They're called "guarantee games," but that term's a bit misleading.
The 2008 college football schedule includes over 50 examples of schools from one of the so-called "Big Six" conferences hosting a Division I-AA program, including 19 this week. In each case, the Division I-AA school receives a six-figure guaranteed payday for the right to give the big-time program an additional home game. Presumably, the big-time program also is paying to get a guaranteed win.
DOES THE PAYOUT PAY OFF?
The meeting between Jacksonville State (featuring former LSU quarterback Ryan Perrilloux) and Georgia Tech is one of 10 notable matchups featuring Division I-AA teams and programs from so-called "Big Six" conferences.
Jacksonville State at Georgia Tech Payout: $200,000 The buzz: This marks the I-AA debut of Jacksonville State quarterback and LSU exile Ryan Perrilloux, who was named the MVP of the SEC Championship Game last season after helping the Tigers beat Tennessee 21-14.
Appalachian State at LSU Payout: $550,000 The buzz: The reigning Division I-A national champions square off against the three-time defending I-AA national champs.
Youngstown State at Ohio State Payout: $650,000 The buzz: Ohio State coach Jim Tressel led Youngstown State to Division I-AA national championships in 1991, '93, '94 and '97 plus runner-up finishes in '92 and '99 before heading to Columbus.
Chattanooga at Oklahoma Payout: $475,000 The buzz: Chattanooga hired athletic director Rick Hart away from Oklahoma, where he spent seven years in a variety of administrative positions within the Sooners' athletic department.
Eastern Washington at Texas Tech Payout: $450,000 The buzz: Here's an example of how supply and demand can affect the price of a game. Texas Tech scheduled this game in February and had to pay a premium after a planned meeting with Tulsa fell through.
Coastal Carolina at Penn State Payout: $450,000 The buzz: Coastal Carolina athletic director Warren "Moose" Koegel is a former Penn State co-captain who played on the Nittany Lions' undefeated 1968 and '69 Orange Bowl championship teams before launching a six-year NFL career.
Maine at Iowa Payout: $450,000 The buzz: Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz held the same position at Maine from 1990-92. His offensive coordinator at Maine was Ken Cosgrove, who now is the Black Bears' coach. And Maine defensive coordinator Robb Smith was a graduate assistant on Ferentz's Iowa staff from 1999-2001.
Chattanooga at Florida State Payout: $460,000 The buzz: Chattanooga athletic director Rick Hart is the son of Dave Hart, who held the same position at Florida State from 1995-2007. Rick Hart said the family connection didn't have much bearing on the scheduling of this game. Both teams simply had an opening on that particular date.
Massachusetts at Texas Tech Payout: $450,000 The buzz: One of the nation's most explosive passing attacks goes against one of the top secondaries in the I-AA ranks. Massachusetts senior Sean Smalls is an outstanding cover corner who could boost his NFL stock tremendously if he does a decent job defending Michael Crabtree.
Cal Poly at Wisconsin Payout: $500,000 The buzz: This game is unusual because it happens at the end of the season instead of at the beginning, when you see most I-A vs. I-AA matchups. If Wisconsin finds itself in national title contention at the end of the season, a victory over Cal Poly won't exactly help the Badgers state a case to pollsters that they belong in the championship game.
It hasn't quite worked out that way in recent seasons.
Montana State picked up $275,000 and a 19-10 victory when it traveled to Colorado two seasons ago. Duke got shut out by Richmond the same day. Northwestern fell to New Hampshire and Indiana lost to Southern Illinois later that season.
But all those upsets paled in comparison to Appalachian State's season-opening 34-32 stunner over fifth-ranked Michigan last season. Appalachian State earned $400,000 for the right to become the first I-AA team ever to beat a ranked I-A team.
Appalachian State has won three consecutive I-AA championships, but none of those titles earned the Mountaineers the type of publicity they received after the Michigan game. Appalachian State will try its luck once again Saturday when it faces defending national champion LSU in Baton Rouge, La.
The Mountaineers are receiving $750,000 for making the trip. The game already featured a $550,000 guarantee; when LSU moved the game up from its originally scheduled 2009 date, it added $200,000 to the price tag.
"I think you'd be naïve to expect you're going to go out and pull the Michigan deal all the time," Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore said. "There were a lot of circumstances against Michigan. We played well. They didn't play very well. … I don't think they realized we had that kind of speed. LSU's a completely different deal. We played LSU in 2005 (a 24-0 LSU victory). They know about us. We know about them."
Appalachian State's victory isn't necessarily a sign that more of these so-called guarantee games won't turn out as expected. If anything, it could make upsets more difficult because any coach at a major program need only mention that game to make sure his team doesn't overlook a I-AA opponent.
If the vast majority of these games result in blowouts, why do the Division I-AA teams continue scheduling these games?
It's a matter of dollars and sense.
Chattanooga is receiving a total of $935,000 for facing Oklahoma and Florida State this season. Even after paying for the trips to Norman and Tallahassee, Chattanooga still should have about $800,000 remaining.
While part of that money is going toward the school's base athletic budget, Chattanooga officials also are using the windfall to upgrade the football team's antiquated video equipment and enhance the locker-room facilities.
"We felt we were deficient in those areas, and this was the best and easiest way to go and acquire those things," Chattanooga athletic director Rick Hart said.
The price tags for these games generally are even greater if a school from a "Big Six" program hosts another I-A school from a lesser conference. For example, Texas is paying Florida Atlantic $900,000 for Saturday's matchup. UAB is getting $750,000 to visit South Carolina on Sept. 27.
Although there are a few notable exceptions, most of the I-AA schools aren't receiving more than $450,000 for their so-called guarantee games. The price tag occasionally can vary based on travel expenses. For example, Chattanooga is receiving $475,000 from Oklahoma compared to $460,000 from Florida State because the trip to Norman will cost more money.
If a major-college program still has a date to fill late in the scheduling process, the simple law of supply-and-demand also can raise the price of a game.
Chattanooga is one of five I-AA schools playing two "Big Six" opponents this season. The others are The Citadel (Florida and Clemson), Eastern Washington (Texas Tech and Colorado), Montana State (Minnesota and Kansas State) and UT-Martin (Auburn and USF).
UT-Martin is receiving $750,000 for its two "guarantee" games, which will cost about $95,000 in travel expenses. UT-Martin athletic director Phil Dane said the school planned to use the money for weight-room and stadium improvements, among other things.
Dane said the financial advantages of these arrangements make it essential to schedule at least one I-A opponent, even though he'd rather not do it.
"I don't personally like the whole concept," Dane said, "but it has become a way of life because of budget pressures."
UT-Martin has scheduled games against NAIA schools Baker (Kan.) University and Concordia (Ala.) College to balance out the likely losses to Auburn and USF. Dane would rather have a schedule made up entirely of I-AA programs.
"I don't think we're in this business to play people where it's a mismatch, whether it's up or down," Dane said. "We have all the intentions in the world of playing as hard as we can and ultimately win, but the stats are there to prove that 98 percent of the time the (I-AA) team doesn't win."
But there are other benefits to these types of games other than the obvious financial incentives. Hart noted that I-AA players like the idea of playing against traditional powers they grew up watching on TV.
"Our student-athletes are excited," Hart said. "We use it as an advantage not only with our current team but with recruits. They're pumped up as they can be to play in front of 90,000 people and see how they compare with elite programs.''
And as Appalachian State proved last season, there's always the chance to pull off the kind of victory that can turn the entire college football world upside down.