- Kristi Dosh, Sports Business
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Conference realignment is coming along with short-term costs in the 2012 college football schedule.
Before it left the Big East, West Virginia canceled its game against non-conference opponent Florida State and paid a $500,000 cancellation fee. But Elliott Finebloom, an assistant athletic director at FSU, said the loss of the home game will cost the Seminoles far more than the program received in the cancellation fee.
“We’ll probably lose $2.5 million in ticket sales,” he said, and that’s not including a drop in season ticket sales resulting from the cancellation. It could cost FSU another $1 million to bring an opponent into town. Filling the WVU slot with an away game is not going to happen, said Finebloom.
“Seven home games is something every business in town counts on, from hotels to restaurants,” he said. “People think it’s about the athletic department wanting to make more money, but we have a responsibility to area businesses who count on seven home games.”
Texas A&M, which moves from the Big 12 to the SEC this year, has given up home games and has only five scheduled at Kyle Field for 2012. The school has had seven home games for the past six years.
For the 2010 season, Texas A&M’s average revenue from ticket sales, concessions, novelties, program sales and parking was $4.2 million per game, according to NCAA disclosures. With two fewer home games this year, the Aggies could be looking at an $8 million-plus loss.
Alan Cannon, an associate athletic director at Texas A&M, said the schedule still isn’t set in stone, though.
“It has been the desire of [athletic director] Bill Byrne to have six or seven home games, if at all possible,” he said. “The location of the Arkansas game is still not determined.”
Texas A&M and Arkansas agreed to play a neutral site game at Cowboys Stadium for 10 years. But with the Aggies’ move to the SEC, both sides are discussing whether the game will remain there.
There are short-term winners in the conference realignment story.
Smaller programs could see increased profits in 2012 as major programs are forced to pay guarantees to secure home games or travel to locales they normally wouldn’t consider.
One such school is Louisiana Tech. Although considered a home game, Louisiana Tech will play Texas A&M in Shreveport’s Independence Stadium, which gives Louisiana Tech the ability to bank big profits for the game and gain exposure.
“[Playing in Shreveport] helps us expand our market,” said Patrick Walsh, an associate director in the school’s athletic department. “Our goal is to be the premiere flagship university in Northern Louisiana. Playing occasional games in Shreveport and growing our fan base there is critical to our success.”
For a regular season home game against a conference opponent, Louisiana Tech makes approximately $30,000. The club seating area in Independence Stadium alone gives Louisiana Tech the chance to make more than twice that amount. A sellout would allow the school to bank more than $1.1 million in profit.
“We played Miami there in 2003 and had over 43,000 [people]. We had over 40,000 when A&M came to Shreveport in 1999,” said Walsh.
Schools in the Big East are unclear just how much WVU’s departure may cost them as they scramble to fill schedules. Big East schools also have to fill the TCU game, which came open before the school even joined the conference.
“I wish there was an easy strategy we could all employ to make it work,” said Bob Arkeilpane, Cincinnati’s deputy athletics director. “The truth is, it’s extremely difficult. You want to come up with a balanced schedule that will work financially and make the coach happy, make the fans happy, and the Big East happy.”
The solution? Arkeilpane thinks perhaps the conference will get involved, though not necessarily by giving schools some of the money it is receiving from the WVU departure payout.
“I’ve heard absolutely nothing like that, but it makes sense you would hear a lot of speculation,” he said.
Arkeilpane also worries about the bowl implications if Cincinnati has to play two FCS schools in order to fill out its schedule. If a team plays two FCS opponents, it must have seven wins -- instead of six -- to be bowl eligible. Cincinnati is already scheduled to open the season at home against FCS opponent Delaware State.
The Big East could petition the NCAA for an exemption to the FCS rule. Big East officials declined to comment on that possibility. Such an exemption has been sought before: In 2010, Arizona State asked for an exemption after San Jose State backed out of a game and the Sun Devils scheduled Portland State. The NCAA denied the request.
In the end, however, Arkeilpane is confident the conference will work things out, so for now, the Bearcats wait.
“This is a Big East issue and all the member institutions will have to work together to figure out what the solution is,” said Arkeilpane.
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