As the Blue Raiders arrived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to take on the Crimson Tide, many fans may not have understood why a team would voluntarily put themselves through the daunting task of playing University of Alabama’s high-ranking football team.
Yes, players and coaches want the challenge of facing top competitors and seeing how they stack up against them. Additionally, the underdog receives more media attention for facing a national power. However, the real reason they do it is for the money.
On Sept. 12, Middle Tennessee took an early season loss to Alabama 37-10. The majority of viewers expected this outcome, but many may not know that MTSU’s football program will receive a guaranteed $1.5 million for the game.
“I usually only do one what you call guarantee games a year,” said Chris Massaro, director of athletics. “We already had the Illinois scheduled, so I put in the Alabama game late.”
These “pay-to-win” games are normal within the five powerhouse conferences. The matchup is mutually beneficial. A football program like Alabama pads their grueling conference schedule with a team that allows them to try out younger players and reduce the week-to week stress. On the other side, these money games provide teams that are not part of the power five conferences a way to pay its bills and debts.
Middle Tennessee is built to make a deep run into Conference USA this year, and although adding a challenging team to the schedule physically prepares the team for success, the promised financial compensation prepares the team for the future.
“I knew this autonomous legislation that was coming down the pike a year or two ago would bring attendance pressures and was going to raise cost of scholarships,” Massaro said. “I scheduled an extra money making game, so to speak, [and] with our cost rising I thought it would be smart to get our year off on the right foot.”
The revenue from these games will pay for many of the expenses the athletic department has to pay this season. These costs include medical and operating costs, outstanding debts, travel expenses and all the expenses coaches use on recruiting.
The $1.5 million that Middle Tennessee receives from Alabama is just a small part of the $25 million the athletic department has in its budget.
“It’s a significant number obviously … but when you put it up against $25 million … it helps supplement those revenues,” Massaro added. “It helps, but it’s not 50 percent of our budget.”
The revenue will go into the expenses for this year’s football team, but the money is funneled into the entire athletic department. Each team will receive part of the payment in a trickle-down effect.
“There’s nothing in the budget that says football gets $800 thousand and all the other sports get $700 thousand,” Massaro said. “We estimate our revenue at the beginning of the year we build our budget accordingly so that every sport gets a piece of it.”
This is not the only “money” matchup the Blue Raiders will have this season. MTSU took on the University of Illinois on Sept. 26, which will bring in $950 thousand. The team has also put together a deal with University of Missouri to play a home series with the first game being played in Columbia in 2016.
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