The comparative mediocrity of the Ken Bone era has been too much to bear for many fans, who, under Tony Bennett, got just a taste of what big-time college basketball can be like. Some fans are voicing their opinion of the program with their wallets (shots of a mostly empty Beasley Coliseum have become a disturbing regularity on television broadcasts), while others are using whatever forum they have available, as angry rants against the team and coach have become the norm on Twitter and Facebook:
Don't know who Rankich is? This will get you up to speed. Let's just say it's never good when one of the athletic department's most influential donors seems to have made it his personal mission to campaign for a coaching change, leading us to the money question -- both figuratively and literally.
Is there any way athletics director Bill Moos fires Ken Bone at the end of this season?
Thanks to a seemingly iron-clad seven-year contract given to Bone by previous athletics director Jim Sterk, it appears the answer, quite likely, is no.
CougCenter has obtained a copy of Bone's contract with WSU, which we've embedded at the bottom of the story for your perusal. It's not like this is some super secret document -- as a public employee, Bone's contract is subject to open records laws -- but it's also not like a simple Google search turns it up, either. It's surprisingly devoid of legalese, so we figured we'd put it out here for you to clear up once and for all what Moos is actually going to have to take into consideration when it comes time to make a decision on whether Bone should get a fifth season.
The highlights (or lowlights, depending on your perspective, I suppose):
- Ken Bone currently makes $850,000 a year in base salary and collateral compensation. That is how much he is due to make each year for the remainder of the contract, which runs through the end of the 2015-2016 season.
- The contract appears to be fully guaranteed unless Bone is fired for cause. "Cause" would be things like major NCAA violations or breaches of ethics, not repeatedly choking away basketball games in the final five minutes. (Best explanation of how Bone was able to leverage a seven-year deal while the coach at Portland State wins a million Schrute bucks.)
- So, unless there's a scandal out there we don't know about, the bottom line is this: WSU is going to pay Ken Bone the full remainder owed on his contract -- $2.55 million -- whether he's coaching the team or sitting on his couch.
I probably don't need to spell out for you why it's unlikely that WSU would choose pay him $2.55 million to not work for the university, but let's do it anyway.
It's clear that football is the highest priority for Moos -- he's doubled down on the ability of the football program to raise the profile of the entire athletic department by borrowing against future television earnings to both hire Mike Leach and fund a pair of capital projects at Martin Stadium (premium seating and a football operations building). The truth is that football always has been the main (and sometimes only) source of revenue for the athletic department, and pouring resources into that sport has the potential to pay off big time down the road.
We've also been told that it took a significant amount of goodwill to secure a commitment for the stadium upgrades and football operations building from the Board of Regents. There was concern about the mounting debt the athletic department was accruing with these projects, which could have a negative effect on the universities ability to bond as a whole. Moos used up a significant amount of political capital to get these projects passed, and is going to have a hard time selling the addition of more debt right now, should he choose to fire the head basketball coach.
Basketball, though? Never really been anything more than a modest money maker. With football, Moos realized the old business adage that the only way to make money is to spend money. However, when it comes to the basketball program, you're really spending money ... just to spend money. If Moos fires Ken Bone -- at a cost of about 5 percent of his annual budget, I might add -- and spends another $1 million-plus to replace him, that kind of expenditure is unlikely to produce any meaningful return on investment other than some sort of nebulous "good P.R. for the university" if the team is able to accomplish something on a national scale.
Simply put, since WSU isn't UCLA or Arizona, spending the money necessary to have a quality basketball team is a luxury, not a necessity.
However, for those of you still holding out hope that Moos might do something to buck conventional logic, I did find one interesting passage in the contract that might -- might -- provide enough financial flexibility with that $2.55 million for Moos to make a change. Under Section 4.4.1, which covers "liquidated damages upon termination without cause":
"The University's obligation shall be paid at the sole discretion of the University either as a lump sum payment, made within thirty (30) days after the effective date of termination of this Agreement and based on the present value of the total future payments, or as monthly payments prorated over the balance of the term of this Agreement."
Translation: Rather than taking a $2.55 million hit on this year's budget -- likely a deal-breaker, for the reasons outlined -- WSU actually can just continue to pay Bone his monthly salary for the duration of the contract, meaning the hit is only $850,000 in each of the next three years. Now, again, WSU is going to have to hire a new coach, probably for at least a $1 million. But paying out around $2 million for basketball coaches next year -- only $1 million of it a new expenditure to the budget -- is a heck of a lot more palatable than shelling out more than $3.5 million.
Is it palatable enough that Moos is able to afford the luxury of aggressively upgrading his basketball program, even as the retooling of the football program is not yet complete? Even as he pays out $4 million a year to football coaches and more millions in bond payments? Only he knows the answer to that for sure.
But one thing has become abundantly clear: There's a growing segment of the fan base that won't be satisfied until a change is made, finances be damned.