Big Payout, Lousy Matchup

By Kyle Rowland on September 18, 2013 at 9:15a
Earle Holmes and FAMU will be cashing a giant check.

Saturday will be a homecoming of sorts for two members of the Florida A&M traveling party: its head coach and athletic director. Head coach Earl Holmes played one season for the Cleveland Browns, while AD Michael Hill is a Cleveland Glenville graduate.

When kids return home after a long absence, family is excited, they’re greeted warmly and sometimes dad slips them a 20-dollar bill as they walk out the front door. In FAMU’s case, Ohio State fans are eager to notch the program’s 16th consecutive win, the fangless Rattlers won’t be treated with the normal venom reserved for more potent foes and Gene Smith will hand over a $900,000 check as FAMU departs for the airport.

So-called guarantee games have become commonplace in college football and basketball. But the amount of money thrown around for football games can almost support an entire year’s budget. The $900,000 FAMU is receiving for playing the Buckeyes is more than 30 percent of the football program’s $2.8 million budget. In comparison, Ohio State’s nears $35 million.

For the Buffalos, San Diego States and Florida A&Ms of the world, guaranteed payouts are a means to survive. Without BCS schools and their fat wallets, the Mid-American Conference, Sun Belt and FCS schools would have an even tougher challenge staying afloat in college athletics’ deep end.

The Buckeyes paid the three aforementioned schools a combined $3.1 million to travel to Columbus and take a whoopin’. Dating to 2000, San Diego State has played in 26 guarantee games and won a grand total of zero. But, hey, the bottom line grew by more than $8 million.

If you’re really impatient, you can notch almost $2 million a year by playing multiple guarantee games. San Jose State did so in 2010 with trip to Tuscaloosa and Madison on consecutive Saturdays. The result: $1.825 million. And an average score of 38-9 – in favor of the home team, of course.

“I think $1 million is going to be the market price in the coming years,” said Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, after the Buckeyes forked over $1.45 million to Navy in 2009.

The 12th game has been the biggest culprit in the price of lesser opponents rising. So, too, has the business of being in college sports. Big stadiums equal big paydays for the home team. Ohio State, which functions on a seven-home game model, makes upwards of $6 million each game in Ohio Stadium. But with the 12th game and large guarantees has come the occasional – or frequent – blowout matching traditional powers against overmatched middling programs.

In 1997, almost 80 percent of teams played a full slate of games against FBS teams. That number is only 15 percent for the current season.

“It's an issue of supply and demand,” Smith said. “You have about 120 FBS schools, with six major conferences and about 10 or 11 teams in each league. Everybody is trying to play about four non-conference games a year and wants to play them in September before the league schedule starts.

“You’ve got to find teams that have open dates when you’re looking to fill a date. The math often doesn't work out. There are not enough opponents out there, without scheduling the guarantee games.”

The Rattlers enter Saturday’s game as an overwhelming 57-point underdog. It’s the largest Ohio State has ever been favored. It’s a dream day for Florida A&M; it’ll play in front of the biggest crowd in the proud program’s history – FAMU has won one 1-AA national championship and 12 Black College Football national titles, the most recent in 2010 – and do so on national television.

“Most definitely,” answered Florida A&M head coach Earl Holmes when asked by Eleven Warriors if the exposure would benefit recruiting. “Any time you can help yourself and help your brand in recruiting it’s always a plus.”

So much so that the university’s president, athletic director, vice president of development, vice president of student affairs and other university personnel arrived in Ohio on Wednesday to travel around the state and sell the university at-large to high school students.

“We’ve taken the opportunity to play Ohio State and use it as a recruitment and branding opportunity for the entire university,” athletic director Michael Hill told Eleven Warriors. “We’re not chasing the color of money. You can have too many of these games. We aren’t building our program on the backs of young men and young ladies in an undesirable way. It’s important we have a balance.”

The Buckeyes’ excitement is waning. They just got done playing in primetime on the West Coast. Now, the No. 4 team in the country must try and get up for a game against a lower-division team with a 1-2 record.

Even head coach Urban Meyer admitted the intensity level drops in the locker room for such an unappealing game.

