Buying team pride? Or just good business?


On Thursday, September 20th, the Minnesota Daily published an article detailing the amount of money that the University of Minnesota paid out to non-conference teams for what is referred to as “guarantee” games.

Essentially, this means that the larger Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams pay out other non-conference teams, either in the FBS or smaller ones in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), to play on the road before conference games start.

The idea behind these games is a two-fold strategy.

For smaller Division I (D-I) schools in either the FBS or FCS, these guarantee games become a revenue engine to advance their football programs and generate funds for their school as a whole. On top of that, it gives these schools a chance at glory and national exposure should they upset the favored host.

For the larger FBS teams, the money given to their opponents to have them travel and come play is not money lost. These FBS programs base their “bidding” of the smaller teams on stadium and ticket revenue. The seats are usually filled during these games because of the home squad’s high chance of winning.

So the question is, how much do these games really cost?

According to the Daily, the Gophers paid out $750,000 to Western Michigan in their 28-23 win. Minnesota’s average payout per point against New Hampshire was about $8,600 (so winning 44-7 meant a total check of $380,000 to the lads from Durham).

To the art majors at the “U”, these figures are an abomination. No school should ever fund a sports program that blows $1.13 million dollars just to see two extra wins in the standings.

In certain contexts, this is a convincing argument.

Personally, I have always wondered why the Gophers seem to always play small, nationally insignificant schools like South Dakota, New Mexico State, or Middle Tennessee.

In recent years, the Gophers’ largest non-conference games were with national powerhouse USC in 2011 and 2012. (Because one game was hosted in California and the other at TCF Bank Stadium, both guarantee travel payouts offset each other in a mutual home-home pairing.)

Since that point, they have not played any nationally renowned football programs. To be honest, I also never knew why we never played teams like USC more often.

The reason? Money.

Yes, the University of Minnesota puts several million dollars into its football program every year. And yes, certain students complain every year that that money could be better spent on the students.

But here are some of the facts:

The football program, which vastly absorbs more sports funding per year than any other team at the U, does not lose money. In fact, even with ticket sales down this season and the past two years of poor performance, the football team has still broken even and netted a profit back into the University’s sports budget.

It kind of goes to show that money buys more money. (It’s a capitalist thing.)

And if a few extra wins every year is what it takes to motivate students and fans to buy tickets, boost morale of the home squad, and keep a coaching staff employed, I say spend the money.

Sure, we may never get the star-studded non-conference schedule that Ohio State or Michigan may have. However, of the games we do attain, why not guarantee ourselves some wins?

If you’re wondering why Ohio State and Michigan are able to afford the highlight-reel games, it is because they actually have a legitimate stadium. Not to knock the “Bank”, but a rule of thumb for seating capacity for large D-I programs should be roughly at least 1.5x the student/faculty population at the university. The U has approximately 50,000 students and faculty and about the same number of stadium seats.

(For reference, Michigan’s stadium can house approximately 107,000 and have about 68,000 students and faculty on campus.)

So the question remains, is the “guarantee” games program simply buying team pride, or is the program just good business? From my perspective, the answer is both.

The smaller schools, knowing full well that these games generally won’t end well for them, will make more money in the guarantee game than in any of the other games they will play that season.

For the larger schools, the guarantee games are record boosters. Against larger non-conference teams, these games are chances at national fame.

Those are the facts.

As much as we would like to say that money should not be the deciding factor in sports, we all must realize that—even at the collegiate level—money rules all.