THIS IS A huge Saturday for college football teams across the state of South Carolina. It just does not seem that way to the average fan.
Most fans see another early season slate of mismatches, the big schools padding their records against opponents who offer little resistance on the field, do not offer as many scholarships and cannot compete financially against the big boys.
The schedule includes UAB at South Carolina, Furman at Clemson, Charleston Southern at Illinois, Presbyterian at Vanderbilt and S.C. State at Arizona. Not one game in the bunch should be competitive.
No matter, the sad faces among the losers will not extend past the players and the coaching staff. In fact, smiles will abound in the administrations of both the athletics departments and the universities that suffer the on-field beat-downs.
Those folks will smile all the way to the bank.
“These football financial guarantees go to the general operating budget to help offset departmental expenses,” says Brian Mackin, UAB’s athletics director. “With the current economy, reduced funding for higher education and rising costs for scholarships and team travel, it is necessary (for our program) to play one to two of these guarantee games each year.”
UAB’s bank account will grow by $900,000 Saturday. Next week, UAB will cash a guarantee check for $850,000 when it plays at Ohio State. That is nearly $2 million infused into UAB’s $23 million annual operating budget for athletics.
Such is the business of college football these days. The programs that compete in the big-money conferences such as the SEC and ACC need two or three tune-ups against lightweight opponents every season. The mid- to lower-level schools recognize the need for their existence as well as the price-tag that comes with playing them.
When schedules were expanded to 12 games for the 2006 season, many believed the big-money programs would add a non-conference game that would appeal to national TV. Instead, most schools added a game against a lower-division FCS opponent.
USC and Clemson sought an opportunity to count another win toward being bowl eligible while helping out FCS programs from within the state. USC and Clemson annually alternate that instate opponent each season. The Gamecocks play Wofford later in the season, and Clemson faces Furman on Saturday.
Games against FCS opponents are not as costly. Although there is no written rule, there does appear to be an unwritten agreement that guarantee games against FCS opponents should not exceed $500,000. Clemson will play Furman $295,000, plus give the Paladins 3,000 tickets at a value of $105,000.
Illinois will pay Charleston Southern $400,000 this weekend, S.C. State will get $450,000 from Arizona on Saturday and $500,000 from Texas A&M next week, and Presbyterian will get an estimated $350,000 from Vanderbilt.
The mid-level FBS programs such as UAB can demand greater payouts, and they generally do. They can sometimes hold the big-money programs hostage in negotiations.
Georgia was scheduled to play Tulane in 2002 and 2003 in Athens, Ga., and in 2008 in New Orleans. In the summer of 1999, Tulane wrote Georgia to say it could not play any of the games. It turns out, Tulane got a better offer to play Texas in 2002 and 2003. Georgia sued Tulane for breech of contract, and Tulane settled the suit.
The biggest payout in college football history is believed to have occurred in 2002 when Tennessee was scheduled to play at Wyoming. Tennessee stood to possibly lose money on the game, so Wyoming agreed to move the game to Nashville, Tenn., where Wyoming was listed as the “home” team and collected a $2.35 million paycheck from Tennessee.
Robert Zullo has studied guarantee games in college football for years, first as a professor at Mississippi State and now at Seton Hill (Pa.) University. His 2004 study showed a sharp increase in payouts as ticket prices soared, coaches salaries escalated and stadiums routinely sold out.
Of late, the trend might be toward smaller payouts. With a sagging economy and increased number of games shown on high-definition TV, it is becoming more and more challenging for the big-money programs to sell out home games, especially those against lesser opponents.
“The losers are the fans that have enough entertainment options in this day and age to not attend the game,” Zullo says. “Thus, it costs the host school revenue in the form of parking, concessions and merchandise.”
It helps explain why USC sent out a mass email late this week urging fans to purchase the remaining 2,900 tickets available for Saturday’s game at Williams-Brice Stadium. At $35 a ticket, that would produce $101,500 toward the guarantee owed to UAB.
Hey, wins are expensive these days.
Watch commentaries by Morris Mondays at 6 and 11 p.m. on ABC Columbia News (WOLO-TV)