The BYU football team prepares to turn the page on the level of opponents it will be facing as the 2012 season concludes for.
During the first two years of independence, the football team’s record has had the benefit of at least four games against teams from the WAC. In those games, BYU has outscored its opponents 276–107. BYU has beat schools like New Mexico State, Idaho and Idaho State. These games have helped BYU maintain a winning record through inconsistencies on the offense.
BYU is not the only team scheduling weaker opponents for the sake of helping their record. Two of the nation’s top programs, Oklahoma State and Florida State, both faced off against a rebuilding Savannah State team and beat it by a combined score of 139-0. Florida State also played Murray State and beat it 69–3. The defending national champion team, the Alabama Crimson Tide, beat both Western Kentucky and Western Carolina by a combined score of 84–0.
With little to no expectation of winning, fans often wonder why these small programs play such tough opponents. Not every program is going to do what Appalachian State did when it went to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and defeated the Wolverines 34-32 in September 2007.
Although all small programs hope to beat big-time programs like Michigan or Alabama, the majority of these programs are playing for a paycheck. The Savannah Morning News reported that for the two losses, Savannah State earned $860,000 or a little over $6,000 per point scored against it.
Following his team’s loss to Oklahoma State, Savannah State Head Coach Steve Davenport expressed his dislike for these games.
“We’re going to have to readdress that,” Davenport said. “You get paid for certain things, but I don’t know if some things are worth the payments you get.”
The money Savannah State earns from these two games will go to support the school’s athletic budget. Many of the country’s smaller programs use their money earned from these games in the same way because they lack the boosters and alumni that major college football programs have.
Not even BYU is immune from paying smaller football programs to fill out its schedule. Last year the Provo Daily Herald reported that BYU paid Idaho State close to a half million dollars to come lose to BYU 56–3. The Cougars played Weber State, a Division II opponent (FCS), and won 45–13. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that BYU paid Weber State $400,000 to come to Provo for the in-state match up. BYU used the game against Weber State to evaluate some players farther down the depth chart, while Weber State was excited for the chance to play a quality opponent outside the FCS.
“These tough early games help us get some toughness,” said Weber State Head Coach Jody Sears. “I think we’ve got some guys that aren’t afraid to be tough and get into these tough environments.”
BYU is also not immune to receiving a check to go play a larger, more historic program. In early November, the Cougars announced that they had reached an agreement to play Michigan, in Ann Arbor, during the 2015 season. In an interview after the game with local media, Michigan’s athletic director revealed that BYU would be paid about $1.3 million to play the game in Ann Arbor.
Despite the payouts that come from games like OSU vs. Savannah State, these games also come with great risk to the athletes or the schools they represent. For a school like Idaho State, the players’ health is at risk. Schools like Alabama, OSU, Florida State and BYU recruit many of the nation’s top athletes. These football players often run faster, throw farther and hit harder than athletes playing at a lower level.
These larger programs are not immune from risk themselves. Larger programs run the risk of unneeded injuries and ruined reputations. When Michigan lost to Appalachian State in 2007, it fell out of the AP poll after having been ranked No. 5 to start the season. Many believe this game led to Michigan Head Coach Lloyd Carr being fired.
Playing smaller programs can also have a negative impact in the final rankings. The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) computers take into account the strength of a school’s schedule when deciding which teams play for the national championship and other major bowls. If a team has played too many weaker teams, the school’s schedule will be seen as soft in comparison to a school that has played a lot of quality opponents from difficult conferences.
In the coming years BYU will take on more of an underdog role as it faces tougher schedules that feature opponents like Texas, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Virginia. The Cougars will be paid for the chance to play in these historic locations, but they do so with risk to the school’s reputation and to the players’ health. Will it be worth it? Only time and the Cougars’ play on the field can answer that.