“I could give you some coach-speak up here, but it does make a difference,” he said. “So we are going to have to really coach the players hard this week.”

Senior safety Christian Bryant didn’t mince words. He said he’d rather play top-10 teams.

“I like to showcase our talent,” he said.

That’s exactly what FAMU hopes to do, too.

“Most importantly, you want your guys to come out and compete,” Holmes said. “They understand what it takes because they have aspirations to play at the next level. Second of all, to gain experience, from the crowd all the way down. It’s all about the game-day experience.

“I don’t think [Ohio State] is going to underestimate us. I know our guys are going to be up for them. It’s all about that exposure. We know Coach Meyer will have his team ready to play and we’re going to go out and try and be competitive.”

Whether Florida A&M is competitive or not is irrelevant. The Rattlers receive their money regardless. This is the third installment of Ohio State versus an FCS school. The previous two came during the Jim Tressel era in games against Youngstown State.

The Buckeyes have no future games scheduled with FCS programs and only a handful with MAC teams. Instead, Smith has taken a hard stance against weak schedules. With the College Football Playoff on the horizon in 2014, teams are doing their best to beef up non-conference schedules to enhance the possibility of being one of the top-four teams selected.

“The only way it’ll change is if FBS teams decide they don’t want to necessarily pay a guarantee to a team to come in and they start playing each other at the higher level, every home and away is against top six conference," Tony Weaver, an assistant professor for sport and event management at Elon University and a former college administrator, told the Star-Ledger. “But the reality is that’s hard to do is because everybody wants to play at home.”

For smaller programs, however, a new scheduling philosophy could have negative effects. Last year, everyone learned who Savannah State was. The Georgia HBCU lost 84-0 to Oklahoma State and was then a record 70.5-point underdog at Florida State. SSU was spared, though, when lightning struck – literally. They only lost 55-0 to the Seminoles.

The results were ugly, but Savannah State pocketed enough money to equal nearly 25 percent of the school’s endowment. A game at Miami on Saturday will net SSU another $375,000. It’s a sink or swim world, and without guarantee games, the Savannah States and Florida A&M’s could sink.

“I think FCS schools have to start repositioning themselves and preparing themselves for the real possibility that FBS schools could stop playing them,” Hill said. “We have to think the same way. We have to think about how do we get those key games, those matchups that are attractive and create a level of revenue opportunity and great competition that people want to see.”

Big Ten schools have played Missouri Valley Conference schools in recent years, which has created publicity for the MVC and generated revenue. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said members won’t be punished for playing FCS schools, but it’s clearly frowned upon. Rutgers, who doesn’t join the league for another year, has already dropped a future game with Howard University, while Minnesota erased South Dakota State from the schedule in favor of TCU.

“We’re the conference that would take the brunt of this unfortunate decision by the Big Ten,” Missouri Valley commissioner Patty Viverito told the Argus-Leader. “As a league, we play guarantee games and we’re going to continue to do that. It’s always preferable to play them in geographic proximity not only because of the cost but also because of the interest in the game.

“Nobody will ever convince me that Northern Iowa not being able to play Iowa is a good thing.”

South Dakota head coach Joe Glenn, previously the coach at Wyoming, joked that his school is willing to play the Bears or Packers so long as they receive compensation.

FCS teams have had the occasional success against big-time programs, none more famous than Appalachian State’s win over Michigan in 2007.

“From a competitive standpoint, it’s not an ideal situation,” said then-Delaware State head coach Al Lavan, in 2009, prior to his team playing at Michigan. “You always have hope.”

In Week 1 of the 2013 season, North Dakota State won at Kansas State and Eastern Washington won on the road against a ranked Oregon State team. Five other FCS teams won in FBS schools’ home stadiums. The seven were paid a combined $2.375 million, according to ESPN. North Dakota State has won at such a high rate against FBS opponents – the Bison are 7-3 – that it may be locked out. But overall, FCS programs have only won 10 percent of the games against their bigger brothers. There are other negatives that come with guarantee games, not just losing.

Kent State rested some of its star players in 2007 when the Golden Flashes took on Ohio State. They were more concerned about winning a MAC title. In its 2013 opener, Central Michigan’s quarterback and running back suffered a broken collarbone and broken ankle, respectively. That $850,000 paycheck came with a price.

