bielema's payout could hit $11.8 million, ESPN reports. Brian Chilson

ESPN, quoting sources,
reported last night that Bret Bielema will receive $11.8 million for the three years remaining on his football coaching contract at Arkansas.

The money would be paid in monthly installments. It would be reduced by future earnings.


Add this to the buyout for Jeff Long, the fired athletic director, and potential buyouts for Bielema’s staff of assistants (still employed) and you’re talking potential payouts of up to $19 million to settle contract guarantees. It would be money from the income stream of the Athletic Department and Razorback Foundation, fattened by TV and marketing revenue and private contributions, not tax dollars.

If ESPN proves right, I’ll claim an I-told-you so. A while back, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette consulted a lawyer who said Bielema would be due only $5.9 million, though his contract seemed to specify a $15.4 million buyout. I remarked then that I was confident Bielema’s lawyers would dispute the low-ball estimate. I relied on a letter memorializing his most recent contract amendment.


The key part follows. You can see it guaranteed him $15.4 million (paid by the Razorback Foundation) if fired in the year ending Dec. 31, 2017 and then dropping to $11.7 million for a firing Jan. 1, 2018.

Bielema was fired a little more than a month short of the day the payoff dropped to $11.7 million. Looks like, if ESPN is correct, the lawyers have agreed to the Jan. 1 payoff figure plus $100,000 for the final month of 2017. The University has referred questions to the Razorback Foundation. It has declined to provide information.
The Democrat-Gazette wasn’t well-served by its lawyer in estimating Bielema’s payoff, but I think they got worthy advice for an assertion in an article today that they believe Razorback Foundation information about the coaching contract should be open under the Freedom of Information Act. The Foundation is inextricably tied in numerous ways to the public university, including in cooperation on premium seat sales and negotiating coaching contracts and joint responsibility for payment of those contracts.


I’ve been told lawsuits in other states have succeeded in piercing the veil of similar nonprofit support groups. A leading legal authority on the FOI in Arkansas once encouraged me to sue over the issue, so sure was he that a case could be made. I couldn’t afford it, having lost one expensive battle with a phalanx of UA lawyers in attempting to find out the terms of sale on the Waltons’ purchase of the Fayetteville campus’ education department.

Over the years, the Democrat-Gazette has done some important and expensive work in defending and expanding the FOI. Might it be ready to go to court over the Foundation’s refusal to open its books? Times are tough in the publishing business and the D-G isn’t as profitable as it once was. But publisher Walter Hussman has  made profit a secondary motive in his newspaper business in several worthwhile ways, including page-count and staffing. I hope this proves to be another of those times.

And a PS on the business of coaches’ pay and guaranteed payouts. Hanging in the wind after Bielema’s firing, as I’ve noted before, are his assistant coaches. Until a new coach is hired, their future employment is uncertain as I noted earlier. But here’s a university summary of their current pay and what their buyouts would provide if fired Dec. 1. They remain employed.

It’s worth noting that the contract with Bielema was one sore point among UA Trustees that led to their message to Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz to fire Athletic Director Jeff Long. Long has a $4.6 million buyout, also subject to mitigation by future employment. When all’s done, if the assistant coaching staff goes, too, the Long era will leave a  potential $19 million hickey on the treasury of the Athletic Department and the Razorback Foundation. That figure is likely to be reduced by future earnings of all those fired.