The San Francisco Chronicle recently published an article in which it reported the astronomical profits the San Jose State Spartans made from specific football games in the past few years. In these 14 games, the Spartans made anywhere between $200,000 and $1.6 million from each affair, but their opponent has always won.
In collegiate sports, an underpowered Division I football team will sometimes accept money from more elite programs in order to get the opportunity to play against them. These are called “revenue games,” and they are vital in financing these smaller Division I programs.
Although revenue games are largely noncompetitive, with San Jose State’s 56-0 loss to the University of Texas at Austin last season being the epitome of this, they do help the school’s sports programs sustain themselves.
This self-sustaining aspect is essential in an era of college sports that has seen the cost of competition rise higher and higher every season.
Students often complain about how much money their institution is willing to dole out in athletic pursuits; revenue games are a solution to this complaint. These games make money for colleges in addition to the funds already coming out of student pockets. This would be at the expense of their school’s athletic success –– a trade-off that some developing programs would make in a heartbeat. For some schools that use this funding for other athletic programs, removal of these “money games” could mean the end of all their sports programs. A loss of sports would certainly be detrimental to any school in financial and cultural terms.
A common argument against revenue games characterizes them as being unfair to the players on the losing team; this idea has been refuted by players and coaches alike. In reality, collegiate players have often reported that they enjoy the challenge of playing against the best players and teams in the country and trying to pull off an amazing upset. Playing against bigger schools also lends a bigger audience to the smaller school’s athletes, through which they can gain recognition for their performances. Strong performances in revenue games could also potentially help small-school athletes achieve their goal of making it to the next level of their sport.
For coaches and staff, revenue games act as a chance to see what kind of season they can expect from their team –– especially if the game comes early in their schedule. If the team can hold their own against elite competition, it is probably a good sign for their chances of getting into a bowl game or playoffs at the end of the year.
Athletic directors can look at these games as situations in which their football program cannot be negatively impacted and can only stand to gain something. Their team is not expected to win, so if they do win, it creates excitement that would not have occurred otherwise. Even if they don’t win, the team still pockets the money and walks away with extra funding for their school.
Hypothetically, if USF was to still have a football team that played in revenue games, it would only serve to benefit the University and its budget. This year, San Jose State’s football team will make their school $1.525 million from revenue games. If USF had an extra $1.525 million at their disposal, it could mean more scholarships for student athletes, better facilities for athletes and regular students alike (such as an upgrade to Negoesco Stadium) and more money to be spent on the best coaches and staff to propel teams to higher levels of competition.
This is not to mention the cultural impact revenue games could have on school spirit at USF. Students are known to show up in greater numbers to games against higher-level competition with “big name” recognition. This effect would be amplified if it were applied to football, the most popular sport in the U.S. and one that college students are known to get fanatical about. A win against the odds for USF’s hypothetical football team could create a domino effect, sparking interest in the rest of the sports teams at the University, in turn generating even more profit and fanfare for the athletic department.
In the long-term, revenue games help a school improve their programs, both for the football team and the other teams at the respective university. Taking a bad loss in the present is a necessary evil to improve in the future. It is a business decision –– one that is more than justified when realizing that college athletics is a business at its core. Increasing revenue is the pathway to fielding a more competitive team in the long term. In this way, the very problem with revenue games can also be solved by the games themselves if given the time to spend the money proactively.
Revenue games may go against the competitive nature of sports, but these games represent an opportunity that simply has too many benefits to be passed up.