Last November, Deadspin posted a story about a man who was filmed licking a urinal. In the video, which has since been deleted from YouTube by the user, the heavily inebriated male licked the urinal trough at the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium while other men continued to use the urinal. It was truly a disgusting act no person would do willingly, or at least not without money on the line. So how much did this guy receive for his troubles? Was it $10, $50, $100, $1000, $5000?
We’ve all been in situations where somebody has challenged us to do something and offers a hypothetical, moderate-to-absurd amount of money if we’re up to the challenge. ‘Hey, ten bucks says you won’t go ask that girl out.’ ‘I’ll give you a million dollars if you can eat four jalapeno peppers in a minute.’ When “free” money is offered, people will do some crazy things – like licking a urinal for $50. Yes, the man from the story above received only $50.
Or, the allure of money might cause a football team to play two games that they lose by a combined 139-0, but receive $860,000 in the process? Who would say no to that?
In its season opener against Oklahoma State, the Savannah State Tigers, an FCS program, received $385,000 to travel to Stillwater and receive an on-field whooping. After losing 84-0, there was a loud outcry from college football pundits and fans who levied heavy criticism at Savannah State for scheduling this game just to make money. In week two, the Tigers received $475,000 to make a trip south to Tallahassee and receive a drubbing from Florida St.Following the Oklahoma State game, Tigers head coach Steve Davenport said “embarrassment lasts a lot longer than $840,000.”
You know what Coach Davenport, losing 84-0 or 55-0 in a game where your team had absolutely no chance to win is not what should embarrass you, your staff, or your team. No, what’s more embarrassing is Savannah State’s 9-37 record since 2008 or the consecutive 1-10 seasons that followed the 2-8 campaign in 2009. Sure this is only the beginning of your second season as head coach, but you finished 1-10 last year. That is embarrassing.
And yet, Savannah State should not be criticized for scheduling these two games, they should be applauded for finding a way to make additional revenue to help fund the athletic department even when their football team is awful. It’s not like they were the only FCS program to make money by playing an FBS program. After this past weekend, FCS schools have already combined to win eight games against teams at the higher level, two shy of the single-season record.
The University of Louisiana-Monroe, an FBS program itself, received $950,000 to travel three hours north to War Memorial Stadium and play No. 10 Arkansas. ULM was more-than 30-point underdogs heading into the game and not only beat the Razorbacks, but it was such a shocking win that Arkansas fell all the way out of the Top 25. That victory will do wonders for the Warhawk program.
These types of pay-for-play games are part of the foundation of college football. Nearly every non-conference matchup is set up contractually with some amount of money guaranteed for either side. Savannah State, as horrible as they are, was somehow able to convince both the Cowboys and the Seminoles to pony up some cash for a tune-up game. The Savannah State athletic department should be praised for its attempts to make budget, not criticized for the desire to make money from a billion-dollar business that is the Football Bowl Subdivision.
During the 2010-2011 academic year, the Savannah State University Athletic Department’s expenses totaled $4,570,553, according to the Office of Post Secondary Educations’ Equity in Athletics Data Analysis Cutting Tool. Football expenses alone exceeded $1.25 million – a season during which they won only a single game. That same season, the men’s and women’s basketball teams finished 11-18 and 15-11, respectively, with expenses of $564,000 for the men’s team and $465,000 for the women.
The majority of athletic departments do not often finish a fiscal year “in the black.” You could then assume that the better a sports program is, the more revenue that program can generate for the school and the athletic department can come closer to making its budget. When you have nearly $5 million in operating expenses, as Savannah State does, and you’re three major sports programs don’t even sniff the playoffs, you have to start thinking of alternative ways to remain financial solvent for subsequent seasons as expenses increase and revenues potentially decrease.
I think it is safe to assume that revenues and expenses have largely remained the same for this 2012 season as they were in 2010. Therefore, the $860,000 they’ve made from these first two games will make up for nearly 20 percent of the athletic department’s yearly expenses, including 63 percent of the football program’s expenses.
If they instead chose to take that money and apply it elsewhere in the athletic department, it could pay for almost all of the $856,000 in athletically-related student aid for men’s teams, or cover all $724,573 worth of male coaching salaries across all male sports. After paying the male team coaching salaries, they would still have more than $100,000 left over to apply toward the $274,944 worth of female programs’ coaches’ salaries.
While the Tigers clearly valued money more than early-season victories in 2012, these two games offered more than just funds. Both games provided the Tigers with a unique opportunity to play against and learn from two of the best football programs in the country. For a rebuilding team hoping to win more than one game this season, this experience could benefit them in the long run.
For a proper, away-from-football analogy, look no further than professional wrestling. Currently, there is a WWE superstar named Ryback who is promoted as a monster in the ring. Undefeated since his debut, Ryback has racked up numerous victories against random wrestlers often in dominant fashion. The majority of these wrestlers came from small, independent wrestling companies; you might call them the FCS to the WWE’s FBS.
Although these wrestlers, were paid to lose in order to make Ryback look good, they did so willingly and their experience with the WWE could do wonders for their professional wrestling careers.
Sure, they might lose the match in a matter of seconds and be humiliated in the process, but when they return to their independent companies they are suddenly a bigger deal than they were. They can say they made it to the big time – they had wrestled a match, on live TV, for the biggest professional wrestling company in the history of the business. For them, it wasn’t about winning or losing, it was about the exposure.
At the collegiate level, where a team’s success is largely determined by the caliber of athletes willing to play for and attend that school, a little exposure can go a long way toward building a successful sports program.
Savannah State’s coaches will not convince a football player to play for the Tigers if that player is also being recruited by Florida St. or Oklahoma St. That’s not to say Savannah State can’t use the exposure from playing the Seminoles and Cowboys to recruit a player away from, say, South Carolina St., a team which has finished first or tied-for-first in the Tigers’ conference four of the past eight seasons.
In addition to exposure to aid recruiting and fundraising as well, these games also offer the coaching staff a chance to learn from the best programs in college football. The Tiger coaches now have game tapes to study, practice tapes to review and offensive, defensive and special teams schemes to break down in an attempt to better their own program.
When I was a freshman at Western Washington, our offense completely abandoned its philosophy and adopted that of an opponent after losing a game in embarrassing fashion. After watching the film of that game, studying both our performance and our opponents’ performance, our coaches determined we would be better suited to run an offense similar to the one run by the other team. I can’t say it brought much success, as we finished the year with a losing record, but, that’s not to say it can’t be effective at giving a team a boost.
Savannah State football has a miserable 19-110 record, since moving from Division II up to Division I-FCS. It is not a program that is going to win a national championship anytime soon, let alone finish first or second in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. But when you can make a bunch of money while potentially learning something significant in the process and bettering your program, why not do it?
College sports are still a business where athletic departments need to come somewhat close to making their budget each year. If not for these two blowouts, nobody would be talking about Savannah State on the national level. And that is some exposure that just might be worth the 60 minutes of humiliation and the $860,000.