ANN ARBOR — Terry Bowden doesn’t harbor any illusions about the fact that his team will face one of college football’s traditional titans.
The second-year Akron coach looks at his team’s matchup on Saturday from a realistic standpoint. A week after the Zips eked out a 35-33 win over FCS opponent James Madison, the Zips test their wares this weekend against No. 11 Michigan.
Before Feb. 1, 2014, Michigan will pay Akron a tidy sum of nearly $1 million dollars, regardless of whether the Zips win or lose.
Akron’s contract with Michigan, one of several single-game Michigan football contracts obtained by The Blade through a Freedom of Information Act request, states that Akron will receive $900,000.
“Financially, when you play these teams, it’s a big paycheck,” Bowden said. “It helps to pay our budget and to pay our bills. That’s important.”
The Zips aren’t alone in the pursuit of the bottom line. Mid-major programs and their athletic departments don’t have the same budgets or television revenue shares as teams from conferences such as the Big Ten, the Big 12, or the Atlantic Coast Conference, yet still have to maintain budgets. To make up for that shortfall, they turn to facing opponents from college football’s power conferences.
The spin by many coaches is that playing power-conference, nonconference opponents is done to prepare teams for a conference schedule. Sometimes it comes with upsets. It always comes with a paycheck.
“I wouldn’t call it a necessary evil but I think you always try to schedule some of the best competition in the country to see where your program is,” Buffalo coach Jeff Quinn told Fox Sports Ohio prior to the season. “To be able to play Tennessee, Georgia, and Ohio State in three years, that’s testing our kids and trying to get them ready to chase a bowl game and our other goals in the MAC conference.”
Ohio State will pay Buffalo $1 million and Mountain West Conference opponent San Diego State $1.2 million for playing at Ohio Stadium this fall. Ohio State will also pay FCS opponent Florida A&M $900,000 for the Sept. 21 game in Columbus.
Toledo is guaranteed $800,000 for its season-opening 24-6 loss at Florida; Bowling Green will play Saturday at Indiana and will face the Hoosiers again in Bloomington, Ind., in 2017, and will receive $250,000 and $200,000 for each appearance; Indiana will play at Bowling Green next season and will receive $200,000.
Sometimes, it comes with a cost. In Michigan’s season opening 59-9 win over Cetnral Michigan, the Chippewas lost starting quarterback Cody Kater to a broken collarbone and starting running back Zurlon Tipton to a broken ankle.
Still, Central Michigan will be paid $850,000 for playing Michigan, as stated in the contract between the two schools. During a conference call prior to the start of the season, Central Michigan coach Dan Enos advocated the decision to play a college powerhouse this year and in the future, and clearly stated this:
“There’s a monetary advantage you get from it,” he said.
With the approach of the College Football Playoff in 2014, this could be the beginning of the end of the unbalanced matchups. In February, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez told WIBA-AM 1310 in Madison, Wis., that Big Ten teams agreed to phase out scheduling FCS opponents. A move to a playoff system could make scheduling more subjective, as a selection committee will rank teams for the playoff, taking into consideration win-loss records, head-to-head results, winning a conference champion, and a team’s strength of schedule.
Even then, Michigan has first-year FBS program Appalachian State on its schedule for 2014, as well as MAC opponent Miami, which will earn $1.1 million to play at Michigan on Sept. 13, 2014.
“If you look at our schedule in the future, we're trying to transition,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “If the playoffs are truly going to take strength of schedule, or perceived strength of schedule into the equation, then I think we need to do that.”
In the meantime, is it worth it for a program such as Akron take on a heady opponent?
Bowden thinks so.
“It’s an opportunity to make a statement for the conference,” Bowden said. “You don’t often beat the best teams in the conferences. You sometimes do, on rare occasions. But you want to play your best, like always. But I think you have to understand the circumstances.
“I was coaching at Auburn when we would have MAC teams come and play us at home, but for our players, the key is go go out and prepare to win football games, prepare to play, go in and play the best you can play and let things happen. Don’t go out there and say, ‘God, I have the weight of the conference on my shoulders.’ We’re trying to win football games here, and I’m excited about taking our team up to play in one of the great venues in college football.”