Devil In the Details

Later today, official confirmation of a seven-game football series between West Virginia University and Marshall will come from Governor Joe Manchin and officials from both schools. The key components of the deal, which are also scheduled to be forthcoming, will lie in the financial compensation for both schools, and will determine which side is truly the "victor" before the games are even played.

Four games in the seven game series are scheduled to be played at WVU, with two games at Marshall. The seventh, slated for 2009, will go to the school that wins the majority of the first three games of the series, which is set to begin in 2006.

Although that setup causes problems in and of itself (more on that in a forthcoming column), the details that will be of greatest interest to WVU fans will be those of financial compensation. What will the visiting team get paid? How will tickets be allocated? In the unlikely event of television coverage outside the state, how will TV monies be divided?

In recent deals involving multiple home games for one road visit, West Virginia typically has paid $200,000-$250,000 to the visiting team. That figure, which still allows WVU to make enough of a profit to fund its self-supporting athletic program, probably can't be increased a great deal if the Mountaineers are to continue to stay in the black in this era of rising costs.

One of the main sticking points preventing the deal in the past has been just this issue. Marshall, which has received large payouts for single game trips to venues such as Florida and Ohio State, expected similar amounts from West Virginia. WVU, unwilling to cast away a large percentage of its profits from a home game, declined those offers.

For now, it appears as if Gov. Manchin's involvement has forced West Virginia to back down from its three-for-one offer. At best, WVU would come out of this deal with five home games against two for Marshall. Whether or not the finances of such a deal are palatable to the state's flagship institution remains to be seen.

Without a doubt, Marshall and its small but vocal media contingent will crow over the announcement of the series and paint it as yet another victory for the Thundering Herd, just as they did with the fact that they held the lead once in the 1997 game against WVU. That bluster aside, the real determination will like in the finances of the deal, which should be known shortly.

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