FBS foes vital for SoCon team budgets

FBS foes vital for SoCon team budgets

May 31st, 2009 by John Frierson in Sports - College

Guarantee games

All nine Southern Conference football teams will play at least one "money" game in 2009. The six-figure payouts from these games provide crucial money for the programs and athletic departments.

Appalachian State

Sept. 5 at East Carolina (C-USA)

The Citadel

Sept. 5 at North Carolina (ACC)

Elon

Sept. 19 at Wake Forest (ACC)

Furman

Sept. 19 at Missouri (Big 12)

Nov. 7 at Auburn (SEC)

Georgia Southern

Oct. 10 at North Carolina (ACC)

Samford

Sept. 5 at Central Florida (C-USA)

UTC

Nov. 21 at Alabama (SEC)

Western Carolina

Sept. 5 at Vanderbilt (SEC)

Wofford

Sept. 5 at South Florida (Big East)

Sept. 19 at Wisconsin (Big Ten)

The nonconference portion of a Football Championship Subdivision team's schedule is like a land of opportunity. It can provide riches or reward - ideally both.

In the case of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and its Southern Conference colleagues, each 11-game schedule in 2009 features eight SoCon games and three slots they can fill as they please. Seven of the nine teams will each play one guarantee game against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent, and Furman and Wofford will play two such "money" games.

With the economy still struggling and most athletic department budgets shrinking, the chance to play a team from a major conference and receive a check for $200,000 or more is too good an opportunity to miss.

While FCS teams have been taking beatings (usually) and cashing big checks from big-time opponents for years, the money is more than ever a crucial revenue stream now, according to Samford athletic director Bob Roller. The Bulldogs open their season at Central Florida on Sept. 5, and that game is expected to earn Samford more than $250,000.

"We absolutely have to have one," Roller said of the guarantee games. "It's a salve. (The money) will all be used and it will go toward the athletic department, not just football."

Between cash and tickets, UTC's season-ending game at Alabama on Nov. 21 is worth about $400,000, athletic director Rick Hart said. The Mocs played two money games (in a 12-game schedule) that brought in more than $900,000 last year. But despite budget cuts for the next fiscal year that are expected to top more than $600,000, Hart said he never seriously considered playing two again this season.

"You want a balance between wins and the experience for the student-athletes and money," Hart said. "The reason we played two last year was because it was a 12-game season, combined with the fact that we needed some things that we knew the second game could provide (financially) - things that would position our program for future success."

The Mocs' other nonconference games this season are the Thursday night opener on Sept. 3 against Division II Glenville (W.Va.) State, which will be new coach Russ Huesman's first game, and a Sept. 19 game at Presbyterian.

Wofford will face a stretch similar to the one the Mocs endured last season, playing two BCS conference teams in a three-week span, though its opponents won't be quite as formidable as UTC's duo of Oklahoma and Florida State. The Terriers open the season at South Florida and play two weeks later at Wisconsin.

"There's no doubt that money is a factor," Terriers coach Mike Ayers said. "At the same time there's a lot of other things that go into it. When you have an opportunity to play some of the top teams in the country, it's hard to pass up because those games provide a chance for us to get better.

"Playing two, you hope when it's all said and done that you grow as a team. ... It's a proving ground and a testing ground for your program."

In their 12-game schedules in 2008, the nine SoCon teams played a total of nine guarantee games. In this year's 11-game slates, 11 will be played.

Elon didn't play a money game last season. Instead, the Phoenix opted to host eventual national champion Richmond in a high-profile FCS matchup. This season, coach Pete Lembo's squad will play at Wake Forest on Sept. 19. It's a game that has been scheduled and rescheduled several times in recent years, Lembo said.

The Wake Forest game, like UTC's game at Alabama or Appalachian State's at East Carolina, illustrate the other opportunities that come with playing a regional bowl subdivision team, especially in recruiting.

"I think while playng a team like Wake Forest may not give us the payout of a Michigan, LSU or Auburn," Lembo said, "but it's a bus trip for us and it will give us excellent exposure in the region. It's also a comparable academic institution that people here at Elon relate to very well."

UTC will play at Auburn in 2010, and Huesman said he wants future Mocs guarantee games to be against teams within about a 200-mile radius - the same area in which he and his staff will focus their recruiting efforts.

Appalachian State, again a preseason favorite to win the national championship, isn't facing the same kind of financial difficulties that UTC, Furman and some other SoCon schools are having to endure. Because of the Mountaineers' recent success - three straight national championships from 2005 to '07 - donations and ticket sales remain strong. In eight games last season, counting the playoffs, ASU's average attendance was 25,161.

That strong financial footing allows the Mountaineers to schedule games against bowl subdivision teams with an eye toward opportunity, rather than money - the win at Michigan to open the 2007 season being a prime example.

"I'd hate to think that we'd ever get into the situation where we're playing these games for financial reasons," Appalachian State athletic director Charlie Cobb said, "but I understand that some schools have to do that."

The Mountaineers will receive $300,000 for the East Carolina game, the Watauga Democrat reported in October, and Cobb said ASU has future games lined up against Florida, Georgia and Virginia Tech - annually three of the top programs in the nation.

Lembo said Elon already has deals in place to play at Duke in 2010, at Vanderbilt in 2011 and at Georgia Tech in 2013.