More than $171 million is scheduled to exchange hands this season for Football Bowl Subdivision non-conference games, according to a USA TODAY Sports analysis. Because these contests are not governed by conference scheduling, these so-called “guarantee” games are set up under contracts negotiated between individual schools. Deals for non-conference games almost always include an appearance payment to the visiting team.
USA TODAY Sports used public-records requests to obtain the contracts for 291 of 325 non-conference games scheduled by FBS teams this season. The school bringing in the most money is Kent State, with guarantees worth $5.2 million. In addition to Kent State, 45 schools are set to make over $1 million off guarantees in 2021.
Those dollar signs are going up almost as fast as coaches’ salaries. Even so, the math last season was pretty brutal.
Louisiana-Monroe’s two largest game contracts for last season were with Georgia and Arkansas, which guaranteed $1.75 million and $1.5 million, respectively. A year later, ULM athletics director Scott McDonald said conversations with both schools regarding settlements are ongoing.
“In my discussions with both Georgia and Arkansas, and others going forward, I didn’t feel like anybody was trying to take advantage of anybody else,” McDonald said. “I think we all felt like we got thrown in this boat and what can we do to try to figure out something that was completely unfathomable.”
ULM lost more than 21% of its $15 million projected revenue for the 2020-21 fiscal year when those two games were cancelled.
“We did as much as we could to tighten our belt and try to survive,” McDonald said. “We had to take that into the next years and look at how we recover from those losses and how it impacts future years. It’s not like we can just forget about it and not go back and try to reclaim some of those losses.”
While smaller FBS schools rely on guaranteed money, Power Five programs still felt the impact of cancelled games. Even McDonald acknowledges that, while Louisiana-Monroe lost out on more than $3 million in guaranteed money, Power Five schools lost tens of millions of dollars because of attendance restrictions and lost gate revenue.
I still can’t help but wonder how long a conference like the SEC goes without expanding its conference schedule, especially if the risk is still there from COVID. TV doesn’t doesn’t face an infection risk like fans do and more product for Mickey means more money from Mickey.