Harrington Blog: Scheduling

How do economics come into play when Penn State is putting together its football schedule?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Welcome to the return of the FOS Blog, where FightOnState.com staffers and contributors offer their opinions on Penn State athletics. Those opinions do not necessarily reflect the overall stance of the site.

Scheduling Economics

They say money makes the world go around. We'll, it clearly makes the football world rotate, as well. Recently there have been pockets of criticism among Penn State fans regarding the Nittany Lions' 2009 nonconference schedule, featuring Akron, Syracuse, Temple and Eastern Illinois.

What is often overlooked, though, are the economics of scheduling. In a perfect world, money simply wouldn't matter. But if that were the case then college football would have a playoff system rather than being the only sport on the planet whose champion is decided by computers and coaches.

Money is a consideration and a big consideration for Penn State. In fact, PSU nets about $4 million per home football game. Penn State generally keeps the entire gate take for out-of-conference games, but don't think the Big Ten doesn't come calling for its share when league play starts. The conference places a 35 percent "tax" on the revenues from each home football game, with a $950,000 cap. Currently, only PSU, Michigan, Ohio State and maybe Wisconsin hit that cap on an annual basis.

One-time games, called "guaranteed" games (because the opponent gets a guaranteed payout, not because it's a guaranteed win) pays the opposing teams around $500,000 from PSU. This payment can generally range from $400,000 to $600,000, depending on the negotiations.

For home-home series with a more well-known opponent, teams will swap payments to cover travel expenses that total about $150,000.

So let's take a look at the economics of the 2009 home nonconference schedule and what PSU will net (approximately) for each game. Sources tell us Penn State reaps about $4 million per home game. The figures below are arrived at by subtracting $500,000 for guarantee games and $150,000 for games that are part of a series:

Akron: $3,500,000
Syracuse: $3,850,000
Temple: $3,850,000
Eastern Illinois: $3,500,000

All told, PSU will earn about $14.7 million from these nonconference games, a pretty good year for the athletic department's coffers to support the slew of nonrevenue sports on campus.

Now, let's have some fun and mix things up a bit and say the Nittany Lions will play four powerhouse teams in home-home series, with just one of those games were played on the road. Then the numbers break down like this:

Georgia: $3,850,000
Nebraska: $3,850,000
Miami: $3,850,000

That would give Penn State $11.5 million in payments. Not bad, but still $3.2 million short of the first example.

Now PSU has and will have these "down" revenue years (look at 2010 where it has Alabama away and will take in only about $10.5 million from Youngstown, Kent and Temple). So the program feels it must make up for the loss in other years, like this coming season.

Typically, the Lions tend to take a balanced approach with the schedule (like most other major football programs), with a mix of guaranteed games and home-home series. This coming year is a rare "best-case" scenario for the program financially with four non-conference home games, which has only once previously since PSU started Big Ten play in 1993 (2002 - Central Florida, Nebraska, Louisiana Tech, Virginia).

So while many Penn State fans are disappointed with the nonconference slate in 2009, they can take solace in the fact that it is clearly a scheduling anomaly. And it is also helping the financial well-being of the program and the athletic department.

Talk about it in the TAP Forum.

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