Operating on a budget of about $4.5 million that covers everything from coaching salaries to equipment, game operations and scholarships, Savannah State University in Savannah, Georgia is struggling to stay afloat. To survive the existing financial climate, Savannah State, like most other HBCU football programs, have to find different ways to make money.
Next season one of Savannah State’s largest revenue streams, $855,000, will come from money games, games people in HBCU circles label as a short-term fix to a long-term problem.
A new policy, in which major college football moves to the four-team College Football Playoffs, however puts cash-strapped HBCUs in a tight position, according to reports.
Without the big paydays from FBS teams, HBCU athletics departments will have to stretch their budgets even further than what they already have. According to documents obtained by ESPN.com through state open records laws, Savannah State’s entire athletics department is operating on a budget of about $4.5 million this year, which is among the lowest in NCAA Division I. The budget covers everything from coaching salaries to equipment, game operations and scholarships.
By comparison, the University of Georgia will pay its 10 on-field football coaches about $6.4 million this year. UGA has an overall athletics budget of more than $93 million, with nearly $16 million dedicated solely to football.
“For us, keeping up with everybody else went away a long time ago,” [Southwestern Athletic Conference commissioner Duer] Sharp said. “Now, it’s about being the best we can be. I think we’ve done a good job of seeing where we are.”
The Savannah State Tigers will receive $855,000 by playing road games at Middle Tennessee State, FBS transitional foe Georgia Southern and BYU.
The Tigers, who move to NCAA Division I – FCS in 2000, is one of a handful of HBCUs playing money games in order to create some stability for the university athletic department in the long-term.
Last year the Florida A&M Rattlers suffered a blowout loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes, losing 76-0 in a mismatch ex-FAMU coach William “Billy” Joe called the “prostituting” of HBCU football programs.
FAMU received $900,000 in guarantee money.
“Athletic directors of HBCUs, at the behest of fans, alums and football coaches,” said Joe in a Facebook post on money games, “please cease and desist with these unscrupulous and scandalous games; presidents of HBCUs, stop genuflecting to the almighty dollar because you are putting your student athletes in harm’s way with these shameful games.”
“Gentlemen, stop prostituting your football programs out to the highest major college bidder when it is more than obvious that the major college teams will have its way with your players. Don’t play these games at the football player’s expense when there is no expense (financial reward) forthcoming to them,” Joe said.
Paul Quinn says no to football
Historically black Paul Quinn College in Dallas, Texas is an exception to the rule.
President Michael Sorrell made headlines when he opted to cut the university’s football program for an organic farm.
The farm produced 17,500 lbs. of food for Cowboys fans this season and gives students overseeing the project $10 an hour to work on the field.
“We are standing on the precipice of an economic day of reckoning in higher education,” said Sorrell, adding that operating a football program is something economically unsound for Paul Quinn. “I think there will be more schools to do this. I think we’re just early.”
Though Paul Quinn is reaping rewards for its move to equip the university’s football field with farm crops, Savannah State and other HBCUs aren’t willing to wave the white flag just yet.
“We’ve got to start building a program,” Savannah State football coach Earnest Wilson said on schools like Boise State before it was Boise State. “We have to do what they did at Texas Tech. We have to do what they did at Boise State and San Jose State. You have to start from somewhere. If you don’t have a vision, you’re dead.”
But Editor of HBCU Gameday Steven J Gaither said getting broke off to get beat down isn’t the solution:
“These games reinforce all the stereotypes that HBCUs fight against every day. Money games make HBCUs look broke, unable to compete and simply outclassed by majority institutions,” Gaither said.
Tommy Meade Jr. is HBCU Buzz‘s Editor in chief. Follow him on Twitter