John Clay

Price of cupcakes going up thanks to 12-game schedule

Rent-a-victim.

Guarantee game.

Kentucky plays one Saturday night.

A member of the division formerly known as I-AA (now the Football Championship Subdivision), Norfolk State is in town to play the Cats. UK receives a guaranteed home game without having to return the favor. It also enjoys a probable win. Norfolk State receives a guaranteed paycheck worth $260,000.

When it comes to guarantee games, everyone complains, except for the two sides that play the game.

"When I became athletic director about three years ago, this was one of our strategies," Marty Miller, athletic director at Norfolk State, said Thursday. "The revenue is definitely important, very important for our program."

And the price is going up.

The NCAA's decision to adopt a 12-game schedule two years ago is the reason. At the same time, the NCAA allowed that a I-A school could use one I-AA victory per year toward the six wins needed for bowl eligibility, as long as the I-AA team averages 60 scholarships over three years. That meant that I-AA teams were in higher demand, as well as lower I-A teams who were amenable to not playing a home-and-home series.

"I was afraid that (12th game) would drive the price down," said Western Kentucky Athletic Director Wood Selig, whose school plays its fair share of guarantee games. "But the guarantees are as healthy as they've ever been."

Indeed, $250,000 appears to be the going rate for I-AA opponents, with some exceptions. Three-time I-AA champ Appalachian State received $400,000 for the right last year to upset Michigan in the Big House on opening weekend. Appy State received $750,000 to lose to Louisiana State last weekend — $550,000 being the original guarantee, with $200,000 added when the game was moved from 2007 to 2008.

But the price really rises when BCS schools now schedule non-BCS schools.

For example, Kentucky is paying Sun Belt Conference member Middle Tennessee $700,000 to visit Commonwealth next Saturday. In three weeks, Western Kentucky comes to Lexington for the first football meeting between the two schools. The Hilltoppers, who are making the transition from Championship Subdivision to Bowl Subdivision, are receiving $540,000 in cash, plus 4,000 tickets they can sell to their fans, which should bring in $150,000 more.

"It's a good situation for both sides," said Selig.

Texas paid Florida Atlantic $900,000 to visit Austin last week. South Carolina is guaranteeing Alabama-Birmingham $750,000 for a game in Columbia on Sept. 27.

Selig said Western will receive $800,000 to serve as Virginia Tech's homecoming foe on Oct. 4.

"We're replacing the old synthetic surface at our practice field with a new surface at a cost of $800,000," Selig said. "So what we're getting for the game at Virginia Tech will pay for that improvement, which will greatly benefit our football program."

It's not just the money.

"If you have success on the field, if you have a score that is respectable, or you win one of those games, like Louisiana-Monroe did at Alabama last year, or Arkansas State did at Texas A&M last week, the benefits are enormous," Selig said. "And the kids really want to play those games. If you're playing one of those games to start your season, they really work hard all summer, looking forward to it. You can see the residual effect."

"It helps gain great recognition for your program, and your institution as well," said Norfolk's Miller. "There are benefits all down the line."

Miller said he noticed those benefits last year after Norfolk played at Rutgers, even though the outcome was a 59-0 loss. He is expecting similar benefits with tonight's game and is planning on scheduling at least one Bowl Subdivision opponent every year.

"The revenue we gain is used throughout our athletic program," said Miller.

"It helps both sides feed the financial monster we have to feed," said Selig.

And with those games in such demand, the prices are likely to keep going up.

"They're like oil and gas prices," Selig said. "I don't see them coming down."

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