Saturday’s loss a financial victory for Charleston Southern

For Charleston Southern, the outcome of Saturday’s football game with Illinois didn’t matter. The Bucs wanted to win the game, of course, but in the grand scheme of things, the “44-0 loss”: did them more good than harm. According to ESPN business analyst Darren Rovell, Illinois paid Charleston Southern $400,000 to play at Memorial Stadium, and that price tag is modest compared with what other FCS schools are paid to play college football powerhouses.

The game was what is considered in the college sports world as a “guarantee game.” Guaranteed money for the little school, guaranteed win for the big school. While the second part of that agreement isn’t always certain, it’s usually the case. The Buccaneers were essentially paid to play in front of 45,000 people and get pounded by a team that is bigger, faster and stronger.

These “guarantee games” are common practice in college sports, and despite Illinois’ beatdown of the Bucs, Charleston Southern head coach Jay Mills believes they are absolutely necessary.

“I heard Lou Holtz and Mark Mays debate about FCS and FBS schools competing last week on College Football Final, and I couldn’t agree with Coach Holtz more,” he said. “The financial resources that are so important and sometimes so abounding at the FBS level are not at the levels below. There’s not only a trickle-down when FBS schools give FCS schools an opportunity such as Illinois gave us today, but we give opportunities for smaller schools to play us, which gives them money that trickles down.”

Charleston Southern has played at Florida State, Florida and Miami. It has never beaten an FBS opponent. The CSU athletic department used money from these games to build a new athletic facility it otherwise couldn’t have afforded. For the first time in school history, every team — male and female — has its own locker room.

Guarantee games happen every year, usually early in the season. Arkansas paid Louisiana-Monroe $950,000 in a game that proved not to be such a guaranteed outcome.

Louisiana-Monroe won 34-31 in overtime Sept. 8, and one week later, it was paid over $1 million to play at Auburn, which the Warhawks almost won in overtime as well.

Oklahoma State paid Savannah State $860,000 to play in Stillwater, Okla., which is about 17 percent of Savannah State’s athletic budget, according “The New York Times”:

The most famous example was Appalachian State’s upset of No. 5-ranked Michigan in 2006, when the Mountaineers were paid $400,000 for their victory in The Big House.

In addition to money, Charleston Southern players got an experience they otherwise wouldn’t have against FCS opponents. One week ago, the Bucs were hosting Jacksonville in front of 2,136 fans. Saturday they found themselves surrounded by 45,369 orange-clad fans.

“For me, I’ve gotten used to it because I’ve played in big games when we played Florida in front of 95,000 and Florida State last year and UCF (Central Florida),” Charleston Southern cornerback Charles James said. “But it is something you have to get used to, jumping from 3,000 to 50,000 is a big jump.”

James is one of few Charleston Southern players with a legitimate chance of playing in the NFL. For him, playing against FBS schools gives him a chance to show what he can do against the highest level of competition.

Mills is concerned that when the FBS adopts its new playoff system in 2014, the number of games scheduled against FCS schools will decrease.

Once the playoff is implemented and strength of schedule begins to play a roll in the playoff selection process, FBS teams will be less inclined to schedule FCS opponents. He fears that the trickle down of money will disappear, hurting smaller schools.

“When Illinois and FBS schools play these games, it helps every single college football program in the country at every level,” Mills said. “That’s the basics of it that few people understand.”

Sean can be reached at [email protected] and @sean_hammond.