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In case you were wondering, the buyout is $1.56 million.

That's what it would cost the University of Tennessee if it decides to part ways with basketball coach Cuonzo Martin after the season.

That's a lot of money to pay somebody not to work. But it's nothing new for UT. The Vols rank among the national leaders in buyouts.

UT is still on the hook for the bulk of Derek Dooley's $5 million buyout, which is being paid in installments through December 2016. And don't forget former athletics director Mike Hamilton. UT still owes four more monthly payments of $37,083.33 to fulfill his $1.335 million in parting gifts.

It all adds up. Over the last decade, UT has paid more than $15 million in buyouts to athletics department personnel.

That kind of financial drain further complicates matters as they relate to Martin's job security -- or lack of same. Adding another buyout to the list while also ponying up for a replacement would put even more financial pressure on an athletics department that is strapped for cash.

Of course, there's another side to this: What is it going to cost UT to keep Martin? Figures recently surfaced showing a continuing erosion in season-ticket sales for men's basketball. A total of 12,024 season tickets were sold this year, down from 12,967 in the 2013 season. Sales have fallen every year since 2009.

All in all, it's not a pretty picture.

Things took another ugly turn for Martin on Saturday when his Vols lost at Texas A&M in overtime. UT's second loss of the season to the mediocre Aggies hit the Vols right where it hurts: in the RPI. UT is now No. 57. Accordingly, the Vols were dropped out of the NCAA Tournament bracket projection by Jerry Palm at CBSSports.com.

It's going to be hard to get back in the bracket. Of the four opponents remaining in the regular season, only Missouri has an RPI in the top 50. Even if the Vols win at Mississippi State on Wednesday night, it won't count for much. The Bulldogs' RPI is No. 206.

At this point, the Vols probably need to win out and make a run to the final of the SEC Tournament in order to play their way into the NCAAs. Considering their longest winning streak in the SEC this season is two games, that's a stretch.

The loss at A&M was yet another example of UT's failure to perform in late-game situations. The Vols simply can't close the deal. Jarnell Stokes missed a free throw with 0.8 seconds remaining in regulation, sending the game into overtime.

As if he didn't have enough problems already, Martin is coaching in bad luck. With the Vols trailing by two points and junior guard Josh Richardson dribbling aimlessly as the clock wound down in regulation, Martin signaled for a timeout to a nearby referee.

The timeout was called just as Richardson flipped a pass to Antonio Barton, who nailed a 3-pointer with two seconds left. The basket was waved off.

"I don't think the ref was looking at me," Martin told reporters after the game. "The action was going on. I called the timeout to get us something good. Josh was dribbling, dribbling."

It was all downhill from there. Stokes tied the game with a dunk but couldn't win it at the free-throw line. Antwan Space's 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds remaining in overtime won the game for A&M. Space has made nine 3-pointers all season. Two of them have been game-winners against the Vols.

All of which brings us back around to Martin, who is in his third season as Vols coach. UT's leadership desperately does not want to fire him. After so much upheaval in the athletics program over the past several years, nobody in charge really has the stomach for another fire/hire situation.

And then there is that buyout.

Bottom line: As hard as it may hit on the balance sheet, you simply can't afford to let a buyout determine whether or not you retain a coach. How much potential revenue are you losing if you keep a coach that isn't getting it done?

Sometimes you have to write the reality check.


David Climer's columns appear on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Reach him at 615-259-8020 and on Twitter @DavidClimer

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