Ever since Oklahoma State rounded out their non-conference football schedules for the next three years with the addition of three FCS teams, I’ve been thinking about games against the lower level football programs.
I, for one, have long been an opponent of these games. It’s really hard as a fan to not only get up for a game against an FCS team, but stay invested in the game once your side is up double digits at half-time.
But let’s set aside our frustration with the quality of these games and opponents for a minute. Every team plays them, even the mighty Alabama. The Big Ten tried to do away with them, but finally caved and allowed them back on team schedules. They’re as much a part of college football as tailgating and excessive drinking.
If you can get past the things you don’t like, there are some off-field benefits that are big for OSU. Those are why I’ve decided to stop worrying and love FCS games.
It all starts with the cost of these games.
Every team schedules what we call “guarantee games”; ones where you pay an inferior opponent to come to your house to get smoked. They’re as much a business as the rest of college athletics. According to USA Today in 2018, more than $175 million was spent on these games.
Did you know that Liberty paid Old Dominion $1.32 million for a home game in 2018? Liberty!
That same year, Florida forked over $2 million for a home game against Colorado State. It was one of the more than 15 games in the 2018 season where the road team was paid at least $1.4 million.
Let’s compare that to a couple of OSU’s future “guarantee game” opponents. OSU will pay Missouri State (2021) and Arkansas-Pine Bluff (2022) $425,000 each for their match-ups, and pay Central Arkansas (2023) $435K. That’s a lot less than $1 million. Do you think scheduling Old Dominion for a home game gets you $895,000 worth of more respect? Is it that much better of a win than Missouri State? Is it any better of a loss?
For OSU, whose 2017-2018 athletic department revenue of $88,516,367 ranked 48th annually, ponying up $1 million for a one-off game against UAB or Western Kentucky is not money well spent.
With the price for coaches, assistant coaches, facilities, and gameday atmosphere on the rise, spending that kind of money to play one game against an inferior Group 5 team over an inferior FCS team is bad economics.
More importantly is the rise in the cost of recruiting.
For the 2013 fiscal year, Georgia spent $581,531 on recruiting. According to the Athens Banner-Herald, that number balloon up to $3.7 million for the 2018-2019 year.
For 2018, OSU spent $715,492 on recruiting. While that was a big jump from years past, it’s still no where near $3.7 million.
Hell, that was at best the fifth most in the Big 12 (as private institutions, TCU and Baylor aren’t required to release their numbers).
Athletic department budget and top-ranked recruiting classes have a strong correlation. For OSU, which is battling teams like Oklahoma and Texas, and to be honest, everyone else, on the recruiting trail, they need every dollar they put together. Folks, helicopters rides aren’t free.
Would you rather spend the money trying to land a four-star quarterback out of California or playing New Mexico State instead of Missouri State?
There are ways around some of this, like three-game series that OSU has done often, but even those are becoming harder to get teams to agree too. Fewer G5 teams want to schedule them, and while they can cost a little less because OSU is willing to play a road game, traveling to schools like Central Michigan is NOT cheap and it’s a little weird.
It’s why OSU’s eight-game series with Tulsa is so brilliant. Not only did they (likely) get a good deal on the pay-outs, the travel costs of going to Tulsa are a significantly lower than games at South Alabama and Central Michigan.
Look, I get it. Games against FCS teams aren’t fun. They’re not worth the price of admission (and don’t tell me you’re not supposed to care about the opponent).
But when you’re working at a massive financial disadvantage against to other schools, the ones you’re trying to compete with for conference and national titles, you’ll do anything you can.
That includes playing games against FCS teams every year.