Teams have started conference play, with Penn State hosting No. 24-ranked Northwestern. Six games are matchups with both teams ranked in the top 25, including No. 4 vs. No. 10 and No. 5 vs. No. 6. Contrast this week’s 1 and 2, which featured marquee programs running up huge scores against teams you’ve never heard of.
It’s become an annual tradition if you’re a big school. Start the year off with a bang by putting up 50, 60, even 70 points against an overmatched opponent. This year featured North Carolina-Elon (62-0), Florida State-Murray State (69-3) and Oklahoma State-Savannah State (84-0).
In any other area of life, this would be considered bullying. So why do smaller schools agree to games where they’re bound to get embarrassed at national level?
Huge paydays. Georgia paid Florida Atlantic $1 million. Nebraska paid Arkansas State $1 million. Alabama regularly offers $600,000-$1 million for the opportunity to get shellacked in front of one of their raving home crowds.
The going rate for total annihilation, embarrassment and possible injury is usually $400,000-$800,000. And some schools actively seek this out as part of their strategy. Idaho signed up for an SEC game each of the next four years, guaranteeing it at least $850,000 per year. Savannah State scheduled Oklahoma State and Florida State in weeks one and two. In return for losing by a combined score of 139-0 in both games, it was paid $860,000.
These teams essentially have an incentive to be terrible.
These games don’t always pay off for the powerhouse teams. Pitt had the tables turned on it and was embarrassed by Youngstown State, which it paid $400,000. Penn State paid Ohio $850,000 for that Week One loss. Probably the most famous of these was the 2007 game where No. 5-ranked Michigan paid $400,000 and lost at home to Appalachian State.
Do the money and the possible upset make it right to put student athletes in this position? Take a look at Savannah State. It has won 12 games in its last seven seasons. It has 63 scholarship players to the 85 that major programs have. It knows it’s going to get crushed.
ESPN asked Savannah State’s coach if it was worth it after just the first 84-0 loss. He responded, "No. I think embarrassment lasts a lot longer than $860,000.”
Ultimately, it’s not up to him. Athletic directors schedule these games and don’t have to coach the students through this experience.
Even the NCAA knows that it’s wrong. Savannah State’s second game saw the team down 35-0 at the end of the first quarter. During the second quarter, with agreement from both head coaches, the officials allowed the game clock to run without stoppages, trying to end the game faster.
During the third quarter, as the rain got worse, the coaches and officials called the game off, at 58-0. Savannah State essentially got the old high school mercy rule.
I don’t see any benefits to this “tradition.” It creates meaningless games for the favorite. Fans don’t care. It embarrasses the underdog and furthers the university directly profiting from their play. It’s exploitation.
And perhaps most important, you can’t have this happen in football, where the difference in size, speed and skill means potential injuries. It needs to stop. It’s not worth a win.