Big-Time Powers Pay, the Pulverize but Is It Fair?
Alesia, Mark, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Mark Alesia Daily Herald Sports Feature Writer
It's that time again in college football: rent-a-patsy.
If you're on the wrong end of these encounters, your defensive statistics - and limbs - are in particular peril.
But after the home-team alumni have swigged their booze and the stat guys have wiped their brows, your athletic-department accountant gets to cash a six-figure check.
"Unfortunately, that's why we do a lot of things in Division I-A," said Grant Teaff, head of the American Football Coaches Association.
So you get games like Tennessee-Chattanooga at Auburn, The Citadel at Miami, Georgia Southern at Florida ...
And, today, Northern Illinois at Penn State.
The spread: 44 points.
The guarantee: $350,000.
First-year NIU coach Joe Novak and third-year athletic director Cary Groth inherited the Penn State game from the previous administration that struggled to fill an 11-game schedule as an independent.
"Physically, no, I don't think it's fair," said Novak, whose school is moving in a different direction next season by rejoining the Mid-American Conference.
But Northern's situation is hardly unique.
Here in the land where universities also are in the sports business, some have trouble keeping up.
For a $450,000 guarantee, Nevada-Las Vegas opened the season at Tennessee, losing 62-3 as the Rebels watched their running backs get caught from behind by defensive linemen.
Later this season, UNLV plays at Brigham Young for a $225,000 guarantee.
Rice coach Ken Hatfield left the field steaming after last week's 70-7 loss at Ohio State, during which the Buckeyes threw deep late in the third quarter. The game matched the largest and smallest schools in Division I-A by enrollment.
"Somewhere along the line you say, 'Does the end justify the means?'" said Hatfield, whose school received a $400,000 guarantee. "I never have thought it did. But apparently the way the situation is now, it's almost whatever end it takes to be sure you're in that (national championship) game."
A year ago, national champion Nebraska played host to Pacific for the second straight season, but at least the Cornhuskers couldn't be accused of running up the score in a 49-7 victory.
They used 102 players.
Big paydays aren't the only reason for these games. Easy victories are part of it, too.
When coach Terry Bowden was hired at Auburn in 1993, the school was talking with Nebraska and Texas A&M about scheduling games, according to the Birmingham Post-Herald.
"I said, 'No, that don't seem like what I want to do,'" Bowden said last week. "I'd like to play them, but after the season (in a bowl), you know."
Auburn began this season with a 29-0 victory over Alabama-Birmingham ($200,000 guarantee) and a 62-0 victory over Fresno State ($475,000 guarantee). …