Football teams playing for pay goes back more than 100 years

Maybe I’m too easily amused, but I’ve always found it interesting how much universities pay other teams to come to “their house” to play a football game. If you are naïve enough to think that college football isn’t a big business at the NCAA Div. I level, I can’t help you.

KU football paid its first two opponents more than $1 million to play in Lawrence this season. Indiana State received $450,000 and Coastal Carolina was given $600,000 to play at Memorial Stadium.

K-State paid Nicholls and Bowling Green more than $1 million to come play in Manhattan. Specifically, Nicholls received $450,000 and Bowling Green $815,000 to play games at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

Meanwhile, Mississippi State paid K-State $300,000 to play on MSU’s home turf.

Generally, when you pay someone to come play on your home field, you do so with the knowledge that you will be favored to win the game. You may want some competition, but not too much competition.

Hence, it was rude of Coastal Carolina to beat the Jayhawks in Lawrence.

These pay-to-play games are considered to be cupcake games, but as I already noted, it doesn’t always turn out that way.

Players in the south have their sights set on major programs, but when players don’t get big-school offers, playing against them can be a fun consolation.

One coach said: “They’re extremely excited to get the opportunity to play in front of 100,000 or 105,000, and in a venue like that, and a team they see on TV.”

Fans like to see their team win, but one wonders how much they are willing to pay for a blow-out win against inferior competition.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the pay-for-play scheme can be traced all the way back to 1916, when tiny Cumberland College was scheduled to play Georgia Tech. There was a slight problem though – Cumberland had canceled all of its sports programs for financial reasons the previous spring.

Reportedly, a student manager at the smaller school had neglected to inform all parties, and Georgia Tech refused to allow Cumberland to back out of the agreement. So, that same student rounded up 13 members of his fraternity to play the game in Atlanta – saving the school from a $3,000 buyout fee, and instead earning $500 for Cumberland.

The frat brothers were routed by coach John Heisman’s Golden Tornado 222-0, the most lopsided victory in college football history. Heisman, for whom the most famous individual trophy in college sports is named, ran up the score without apology.

In any case, smaller programs continue to play the role of sacrificial lambs in these revenue or cupcake games.

These games are considered controversial because the games are often boring and can cause injuries to players, and disappoint high-paying fans. But revenue games remain a regularity that seems ingrained in college sports.

On the plus side, the money paid to the undermanned team can help sustain that program financially, and the team that’s supposed to win usually does. So everyone goes home happy (most of the time).

ESPN reported that payout games cost teams at least $12.9 million in one weekend in 2014, and even that figure is just a minimum.

It’s easy to make fun of big programs for scheduling these games, but the games make excellent business sense for larger athletic departments.

For the student-athletes, it’s a chance to play the “big boys,” and see how they stack up. They know the odds of winning are long, but there’s something to be said for having an opportunity.