Why the Florida Gators are paying Colorado State $2 million to play a game

The Florida Gators will welcome Colorado State to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium this weekend in an unlikely non-conference game for the Gators. Florida and Colorado State have never played each other on the field and had no plans to do so until four years ago.

When the decision was made to part ways with Will Muschamp — after a 28-21 record through four years — the Gators went searching for a new coach. A hot name at the time was Jim McElwain, who had been the offensive coordinator at Alabama when the Tide won a National Championship and then turned Colorado State around. The issue was McElwain’s $7.5 million dollar buyout, a figure that Florida was unlikely to foot the entire bill for.

At the time Florida owed Will Muschamp and his staff more than $8 million dollars, with $6 million still owed to Muschamp alone (Florida has one more payment of $787,500 due to Muschamp this year to complete his buyout).

Still, Foley and a contingent of Florida decision makers made the trip to Fort Worth to meet with McElwain and his wife Karen. Florida wanted McElwain and, at the time, McElwain wanted to be at Florida, a place he viewed as the next step, a huge step up, in his coaching career. They struck a deal. Florida would pay Colorado State $3 million of the $7.5 million dollar buyout; McElwain would pay CSU $2 million in six annual installments of $333,333. That still left $2 million, which Florida agreed to pay CSU for playing a game in Gainesville. Florida could have terminated the contract to play CSU this season but would have still been on the hook for the $2 million they owed.

CSU declared it “the largest such buyout [from one school to another] in college football history.” The buyout helped wrap up a funding project that sealed a new football stadium for the Rams. Florida’s $3 million dollar payment is being made in annual installments of $500,000 through the year 2020.

This should have been a big week for the Gators, Rams and McElwain. Instead, McElwain is getting paid by Florida and Michigan to coach receivers at Michigan and the Gators are trying to bounce back from a loss to Kentucky, the first since 1986.

“I know the game was kind of scheduled like through (McElwain) in a way, but not really,” receiver Josh Hammond said this week. “I don’t think it makes a difference. Just another team that we have to come out and be ready to play.”

When Florida parted ways with McElwain they were able to negotiate down his buyout from $12.9 million to a more reasonable $7.5 million. That buyout included a $3.75 million dollar payment on December 1, 2017. McElwain received another $250,000 on on February 25. McElwain will receive $1 million dollars on July 1 until the year 2020 and a final $500,000 on July 1, 2021. So, technically, McElwain is costing Florida $3 million this year alone for one game against a school he spent just three seasons at.

Mullen was asked if this week would be odd for him.

“I’ll be honest. I look at who we gotta play, and let’s go find a way to go play them. So I never really thought of it that way. I think they’re just coming here right, we don’t return the favor? There we go,” Mullen joked. “I didn’t (pay CSU) personally. That’s a big benefit for me. I’m grateful I didn’t have to do that.”

Still it’s an odd week for Florida and Florida fans and one that Florida is footing a pretty healthy bill for.

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Nick de la Torre
A South Florida native, Nick developed a passion for all things sports at a very young age. His love for baseball was solidified when he saw Al Leiter’s no-hitter for the Marlins live in May of 1996. He was able to play baseball in college but quickly realized there isn’t much of a market for short, slow outfielders that hit around the Mendoza line. Wanting to continue with sports in some capacity he studied journalism at the University of Central Florida. Nick got his first start in the business as an intern for a website covering all things related to the NFL draft before spending two seasons covering the Florida football team at Bleacher Report. That job led him to GatorCountry. When he isn’t covering Gator sports, Nick enjoys hitting way too many shots on the golf course, attempting to keep up with his favorite t.v. shows and watching the Heat, Dolphins and Marlins. Follow him on twitter @NickdelatorreGC