Costly downside of guarantee games for Power Five emerges early in college football season

·3 min read

A span of less than 30 minutes Saturday night again revealed the potential downside of Power Five conference schools paying big appearance guarantees to non-conference football opponents for games intended to pad win totals and home attendance.

In a rapid sequence of games decided in the fourth quarter, Illinois and Georgia Tech lost to Group of Five teams they are each paying at least $1 million — and 21st-ranked Washington fell to an FCS team it is paying $675,000, one of the largest payments this season to an FCS team.

It was the culmination of a weekend in which three other FCS teams recorded road victories over FBS teams that are providing guarantees. Among those was another Power Five team — Vanderbilt — losing to East Tennessee State in a game that was part two-game series, both in Nashville. For this one, ETSU is set to collect $415,000 on top of the 60 hotel rooms it received under the game contract. In the series’ first game, in 2019, Vandy beat ETSU 38-0.

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Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets quarterback Jordan Yates (13) flips over Northern Illinois Huskies cornerback Eric Rogers (12) during the first half at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets quarterback Jordan Yates (13) flips over Northern Illinois Huskies cornerback Eric Rogers (12) during the first half at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Also on Saturday, Connecticut lost to Holy Cross, which will receive $425,000. On Friday, Colorado State lost to South Dakota State, which will is due $450,000.

Late Saturday night, another Group of Five team, Nevada, won at California in the third of a three-game series that involved two matchups in Berkeley and $400,000 payouts to Nevada for each. (This year's will help Nevada cover the $25,000 bonus that coach Jay Norvell gets for any win over a Power Five team.)

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Illinois began its 2021 season, and coach Bret Bielema’s tenure at the school, last weekend with a Big Ten Conference victory over Nebraska. On Saturday night, the Fighting Illini fell behind Texas-San Antonio, 14-0, and trailed by 10 points in the fourth quarter before having a chance to tie or take the lead in the game’s final series. They couldn’t come through, and UTSA left Champaign with a 37-30 win and $1.1 million. (UTSA coach Jeff Traylor left having gained an additional reward — the $25,000 bonus he is due for any regular-season victory over a Power Five team.)

It was the second time in as many non-pandemic seasons that Illinois paid a seven-figure guarantee to a team that also walked away with a victory. In 2019, Eastern Michigan allowed a tying touchdown with less than two minutes to play, then drove for a field goal as time expired.

Georgia Tech’s $1 million payment to Northern Illinois also brought in a team that jumped to a 14-0 lead Saturday night. The Yellow Jackets scored three consecutive touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter, but NIU went 80 yards for a touchdown with 38 seconds to play, then added a two-point conversion.

Like Illinois, Georgia Tech also lost to an opponent it paid in 2019 — The Citadel, an FCS school that received $400,000 and took home a 27-24 overtime win.

Washington’s 13-7 loss Saturday night, to Montana, was less dramatic. The Huskies scored only on their first possession, and they were outscored 10-0 in the fourth quarter. After going 78 yards on that opening series, the Huskies ended with a total of 291.

They did have an announced crowd of 64,053 — and while that is short of Husky Stadium’s capacity of just over 70,000, it was nearly double the attendance announced Saturday by Illinois and Georgia Tech.

Illinois said it drew 33,906; Georgia Tech 33,651.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College football's Power 5 costly downside of guarantee games emerges