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ECU balancing pay-for-play games

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East Carolina's Chris Hairston dives into the end zone for a touchdown against Towson last season. (File photo/The Daily Reflector)

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By Ronnie Woodward
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

In college football, all nonconference schedules are not created equally.

East Carolina has embraced the growing pay-for-play trend to earn big paychecks, mainly from Southeastern Conference schools, and pay Football Championship Subdivision teams to visit Greenville. FCS member Western Carolina is doing that next week in the season opener at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

ECU will pay WCU $330,000, and last year's opener against Towson cost the Pirates $320,000 in guaranteed money. The week after playing Towson, the Pirates earned $1.2 million from Florida in a pay-for-play contest against the Gators in Gainesville, Fla.

ECU also is getting $850,000 from South Carolina this year for its trip to Columbia, S.C., in what is not a one-time guaranteed payment setup, but part of a five-game package that calls for payments by both sides for future games. That contract was signed in 2014 when South Carolina gave East Carolina $1.2 million to move that year's game from Charlotte to Columbia.

“When you're talking dollars in the hundreds of thousands or in the million dollar range, it's always a big deal," ECU executive associate athletics director Nick Floyd said Tuesday morning. "I know that the business of intercollegiate athletics has grown tremendously in recent years, and this is a part of it. ... It's significant for people on both sides of the equation."

The Pirates also play at Virginia Tech and host N.C. State in nonconference action this season. Floyd described those games as part of traditional home and home arrangements where money is swapped by both sides in balanced fashion.

Pay-for-play games typically are scheduled at the start or end of the regular season and can be especially damaging if the favored team loses, like South Carolina did to The Citadel a year ago and No. 5 ranked Michigan did in 2007 against Appalachian State in what is considered one of the biggest college football upsets ever.

ECU topped upset-minded Towson 28-20 to begin 2015 and nearly upended the Gators during Week 2 in a 31-24 UF win.

"We're going to try for home and home (series) whenever possible, but when guaranteed opportunities are made available to us and we believe those games can benefit us either from an exposure perspective or a victory perspective, we are going to look at it," Pirate athletics director Jeff Compher said. "It also has to be worth it from an opportunity perspective. Believe me, Western (Carolina) thinks this is an opportunity for them to win, and when we went to Florida, we believed that to be an opportunity to win.”

In addition to the ECU game, the Catamounts close the regular season by playing at South Carolina.

Compher said negotiations for pay-for-play games are not as vigorous as it might seem on the surface, mainly because of precedent and both sides are usually aware of the established market.

Since beginning the 2011 season with a game against South Carolina in Charlotte, the Pirates' openers have been in Greenville against Appalachian State, Old Dominion, N.C. Central, Towson and now Western Carolina.

Beginning against a lower-level team continues for the Pirates next season with a game against James Madison and in 2018 versus N.C. A&T. In 2019, East Carolina is slated for a Week 1 matchup at N.C. State.

Compher and Floyd said keeping pay-for-play opponents regional is important in terms of payments and negotiations.

"When they can bus in, that's a big thing," Compher said. "The minute you get on a plane, it changes the game."

 

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 or follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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