Perhaps the ultimate loss, though, was Delaware State’s. To play Michigan and reap the $550,000 reward, DSU was forced to forfeit a conference game because they broke a contract with North Carolina A&T.

The final score: Michigan 63, Delaware State 6.

“It felt good,” said Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham.

Fans of college football thought, and still think, otherwise.


Comments Show All Comments

jedkat's picture

FCS school or not, I hope our boys still take it seriously and still take care of business.

"Can we please stop the message board fighting? I really can't stand the message board fighting..."

"No. You're an idiot, and your posts are terrible."

jthiel09's picture

I'm all for helping out the smaller guys and giving them games like this, but in the BCS system games like this can hurt teams like OSU. With the BCS soon to be the way of the Dodo bird and the new playoff system being installed next year we really might see these games go away. Sad for programs like this who really can use the money to help fund a lot for not only their programs, but their respective universities. On a positive note for us Buckeye fans, we'll be able to probably see a lot of young guys see the field Saturday.


RunEddieRun1983's picture

The Buckeyes aren't going to get any love until B1G play starts, and even then the pundits will still throw the overrated tag out there.  This year we have the talent to be legit, but the schedule really is a joke.

I don't always downvote, but I do always downvote a Michigan fan trolling the Buckeye boards.

Buckeye Black's picture

This is the first game I can think of, that I'm not too terribly upset to record and watch after work.

Seattle Linga's picture

I will watch as always however we need to win with class and in the fashion the we all expect of tOSU. Having no injuries and throwing in a few wrinkles would make it a fun day for all.

BuckeyeOfTheTiger's picture

These games are glorified scrimmages.  I'm sure it's against some NCAA scheduling rule or something, but I think it would be interesting at some point if instead of playing an in-team scrimmage during fall camp if OSU were to take an in-state FCS team like YSU and pay them to come down and scrimmage before the start of the season to get some game experience without it affecting our strength of schedule.


chirobuck's picture

The thing I love about these games is getting to see the future of the buckeyes when we start seeing freshman get some PT, that truely is the reason I am still excited for this week......
as far as hurting us I think its overblown, the way you look finishing the year is so much more important than how you started the year, any year we run through the big ten convincingly they aren't going to go back and say oh wait they only beat FL A & M by 30 in week 4, they don't belong.....its just not going to happen, all it does is give people something to talk about in the beginning of the the end of the year those games are such a distant memory, make no mistake, our strength of schedule is primarily dependent on the strength of the big ten


^ best post ever ^

tennbuckeye19's picture

I hate this game. I wish it wasn't on the schedule. 

Oyster's picture

I believe this is the best they could do on short notice when Vandy backed out. 
(They could be playing the Gales, right?)

"Scrolling hurts my finger"

(and FitzBuck was clearly the winner)

Kyle Rowland's picture

San Diego State was the game added because of Vandy backing out.

Oyster's picture

That makes my head spin knowing that this was a planned event.

"Scrolling hurts my finger"

(and FitzBuck was clearly the winner)

tennbuckeye19's picture

Unfortunately, Florida A&M was already on the schedule. Vandy dropping OSU didn't have anything to do with it.

luckynewman13's picture

Actually, we replaced Vandy with San Diego State. I have no idea how A&M got on our schedule.
Can anyone shed some light on that? I understood Youngstown State, but this is just a head scratcher to me.
edit: was beaten to the answer, this is what I get for reading a post ten minutes after I open the window.

andyb's picture

Hey Guys...Guys.....San Diego State is the team that replaced Vandy!
(Just in case we didn't mention it before.)

jvd253's picture

I'm inclined to agree with you, but I'm willing to wager that ttun nation was thinking the same thing prior to playing Appalachian State.

"A guy from Ohio can make it in life if he works hard enough." - Wayne Woodrow Hayes

boojtastic's picture

This topic makes me feel dirty.

