HUNTINGTON — For years, athletic programs have scheduled football contests several seasons out in an effort to build up to a game.
In terms of the Group of Five teams, that often comes with a financial guarantee for playing Power Five teams in the non-conference portion of the schedule.
Such games — commonly referred to as “pay” games — can be a financial boon for programs, accounting for anywhere from 5 to 10% of athletic department revenue for a fiscal year.
With COVID-19 spikes happening nationwide, many conferences — including the Big Ten and PAC-12 — have already made the decision to eliminate non-conference games, leaving several programs from outside those leagues searching for ways to recoup some of the money.
Whether that means legal battles or simply trying to replace games, it is a scenario that could force teams to schedule contests weeks before they occur instead of the normal protocol of scheduling out for several years.
“If things continue to move in this direction, it appears there might be a lot of scheduling going on in the next month,” said Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick, a member of the NCAA’s Football Oversight Committee. “There will be a lot of scrambling going on in scheduling.”
From that standpoint, Marshall athletics is in a good position because the football program did not have any pay games in 2020 and all teams on the Herd’s schedule are still involved in non-conference play.
“Right now we have a full 12-game schedule and no one has given me indication that will change,” Hamrick said. “Until that indication comes, we’re moving forward as if we have a full schedule.”
The team’s two non-conference road contests — East Carolina and Ohio — are part of home-and-home agreements, while the two non-conference home games involve nationally ranked Boise State and ACC member Pitt coming to Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Hamrick confirmed that there are also buyouts attached to the home games with Boise State and Pitt if they choose not to honor the contract.
The opt-out clause for the Pitt game is valued at a $1 million while Boise State’s tab for canceling its trip to Huntington is $500,000.
West Virginia is also keeping a watchful eye on the situation because its non-conference schedule features ACC foe Florida State and Big Ten member Maryland.
The Maryland game is already a wash and the ACC may have some rivalry contests in terms of the 2020 non-conference slate, but it is not certain the WVU-Florida State opener would stay intact. Chances are, it would not.
Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek said publicly this week that the ACC, Big 12 and SEC are “all on the same page” with scheduling in terms of non-conference games, especially in the sense of rivalries and games that would boost each league’s profile.
However, West Virginia Athletic Director Shane Lyons, the chairman of the Football Oversight Committee, also laid out that football as a whole right now is in jeopardy, and the focus is to make sure that a season will be possible before making decisions on any games.
“We’re entering the fourth quarter of a football game and we’re down by three touchdowns,” Lyons said in a report by Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger.
Hamrick said the Football Oversight Committee and various conferences are taking a wait-and-see approach with COVID-19 numbers to see if they normalize over the next two weeks.
“We’re just waiting to see what happens with the landscape of college football,” Hamrick said.
Conference USA Commissioner Judy MacLeod also spoke on the league’s stance for football in fall 2020, saying “We’ve made a commitment to move forward cautiously. We’re in a constant state of re-evaluating everything. We know there will be a time when we have to make difficult decisions.”
That time is by the end of July, when many teams convene for the start of fall practice.
Marshall opens its 2020 preseason practice on July 31 while West Virginia’s first allowable date of preseason practice is Aug. 7.