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When ‘guarantee games’ backfire: Flipping the script in college football

In college football, they are called guarantee games. One university pays another an exorbitant flat fee to play a football game on the road with no return game.

Normally, the home team draws a crowd large enough to easily cover the one-time fee. In theory, the home team also buys an easy victory to pad its record and help it qualify for a bowl game. 

It does not always work out this way, as we shall see.

These games are most common in September before the major conference teams enter their league schedules. 

Rick Cleveland

Southern Miss played a guarantee game Saturday at Miami. Miami paid Southern Miss $1.5 million to play at Hard Rock Stadium. After trailing for much of the first half, the Hurricanes dominated the second half with superior depth and won 30 to 7. That’s how these things usually work. After expenses, Southern Miss cleared $1.375 million. Miami got its victory.

Again, these games are most common this time of the season. Ole Miss bought a victory from Central Arkansas. LSU bought one from Southern University. Ohio State bought one from Arkansas State. Georgia paid Samford well for its 33-0 drubbing. We could go on and on.


This is rich:

  • Texas A&M paid Appalachian State $1.5 million to play at College Station. App State flew out of town with the massive check – and a 17-14 victory.
  • Notre Dame forked over $1.25 million to Marshall to play at South Bend. You know what happened. The Thundering Herd took the money and also won the game, 26-21.
  • Nebraska, which we once referred to as mighty Nebraska, paid Georgia Southern slightly more than $1.4 million to play at Lincoln. Georgia Southern took the money and ran – and passed – to a 45-42 victory that was the last straw for Nebraska coach Scott Frost, who was fired afterward.

Readers who aren’t familiar with college football and its finances might be surprised to learn the exorbitant amounts paid for these guarantee games. In big-time college athletics, it does seem universities from the power conferences play with Monopoly money.

Let’s take it one step further. Nebraska will have to pay Frost $15 million to buy out the remainder of his contract. That’s a lot of zeroes. If Nebraska had waited until Oct. 1 – not quite three more weeks – the buyout would have dropped to $7.5 million.

I did the math. In effect, Nebraska is paying $375,000 per day to fire Scott Frost 20 days before his buyout would have been reduced by half. Like I said, it’s like Monopoly money.

Yes, Scott Frost had to make a lot of mistakes to win only 16 of 47 games in his four-plus seasons at his alma mater. But somebody else had to make a much bigger mistake to hire a guy that you are now paying $15 million not to coach. And now you’ve got to pay somebody several more million to come be your coach.

Let’s take it another step. Clay Helton, the new Georgia Southern coach, still is being paid not to coach Southern Cal. That’s right, USC fired Helton last September after a lopsided loss to Stanford. Southern Cal owed Helton $10 million over the final two years of his contract.

So a coach Southern Cal pays $10 million not to coach led Georgia Southern to a victory that caused Nebraska to pay $15 million to another guy not to coach. That’s $25 million those two football powers are paying people not to coach.

Meanwhile, Georgia Southern – a Sun Belt Conference team just like Marshall and App State – pays Helton $800,000 to coach. Georgia Southern appears to be getting a lot more for its money that Southern Cal did. Yet, he’s the same guy, the same coach.

The moral of this story? 

Not sure there is one other than this: When scheduling these high-dollar guarantee games, athletic directors might want to look at teams outside the Sun Belt.

The post When ‘guarantee games’ backfire: Flipping the script in college football appeared first on Mississippi Today.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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