Mike Locksley passed his first big test as Maryland’s football coach: He didn’t get UNLV’d.
The Terrapins played host to Howard over the weekend and pounded the visitors in a 79-0 season-opening rout. UNLV likely anticipated a similar breeze when it hosted Howard in Week 1 two years ago. Instead, the Bison pulled off a historic, 43-40 upset that garnered national attention and helped freshman quarterback Caylin Newtown emerge from his older brother’s shadow.
As if losing to a 45-point underdog wasn’t humiliation enough, UNLV also cut a $600,000 check for Howard’s troubles. Maryland only had to pay the Bison $350,000 to make the 25-minute trip from D.C.
Both of those “guarantee” games amount to peanuts in college football’s grand scheme.
USA Today in a recently published rundown of appearance fees for more than 250 games involving at least one Football Bowl Subdivision school this season, reports that $150 million will change hands.
Some of those games involve one FBS school against another, ostensibly fair matchups like Oregon-Auburn ($3.5 million apiece from the promoter) and California at Mississippi ($450,000 to the visitors). But others are pure “payday” games, in which FBS schools invite Football Championship Subdivision foes to campus for an expected drubbing.
No other Week 1 tilt was as spectacularly lopsided as Maryland-Howard, but some honorable mentions are in order.
Texas A&M beat Texas State, 41-7, with the losers collecting $1.3 million. Florida A&M outperformed its contract, pocketing a mere $370,000 for a 62-0 stomping at Central Florida. For peak revenue while maintaining respectability, the winner was Kent State, which took home a cool $1.5 million for a 30-7 loss at Arizona State.
This year’s Backfire Award goes to 25-point favorite Tennessee. The Volunteers paid Georgia State $950,000 and suffered a 38-30 loss in front of 86,000 stunned fans.
Such upsets are the dream for FCS teams. But their administrators seek dollars, not Ws, when scheduling guarantee games against Power 5 schools. That money goes a long way for athletic departments that otherwise struggle to cover expenses. It also produces a trickle-down effect, allowing fiscally strapped institutions to use their limited resources in other areas.
“I do not see a time when we will not play these games,” Charles McClelland, commissioner of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, told The Athletic last week.
The benefits of being a punching bag can be seen throughout an athletic department, from uniforms and equipment to facilities and travel. Costs are a little harder to calculate, but they range from morale to physical injury for overmatched players.
Differences in size, speed and strength are dangerous — and impossible to ignore — when Power 5 schools line up against lower-level opponents for four quarters. Even when matches don’t result in catastrophic injury — like the fractured vertebrae Southern University’s Devon Gales suffered against Georgia in 2015 — they can leave the weaker team compromised in upcoming games.
It’s also fair to reconsider what FBS schools gain by punching below their weight.
Yes, they receive revenue from a home gate and an almost certain step toward bowl eligibility.
But does whipping Howard help Maryland compete against Ohio State and Michigan?
If being a factor in your league is the ultimate goal, facing high-quality nonconference foes might be a better approach.
Duke didn’t offer much resistance Saturday against Alabama, losing 42-3. But at least both schools play in the FBS. I understand that the Crimson Tide needs to fill its schedule and seeks injury-free gimmes toward the end of the Southeastern Conference grind. However, coach Nick Saban should find more Duke-like, FBS patsies, instead of paying Western Carolina $525,000 for a Nov. 12 visit.
“I’ve always said, ‘Let’s play all Power 5 games,” Saban told ESPN last month. “I was in the NFL where we played all the games against NFL teams. But let’s play at least 10 Power 5 games. That would be better for the players, better for the fans, and I think you wouldn’t have to worry that if you lost a game that you wouldn’t have as much of a chance to still be in [the College Football Playoff]. They talk about strength of schedule now, but how do you really evaluate that?”
I don’t know.
Under the current system, it might be margin of victory divided by size of payout.
⦁ Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.