As It Turns Out, H.B.C.U. Schools Pay the Price for a Football Paycheck

South Carolina State players during a guarantee game at No. 5 Clemson on Saturday. With the Bulldogs down, 45-0, at the half, the teams’ coaches agreed to shorten the quarters in the second half by three minutes each. The final score was 59-0, and South Carolina State received a $300,000 payout. Credit Melissa Golden for The New York Times
South Carolina State players during a guarantee game at No. 5 Clemson on Saturday. With the Bulldogs down, 45-0, at the half, the teams’ coaches agreed to shorten the quarters in the second half by three minutes each. The final score was 59-0, and South Carolina State received a $300,000 payout.
Credit Melissa Golden for The New York Times

Clemson played South Carolina State in college football on Saturday. Both universities field Division I teams, and that is pretty much where the similarities end in terms of athletics.

The No. 5 Tigers have an $83.5 million athletic budget, which includes six strength and conditioning coaches, and chartered jets for some road games. South Carolina State, a historically black school, has an athletic budget of a little more than $9 million and just one strength coach. It travels to games on a bus.

As part of the powerful Atlantic Coast Conference, Clemson is a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision, the top level of college football. The Bulldogs play in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, which is made up of small historically black colleges and universities (known as H.B.C.U. teams). Under N.C.A.A. rules, big-time schools like Clemson can hand out 85 football scholarships, while the lower-tier Football Championship Subdivision schools like South Carolina State can offer only 63. You get the picture.

Is there anyone who thought that the Bulldogs had a chance at an upset, like that time in 2007 when Appalachian State beat Michigan? Or like that time (Saturday) when North Dakota State knocked off No. 13 Iowa? No. The last time Clemson and South Carolina State played, the Tigers won, 73-7.

Buddy Pough, the Bulldogs’ coach, acknowledged last week that his team’s task was hopeless.

“They’ve got the ability to really come out and knock us crazy if they really decide to be that way,” he told reporters. “We want them to just kind of come out and just kind of go through the motions and get out of there, which would probably be the best-case scenario for us.”

Clemson chose to knock the Bulldogs crazy. The score was 45-0 at halftime. While the South Carolina State marching band entertained the crowd at the half — the highlight of the game, in truth — the referees went to the locker rooms to ask the coaches if they were willing to mercifully shorten the game by three minutes a quarter. Pough and Dabo Swinney, the Clemson coach, agreed that was a good idea.

The final score was 59-0.

I do not need to explain why games like these, between a major football power and a much smaller school, are played: money. These matchups, usually scheduled early in the season, are called “guarantee games,” because the visiting team is guaranteed an appearance fee. In other words, they are paid handsomely to get knocked crazy.

In this case, South Carolina State was paid $300,000. It was the Bulldogs’ third straight guarantee game; they had also lost their first two games, by 38-0 to Central Florida and by 53-24 to Louisiana Tech. The three games together reaped about $1 million for South Carolina State — more than 10 percent of its athletic budget.

Here are some of the other scores and payouts involving H.B.C.U. teams in guarantee games this season: Howard University’s opening game was against Maryland ($350,000); it lost, 52-13. The next week it lost to Rutgers, 52-14 ($350,000). Prairie View A&M was beaten by Texas A&M, 67-0 ($450,000). Morgan State lost to Marshall, 62-0. Hampton lost to Old Dominion, 54-21. North Carolina Central lost to Duke, 49-6. And on and on.

Yes, there are predominantly white F.C.S. schools that play guarantee games and lose by wide margins. And, yes, there are times when the visitor in a guarantee game upsets a football power, though such teams are usually quality midmajors like North Dakota State, which beat Iowa, 23-21, and walked away with a check for $500,000, thank you very much.

But I want to focus here on H.B.C.U. teams, which are usually the most physically overmatched and get paid the least amount of money — and yet they feel they have no choice but to use their players as sacrificial lambs in guarantee games to fund their struggling athletic departments. The one-sided scores — and the public humiliation and potential for serious injury that come with such mismatches — make one wonder whether it is really worth it.

There was a time, of course, when H.B.C.U. teams played big-time football. But the college football landscape has changed drastically in recent decades, leaving the historically black programs in financial pain. They play guarantee games to help make ends meet.

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Source: The New York Times | JOE NOCERA