Sean Miller’s Firing Caps Off Unique Oil-and-Gas Longevity Bonus

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Eben Novy-Williams and Daniel Libit
·3 min read
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Sean Miller’s firing from the University of Arizona will cap the well on one of the most unique coaching contracts in all of college basketball.

Miller’s employment contract includes a series of longevity bonuses tied to the performance of a publicly traded oil-and-gas venture. The school said Wednesday that it will honor the remainder of the deal, suggesting that next year Miller will be due a payment equal to the value of nearly 30,000 fully-vested shares in MPLX LP currently held by the university’s foundation. That’s worth $781,929 based off today’s prices, but those shares won’t be sold and the money won’t be distributed until May 2022.

Representatives for Arizona athletics didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment, and Miller’s lawyer declined to comment.

To further complicate things, the final total of that bonus seems to be contingent on result of an NCAA investigation into the Wildcats program. Miller’s contract says that the coach will forfeit $1,000,000 of that payment if he or the Wildcats are found to have committed a Level I NCAA violation during his tenure, and the NCAA recently handed down several such violations following a federal investigation into college basketball corruption. Arizona’s punishment is now being reviewed by the NCAA’s Infractions Referral Committee.

Miller also appears to be due roughly $1.25 million as part of a more traditional buyout, according to a reading of his most recent contact.

As coaching salaries skyrocket, schools have become increasingly creative in how they distribute pay. In a world of complex bonuses, buy-game revenue sharing and incentives tied to ticket sales, Arizona’s oil-and-gas shares are possibly the most unique in college sports.

In 2014, a Wildcats booster gifted the athletic department 500,000 shares of a master limited partnership (MLP) that operated energy industry equipment. Though the name of the venture is redacted from public records, there was enough detail to identify it as Western Refining Logistics.

The gift was intended to benefit both the school and help with compensation for its highest-profile employees. The shares would be held by Arizona, which would keep the distributions paid out by the MLP. At specific times written into the contracts of Miller, then-football coach Rich Rodriguez and then-AD Greg Byrne, the school would sell the shares and distribute the proceeds as longevity bonuses.

Western Refining was sold to Andeavor Logistics in 2017, and Andeavor was sold to an MLP formed by Marathon Petroleum two years later. As a result, each Western Refining share from the original gift is now worth 0.5939 shares of MPLX, according to Sportico’s calculations. MPLX closed trading Wednesday at $26.33, meaning Miller’s 29,697-share allowance would be worth nearly $782,000.

Byrne and Rodriguez are no longer at Arizona. The unvested shares they had remaining at the time of their departure were divided up among Miller and the school’s softball and baseball coaches, according to the Arizona Daily Star.

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