UMass football: Big $1.6 million pay day coming this weekend for Minutemen against Penn State

  • Penn State head coach James Franklin and quarterback Drew Allar (15) celebrate a 31-0 win over Iowa earlier this season in State College, Pa. The Nittany Lions will pay UMass a reported $1.6 million for Saturday’s game at Beaver Stadium. AP FILE

Staff Writer
Published: 10/11/2023 6:31:04 PM
Modified: 10/11/2023 6:29:57 PM

Saturday stands as the seventh time in the last four years — including the second time this season alone — that the UMass football program will be paid more than $1 million to travel to play at a Power 5 program.

The Minutemen hit the road for State College this weekend for a matchup with No. 6 Penn State. Why does UMass continue to schedule games it has no real chance of winning instead of playing teams on its level to increase the chance of making a bowl game?

Well, the money coming in certainly a healthy part of the answer to those questions.

Although the Minutemen stand little to no chance at taking down the Nittany Lions (they’re currently 42½-point underodgs), the program is rolling in $1.6 million from its trip to Happy Valley. Earlier this season, they earned $1.95 in a 59-14 loss at Auburn.

Penn State head coach James Franklin spoke openly in his press conference this week about why his program schedules “buy games.” Saturday is the second Nittany Lions contest this season in which they’ve paid over $1 million to their opponent (Delaware).

With the current four-team College Football Playoff, most teams must navigate through the regular season with an undefeated record – or no more than one loss (no two-loss team has ever made the CFP) – to even be considered for the top four. And because the Big 10 is filled with perennial powerhouses, and is only going to expand as conference realignment conversations continue, these (likely) guaranteed wins are important.

“You've got to do whatever you possibly can to give yourself a chance, number one, to be undefeated at the end of the season,” Franklin said on Tuesday. “With a bigger playoff, there's probably a little bit more wiggle room in terms of, right now it's kind of undefeated or at-most one loss, and then on top of that, if you're not scheduling to be undefeated, you're scheduling to have the least amount of losses possible to give yourself a chance to be in the Playoff.”

Almost all of the previous CFP champions have written hefty checks to welcome inferior opponents to their campus with open arms. Franklin understands it’s a strategy to increase wins, and it’s one he plans to keep using for the foreseeable future. A couple teams within the Big 10 have backed out of Group of 5 games over the next few years, potentially in correspondence with talks of expanding the Playoff to 12 teams. This would allow for more two or three-loss teams to be considered.

“I think I've been pretty clear on where we should schedule and how we should schedule philosophically, and again, I think the data backs that up,” Franklin said. “I think this actually got brought up because people, somebody else was asking about our schedule. I'll leave it at that. But no, I'm just stating some, I can't necessarily speak for what they're doing and why they're doing it and how they're doing it because I don't sit in those meetings, but if I had to guess, I would say, yeah, it's probably, I don't know if I'd describe it as a reaction [to expanding the Playoff], but a strategy.” 

While it’s an easy explanation for the big schools that have the luxury to pay for wins as to why they do it, Group of 5 schools and independents like UMass can’t just look at it as a heavy source of income. Sure it helps, but these games have larger impacts on the smaller programs. 

For example, the Minutemen suffered a plethora of injuries against Auburn, headlined by starting quarterback Taisun Phommachanh who went on to miss the next three games. All three of those games Phommachanh missed may have had a different outcome had he been healthy and playing (UMass went 0-3 in his absence, each contest being a one-possession game at some point in the fourth quarter). On top of the injuries, it’s essentially a promise that UMass is going to lose these games. The Minutemen have been close to upsetting Power 5 programs in the past (i.e. South Carolina in 2016, Tennessee and Mississippi State in 2017), but more often than not they’ve been overpowered and outclassed (a 59-3 loss to Florida State in 2021 comes to mind).

On the other hand, the money has allowed for UMass to improve its facilities and add things like the Football Performance Center that overlooks McGuirk Alumni Stadium’s north end zone.

Regardless of opinion, the Minutemen’s 2024 schedule possesses two more “buy games” with SEC schools Georgia and Mississippi State, and in 2025 they travel to Iowa and Missouri. As long as the income maintains a steady seven figures, the pay for play theme isn’t going away anytime soon.


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