Last weekend, in competition with the buzz of Fan Controlled Football and the push for March Madness in basketball, the FCS season kicked off with a thrilling 2OT classic between McNeese State and Tarleton State. This week, the FCS slate consists of a few games where lesser teams will serve as cannon fodder.
On Friday, Nicholls State will host a Division II Lincoln University squad from Missouri. In 2019, the Blue Tigers went 1-10 scoring 11 points per game and allowing 53, while the Colonels of Nicholls made the FCS playoffs, beating North Dakota in the first round before losing to North Dakota State.
While there is no information whether Nicholls will pay Lincoln for this game, it seems likely given the surrounding facts that this is a guarantee game. The same applies to a pair of schools out of the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League Davidson and Morehead State.
Davidson will visit Elon of the Colonial Athletic Association, in their first matchup since 2009, and as of now, there is no return visit from the Phoenix scheduled. On the other hand, Morehead State will visit James Madison for the fourth straight time since 2010.
The Eagles have not hosted the Dukes since 1986 as this is only the tenth meeting between the schools. The past three meetings have not gone great for the Eagles, as they have lost by scores of 48-7 in 2010, 56-7 in 2015, and 80-7 (!!) in 2016.
So Why Do This?
All of these facts beg the question above. A variety of reasons answer this question. First off, the obvious one is money. While there is no information to legitimate this assumption, we can guess that these schools will receive a guarantee for their matchups.
In a Fall season where many FBS and lower-level schools opted out, opportunities to make money in payout games against FBS opponents or even more profitable FCS programs were at a premium. As most know, these payout games can be big business for the teams taking to the road.
Take Morehead State for example. A look at their operating budget from 2018-2019 shows a low budget and revenue generating program. The Eagles’ football program only generated $25,883 in gate receipts, but made much more on one guarantee game, presumably their meeting against Eastern Kentucky in 2018. In a road loss to the Colonels, the Eagles received a $100K guarantee.
On the other end of the spectrum is James Madison, who despite losing $5.5 million in this fiscal year, was the most profitable team in FCS during the 2018-2019 fiscal year, generating $10,649,299 in revenue. With this in mind, the Spring season is a gift for programs like Morehead State and Lincoln.
Another benefit is the exposure. Lacking the competition of the FBS season, FCS schools have more opportunities for exposure and linear TV slots. On Friday night, Lincoln and Nicholls are one of two games across all divisions of football, competing only with Northern Iowa-South Dakota State on ESPN+ and NBC Sports Chicago.
Notably it is the only game not behind a paywall that night, as Nicholls will provide a free stream. Additionally, Cox Sports Television, who has affiliates throughout the South and in California and Rhode Island, will broadcast the game. It is an opportunity for exposure that Lincoln likely would not have seen had they opted out of a Spring slate of games.
While the CAA’s online partner is Flosports.com, which has a $20/month fee, this weekend’s games will give PFL members Morehead State and Davidson exposure in solid TV markets. Fans in the Washington D.C. and Baltimore markets will see the JMU-Morehead game on NBC Sports Washington Plus, while fans in the Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point market will see Elon-Davidson on myTV48, a network that reaches 635,000 households.
Win or lose, these are big wins for exposure for a conference that generally does not garner much buzz for being a non-scholarship league not named the Ivy League.
This weekend, we will see our first weekend with a significant slate of FCS games, and while many conference matchups dot the slate, these non-conference games are significant for reasons other than just being an early season tune-up for championship contenders. For the reasons above and much more, paycheck games this Spring are interesting element of this already unprecedented season.