The Big Ten is phasing out games against FCS opponents, which is good for strength of schedule ratings and fan interest. But it will mean the end of some large paydays for those FCS schools.
FoxSportsWisconsin.com reports that the 10 Big Ten teams who will play FCS opponents in 2013 (all except Michigan and Penn State) will pay those teams a combined $4.945 million in guarantees. The largest contract is the one given to Florida A&M to play sacrificial lamb at Ohio State on Sept. 21; the Rattlers will walk away with $900,000 -- and probably more than a few bruises -- from that game.
Two other guarantees are at least a half a million dollars: Michigan State will pay Youngstown State $650,000 for its Sept. 14 game in East Lansing, while Wisconsin will give Tennessee Tech $500,000 for the Sept. 7 contest in Madison. The lowest guarantee is Southern Illinois' opener at Illinois for $350,000.
Big Ten schools can afford to pay big bucks for these one-off games because of their large stadiums. As the story points out, Wisconsin makes about $2.5 million per home game just in ticket sales, so it makes sense to "buy" an easy home game. It's also a great money-making deal for the FCS schools. Tennessee Tech will bring in about four percent of its total athletic department budget by playing the Badgers, while Indiana State will make a combined $850,000 for playing both Purdue and Indiana this season.
Those schools will have to find other ways to make that money, but as I've written, Big Ten and FBS schools are in no way obligated to fund FCS athletic departments. Why should Wisconsin care that Tennessee Tech can afford new headsets?
The end of FCS games won't mean the discontinuation of massive payouts for Big Ten opponents. With the arrival of the nine-game conference schedule, league teams will be under even more pressure to find home games that don't require a return visit. Schools in non-power leagues like the Sun Belt and the MAC will likely see handsome benefits as bidding wars break out for their appearances on schedules. Nebraska already paid Arkansas State $1 million for last year's game in Lincoln, and Wisconsin is reportedly paying UMass $900,000 for the season opener.
In fact, it may wind up that Big Ten teams spend more money to line up lower-level FBS opponents than they did FCS ones since there was a larger pool from which to choose when both divisions were available. But the benefits to fans should still more than outpace any potential drawbacks.