Savannah State, a Football Championship Subdivision school, has been outscored by a combined 139-0 in its first two games this season. It was beaten 84-0 at Oklahoma State last week and 55-0 in a rain shortened game at Florida State Saturday. The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference member is collecting paychecks totaling $860,000 for the two games, which will help the athletic program meet its total budget of $5.1 million. So the question remains, when the dust settles, not just for Savannah but for FSU, OSU, their fans, their TV partners, the MEAC brand and for brand college football, what was gained and by who?
Now this is not new, it has always happened early in the college football season. It is also not easy for FSU or OSU to always find the right opponents to fill out a very difficult schedule. There is no doubt that college athletics is rising in brand value across the board. There is also no doubt that there are haves and have nots in the business, but for the NCAA to allow a school like Savannah State to just run around and pick up checks…putting kids probably at risk and arguably sacrificing the jobs of the coaching staff to balance the budget of other athletes and coaches, really calls into question what value being “cannon fodder” is for smaller schools. Savannah State coach Steve Davenport said afterward that he hoped these games were “learning experiences” and maybe down the road if the two schools play for the National Championship that Savannah gets some name recognition. Huh?
This was not about a subdivision powerhouse like Appalachian State going into Michigan with a chance at an upset, which is what happened a few years ago. It’s not like FSU or OSU showcased game plans in these games that will give a look inside to their future opponents. It’s not like the fans didn’t shell out high prices to see these mismatches. Maybe the two larger schools got to give some of their non-starters some extended time on the field which will be valuable down the line, but other than that the fans may benefit more from seeing the team scrimmage against themselves.
It is understood that small schools are still challenged financially to keep their intercollegiate athletic programs going, but two of these paydays with little ROI for the sport? That’s excessive. As the NFL looks to re-vamp the value and cost of meaningless preseason games, there has to be a better way to grow college athletics and find value than these mismatches. The two schools, FSU and OSU, are probably now the biggest donors to Savannah State’s programs, so why not just write them a check and move on. Maybe there are brands looking to activate in the space that would have an interest in the MEAC that could benefit all students vs. just going to get a payday in a football mismatch. Its archaic thinking, not innovative branding, and that’s what college athletics should be all about. Finding ways to do things differently, not just to get a check for showing up.
The MEAC as a conference has a great deal to offer brands collectively from their institutions, and no doubt the students at SSU do too. What they have offered the last two weeks was sacrifice with little good other than a check, and that’s not what any college experience should be about. It should be about learning and growth, both on the playing field and in the classroom. That growth and that passion is what is a draw for brands, and that’s what should be emphasized.
Here’s to better stories down the line.