Money, romance behind the game

It is college football’s version of money ball.

Better known as guaranteed games, these games contain real value to the smaller schools. They are a huge payday.

Saturday night McNeese State drives east to Baton Rouge for a football game and paycheck. The $600,000 the Cowboys are getting to bump helmet’s with the big boys in Louisiana football is a much-needed bonus for a program that has to watch every penny.

“These games are critical to everyone at our level,” said McNeese Athletic Director Heath Schroyer. “These are revenue streams that we all need. You have to play these games to pay for programs.”

McNeese has a history of not only keeping some of these games against Football Bowl Subdivision powers close but have racked up a few wins. The Cowboys are not alone.

Last weekend Montana, from the Football Championship Subdivision level, knocked off Power Five member Washington, which at the time was ranked 20th in the nation. Then there was UC Davis beating Tulsa.

So anything can happen.

One thing that will happen is McNeese will get a big fat check to bank. The rest is the romance of sport with hopes of upsets and dreams of stunning the college football world. The check is the reality.

There is talk these games could be going away as the bigger schools move further and further away from the pack.

It has ADs like Schroyer worried.

“With all the movement going on in college football you have to be concerned,” he said. “Keeping these games is a top priority on the list of schools at our level. We need them.”

While it is about the money there is more to it. Players love to play these games.

“We get a chance to go against the best,” said McNeese receiver Josh Matthews. “You get a chance to show what you can do.”

Matthews was talking about getting pro scouts interested, which makes sense. For the program and the school it is getting free attention to recruit future players and students.

“These games give you national exposure and national attention,” Schroyer said. “It is a way to get your brand out not just locally but all over and to new places. And our kids want to play in those games and in those arenas and in those stadiums.”

On paper McNeese and LSU should be a mismatch. The Tigers are one of the nation’s elite programs, two years removed from a national championship and play in a stadium with more than 100,000 fans.

The Cowboys are simply trying to get back on their feet after a year of hurricanes, freezes, floods and coronavirus pandemic. Their stadium still doesn’t have lights up after the storms.

But that is what makes sports romantic. Anything can happen and on one night even the little guy can dream big.

Hope is these games aren’t leaving us soon. Everybody deserves their one chance to shine.

And every little program deserves its one chance a year to cash out with a jackpot.

Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese State athletics for the American Press. Email him at jimgazzolo@yahoo.com

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