TUSCALOOSA, Alabama — They’re called money games, and they make cash for both teams.
Alabama will host Western Carolina on Saturday, and even though the Crimson Tide fan base might greet that matchup with a collective “meh,” it’s a home game and home games mean money for the school.
According to TiqIQ, the average listed ticket price for Alabama games is $205, but that includes prime games such as Alabama’s home game against Auburn.
But if you take the cheapest ticket for Saturday’s game ($55) and multiply that times about 90,000 non-student tickets, that’s nearly $5 million just in ticket sales. That doesn’t count higher-priced seats, donations to be included in priority ticket programs, concessions, parking and souvenir sales.
It’s a good thing for opponents such as Western Carolina, too. The school will receive $475,000 in return for playing at Alabama and not requesting the Tide visit the Catamounts’ home stadium. Western Kentucky received $650,000 to come to Tuscaloosa this year, and Florida Atlantic received $1 million.
“At our level, where our program is right now, it’s something you have to do,” Western Carolina coach Mark Speir said. “You always like to play one. It’s good for recruiting to be able to say that you’re going to play the University of Alabama. A lot of young players, they like the thought of playing those games.”
But the money is what Western Carolina wants most, even if a beating on the football field is the price. Speir, the first-year head coach, said the football program already has figured out how to spend the money from Saturday’s game.
“The bottom line in this whole world is it runs on the almighty dollar and that’s a way, when you go play those (money games), you can move your program forward with things that you need,” Speir said. “We needed a brand new video editing system. We were archaic here — 20 years behind with our video editing system.
“As a result of what we’re doing this year, we were able to go get state-of-the-art video equipment.”
Western Carolina will make a return trip to Alabama in 2014. Next year, the Catamounts will play money games at Middle Tennessee State on Aug. 31, Virginia Tech on Sept. 7 and Auburn on Oct. 12. Speir said he hopes to cut the trip to Auburn and play only two money games next season.
“When you’re still young in your program, (money games) give you some opportunities to go do some things,” Speir said. “When you get your programs, your players and your systems where you want, and then you’re not playing as many.”
For Alabama, it hasn’t been easy lately to find opponents willing to take a money game on a particular date required. The Crimson Tide needs three money games each year, which fills out a schedule that includes eight Southeastern Conference contests and one non-conference game that’s played against a major opponent.
For 2013, Alabama didn’t receive its SEC schedule until last month, which gives the school less than a year to firm up money games for next season. The Tide has money games set for next season against Georgia State on Oct. 5 and Chattanooga on Nov. 23. The school has not announced the third game.
Also, when the conference released the 2013 schedule, the announcement indicated the 2014 schedule wouldn’t be discussed until the league meetings next spring.
“It’s difficult because if you’re not willing to go home and home with somebody, if you’re playing a neutral-site game, you don’t want to go home and home with other people,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said earlier this year when asked about money games.
“You’ve got to get people to come here and play. That’s been very difficult for the next few years because the SEC’s got to tell us who we’re going to play and when before we can go and schedule other games.”
Saban said he would prefer an overhaul in the scheduling philosophy in college football. First, he would like nine SEC games instead of eight, which he said would allow every player who stays four years to play a game in every SEC stadium.
Also, he would like to see major college football reduced to 60 to 70 teams that are required to play each other.
“The most important goal is to keep people coming to games,” Saban recently, adding that he understands when some people aren’t excited about some of the non-conference matchups.
Saban presented another benefit to that system, although he made this point before last Saturday’s loss to Texas A&M: With a system like that combined with a playoff, losing one game wouldn’t necessarily rule you out of the national championship race.