Sean N's picture

I think an underreported reason for these types of games is all the bowl games and the way the NCAA has rolled over to make sure that the Beef O'Brady's Bowl has two 6-6 teams to play in front of an empty stadium on ESPN. I'm sure we'd all be happier if Ohio State was playing some crummy low-level power conference school like Kansas or Wake Forest or Kentucky. But the Indianas and Iowa States won't play other big conference schools because if they can win 4 games against Eastern Illinois and their ilk, they can go 2-6 in their conferences and still got the BBVA Compass Bowl or whatever it is. It's just another terrible side effect of that great tradition of bowl games.

AJW_16's picture

Damn Sean, I was about 5 minutes too late with my comment :)

"Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you." 

Sean N's picture

Great minds, AJW.
It's just sad though.  Just another one of the many ways that college football is becoming less and less enjoyable despite it being, on the surface, more successful than ever.

AJW_16's picture

I would argue that the BCS era and the explosion in the number of bowl games has as much to do with the yawn-fest scheduling in CFB as the 12th game does. Teams need wins, and the BCS system favors quantity over quality. This is how the Indianas of the world get bowl eligible. I would imagine that the CEOs of these bowls can't be happy that scheduling FCS schools will be frowned upon by major conferences soon.

"Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you." 

WC Buckeye's picture

Look for matchups with lower-tier FBS schools in the future. One could rightly argue that this strategy isn't a whole lot different than scheduling upper-tier FCS schools, and there are some emerging ones that will definitely be hurt by eliminating FCS guarantee games. SOS gets impacted either way.

The only thing that's new in the world is the history that we have forgotten.

Hovenaut's picture

Still hoping for a good game.
When I say good game, I mean execution - on both sides of the ball - and no injuries. 
And a W, of course. 

I_Run_The_Dave's picture

Part of the appeal of these type of games, at least for teams like OSU, is it gives you a chance to try things out before unleashing them in conference play.  It also gives some of the new team members a chance to get some playing time and see how things work at game speed.
If these guarantee games are going the way of the Buffalo, then why not schedule them as pre-season exhibitions?  Limit each FBS school to one per year, scheduled 2 weeks prior to the beginning of the regular season.  This gives FCS and smaller FBS schools the chance to keep these going and reap the benefits, without affecting the quality of regular season games for the top level schools.

Dougger's picture

Kyle these MAC schools and FCS teams get heft payouts for coming to large team's stadiums, but how do B1G matchups work? is TTUN still paid when they visited Ohio Stadium in 2012, just a number really small (100k?) compared to their TV and other profits? 
If the benefits for the small school are exposure and money, and the benefits for big schools are a cupcake and exposure, why not schedule tougher games anyway - to get more tv exposure and not have to pay out 1,000,000 to play a good team?

I like football

thatlillefty's picture

I doubt any conference games involve payouts considering schools are obligated to play.

Dougger's picture

Ah did not know that. Thank you

I like football

yrro's picture

This game was supposed to be a band exhibition game more than a football game. It's not our fault that FAMU's band got the death penalty.

ScarletNGrey01's picture

Urban Meyer may ban his players from reading this article.  I'm sure he'll bring up the TTUN / Akron game  :P
Interesting background on these FCS opponent deals, thanks Kyle.

The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win. -- Woody Hayes

45has2's picture

Don't haze me, bro.

"I don't like nice people. I like tough, honest people." -W.W. Hayes

Boxley's picture

I am not sure if this was mentioned or not, but SDSU was the team that replaced Vanderbiilt when the Vandy's took their ball and stayed home, not  FAMU. ;)

"...the man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic-the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the man who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done." President T. Roosevelt

AC1972's picture

I don't want to see FCS schools on the schedule in the future, but personally I don't mind attending these games.  When I spend money on airfare, hotel, tickets and other entertainment, I kinda like knowing I'm going to see a beat-down, lots of scoring, and seeing the freshmen get a bunch of reps.
So...see you guys on Saturday...

FLAMikey's picture

I would be more excited about this game if the FAMU football uniforms sported as many rattlesnakes as their drum major uniforms (somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 not including the titanic sized one on the back of the cape). I think their band is back from triple secret murder probation, so at least we will get some entertainment for the 900k.

jreiter81's picture

We do need to play stronger opponents before the conference schedule starts.

Scarlet & Gray Forever

Seattle Linga's picture

I'll take OSU and give you 75 points