|Southern Miss opened the 2012 season with a 49-20 loss in Lincoln. (US Presswire)|
In 2008 Southern Miss and Nebraska agreed to a three-game contract for the 2012, 2013 and 2014 college football seasons. The first and last game was scheduled to be played in Lincoln, Neb., with the 2013 game being played in Hattiesburg, Miss. Now all three games will be played in Lincoln after Southern Miss agreed to move the game to Nebraska's Memorial Stadium for $2.125 million, according to a report.
According to Deadspin, that's a dollar amount just big enough to cover what Southern Miss owes recently-fired coach Ellis Johnson.
A source close to [Ellis] Johnson says he was told that if he fired his coordinators, he'd be able to remain coach; Johnson refused. USM would have to bite the bullet, and pay Johnson's buyout clause: $700,000 for each of the three years remaining on his contract. It's a huge hit for a department already in debt, but Hammond's job depended on Johnson losing his.
Before USM's final game of the year, a 42-24 loss at Memphis, [Southern Miss athletic director Jeff] Hammond took Johnson aside. The two had a cold relationship ever since his players had aired their grievances to Hammond (a meeting Johnson quickly found out about), and, according to a source with knowledge of the conversation, Hammond told Johnson that he was going to move the Nebraska game explicitly because the school needed money for Johnson's buyout. Hammond also wanted to explain that there were no hard feelings. They shook on it—it was just business.
Johnson had been hired to replace Larry Fedora, who left Southern Miss for North Carolina following the 2011 season. Southern Miss went from winning Conference USA and finishing No. 20 in the AP Poll last season to 0-12 this season, leading to Johnson's dismissal after only 12 games.
Of course, while the Deadspin report says AD Jeff Hammond told Johnson the game was sold to pay off the rest of Johnson's contract, the report also acknowledges that Southern Miss was trying to sell the game to a neutral site before the 2012 season proved to be an utter disaster.
Without going into all the details of the politics in the Southern Miss athletic department -- Deadspin covers that aspect in its report -- Hammond took over an athletic department that was in debt. So he was already trying to sell the game to New Orleans and Kansas City before finally moving it back to Lincoln.
Odds are this game would not have been played in Hattiesburg even if Southern Miss had a decent season and Johnson retained his job. While the final sum Southern Miss received from Nebraska might not have just been a coincidence, I don't think paying off Johnson's contract was the motivating factor here.
This sounds like something schools do all the time: sell home games to bigger schools that can afford them for a quick influx of cash into their athletic department. Indiana pocketed a cool $3 million by moving a home conference game against Penn State to FedEx Field.
While the timing and amount of money definitely raises some eyebrows, I don't think it's truly anything out of the ordinary.