When Notre Dame in 2005 signed its football coach Charlie Weis to a new decade-long deal, the coach's agent Bob LaMonte said, "Charlie Weis doesn't own the Golden Dome, but he has the keys to it for the next 11 years."
Fast forward to this week, when Weis was fired after four straight losses left the Fighting Irish with a 6-6 record.
Now the most valuable college football team in the country will have to pay big bucks to boot its coach out the door.
The Sporting News reported this month that the school must pay Weis $18 million and another $2 million to buy out his assistants. The Indianapolis Business Journal – tacking on another $25 million to hire Weis' eventual replacement – said the firing will cost the school a total of $45 million.
Notre Dame does not comment on the specifics of employee salaries, according to a spokesman.
Putting new locks on the Golden Dome, it seems, won't come cheap.
With the nation suffering through its worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, the big paydays for Weis and other college sports coaches have some critics calling for the country to address increasingly pronounced pay disparities.
"Compensation at the upper levels has gotten way out of hand," said Peter Morici, professor at the University of Maryland's Smith School of Business. "It's something that we need to take a hard look at because it's creating disparities in our society that are not justifiable or necessary to get the performance we need."
A spokesman for Notre Dame said that the money for Weis' buyout comes from a reserve fund for "athletic contingencies" and will not come from "general University resources."
Any financial obligation related to Coach Weis will be met through athletics-related resources and will have absolutely no bearing or impact on the academic mission of the university, whether that involves students, financial aid, faculty and staff, or other programs and people on campus," said Dennis Brown, university spokesman.
Notre Dame is hardly alone in paying big bucks to get rid of its coach.
Just this week, the University of Virginia fired coach Al Groh, paying him $4.3 million not to lead the football team for the next two years. Groh won just three games this year. Last year the University of Tennessee had to pay coach Phillip Fulmer a $6 million buyout after signing him to a lengthy contract extension earlier that year.
The dollar signs aren't just swirling on the gridiron either. When the University of Kentucky canned basketball coach Billy Gillespie this year, the perennial hoops power paid him a $3 million to go.
With the country facing its highest jobless rate in more than a quarter of a century, huge pay-days on Wall Street have incited outrage among Americans on Main Street.
Unlike Wall Street, the country's universities did not play a role in causing the current economic crisis, nor did they receive government bailout money. But should colleges be paying eight-figure buyouts at a time when average college prices increased increased 4.4 percent from last year at private schools and 6.5 percent at public schools?
"As much as it may upset people in academia, there are a lot of people who can teach freshman English, but not a lot that can coach a team to a bowl appearance," said Mark Yost, author of the book "Varsity Green: A Behind the Scenes Look at Culture and Corruption in College Athletics." "It's a simple matter of supply and demand."