College football is sometimes less about X’s and O’s and more about money. That couldn’t be more evident this week, as Eastern Michigan is preparing to play Arkansas on Saturday. Kickoff is 6 p.m. CDT and will be televised on ESPNU.
In exchange for a sure-fire homecoming victory over 0-7 EMU, Arkansas – a bottom feeder at 3-4 in its powerhouse Southeastern Conference – will hand over $650,000. This is commonplace in college football, whether it’s ethical or not.
Take FCS Delaware State as an example. It forfeited a conference game just for the chance – and a hefty $550,000 check, of course – to get drubbed 63-6 by Michigan on Oct. 17 at the Big House.
Sure, there are the occasional upsets, but they are few and far between. A game like this for EMU isn’t good for a new staff trying to turn around a historically losing program.
It falls in the heart of the Mid-American Conference schedule in which EMU at least has a chance to compete and even win. EMU opened this week as a 35-point underdog, but the spread has since grown to 38.
“You don’t want that,” EMU coach Ron English said of the scheduling. “We have to play it, and we’re going to go give it our best effort.
“All we can focus on, in my opinion, is doing the best that we can at what we do and then whatever happens, happens. I think that’s the case whether you’re overmatched or undermatched.”
It has to be a great experience for the EMU players to play in front of a big crowd since it’s not often – if ever – they get that opportunity at Rynearson Stadium. Arkansas had 72,559 fans at its last home game in a win over Auburn on Oct. 10.
EMU won’t have that many fans in its five home games combined. It has averaged 5,450 and that number has gone down considerably each game. Its last one is against Western Michigan on Nov. 14.
College football is a business first and foremost, and big paydays are part of the reason EMU competes at the highest level. Those checks help fund other sports at the university like swimming and cross country, which have been good over the years.
English said his team was at its “lowest” point Saturday after blowing a 14-point lead against then-winless Ball State. I don’t see how a Halloween date with Arkansas will help lift spirits, pending an improbable upset.
The players were lively, especially during a 2-minute drill, at Wednesday’s practice. If I didn’t know, it’d been tough to guess the team hadn’t won a game.
“Everybody’s working hard, we just haven’t seen the fruits of it yet,” English said. “We just want to keep the focus where it should be, which is getting better.”