Most anyone who follows college football reasonably closely understands the concept of a guarantee game. In these matchups, a large school in need of a non-conference opponent to round out its schedule pays a smaller college large sums of money to come up there for a stand-alone, non-home-and-home game.
With few exceptions, the large school rolls to an easy win and the small college gets hundreds of thousands of dollars for their efforts. Though only one team technically wins, they both get something out of it.
This season, West Virginia has two such games, the first of which comes Saturday night against Georgia Southern. As it has been detailed ad nauseam the past two weeks, the Eagles aren't a typical guarantee game opponent. They come from a smaller conference and represent a school few outside of the southeast have heard of, but they're a program that defeated Florida two years ago on the road and went 9-3 in its first season as an FBS member, losing at North Carolina State by one and at eventual Orange Bowl champion Georgia Tech by four. This is far from the traditional sacrificial lamb.
What's noteworthy about this game, though, is the amount of money West Virginia is shelling out for a contest where, despite being a 19-point favorite, it stands a reasonable chance of withstanding a spirited fight -- $850,000, according to a contract obtained by the Post-Gazette through a public records request.
Even in the opulent realm of guarantee games, that's a pretty hefty chunk of cash. Short of what is paid by conference Goliaths Texas and Oklahoma, both of which were among the top 10 Division I schools in athletic spending in 2014, that's as expensive of a guarantee game as there has been in the Big 12 in the past several years. (Georgia Southern, it should be noted, generally gets paid at least $600,000 for these type of games. I'll have more details on this in a story for tomorrow's paper).
To better contextualize that $850,000 payment to Georgia Southern, I filed open records requests with five other Big 12 schools -- Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Texas Tech -- to get an idea of what they dole out for these guarantee games. TCU and Baylor, which I'd assume also pay pretty handsomely, are private schools and are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
There's a clear line that is drawn between what FBS and FCS schools are able to command for these kind of games, as many of the teams in the bottom half of this chart fall into the latter.
Still, what West Virginia is paying Georgia Southern is equal to what it will receive later this year from Georgia and next year from Ole Miss and more than what Florida in 2013 ($550,000) and NC State in 2014 ($700,000) contributed. It's also more than what Georgia Tech will pay the Eagles in 2016 ($750,000).
In instances like this, you can only see the numbers and terms, so it's dangerous to make too many sweeping conclusions when you didn't know how negotiations played out. One thing, though, is plainly clear -- even for relatively meaningless games, there's A LOT of money thrown around in college football.