UPDATED: 9:40 p.m.
As I hinted at yesterday, we've got a story on the Idaho football scheduling philosophy and what it means financially to play the likes of Nebraska. We also hit on a possible renewal of the series with Washington State. Read on.
You may have seen the poll we have up on SportsLink about the injury risk playing big-name teams like Nebraska. Well, we've got comments from Robb Akey and safety Shiloh Keo on how depth and injuries factor into these sort of games.
By Josh Wright
MOSCOW, Idaho – In the buildup to Idaho’s highest-profile nonconference game in several years, Robb Akey was asked if the Vandals had quarterback Nate Enderle – a lifelong Nebraskan – in mind when they signed on to play tradition-rich Nebraska in Lincoln.
The Cornhuskers and Vandals, after all, struck an agreement in 2007, Enderle’s first year as UI’s starter, and decided back then to meet in the QB’s senior season.
But, it turns out, those were simple scheduling quirks. Nothing more.
“I think this game was scheduled with a whole lot of dollars in mind, more so than Nate,” said Akey, Idaho’s fourth-year coach said.
The Vandals, in fact, have never received a more lucrative payout than what they will reap for facing the sixth-ranked Cornhuskers on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. PST. NU is dishing out $800,000 to Idaho, a whopping sum for an athletic department with a budget of around $15 million.
And the payoff for matchups with major-conference programs will only get bigger in the next few years.
Texas A&M is slated to pay $850,000 to UI for a game next season in College Station and Louisiana State will write a check for $950,000 to the Vandals for a guaranteed game in 2012 in Baton Rouge.
“They’re extremely important and are one of our main revenue sources,” UI athletic director Rob Spear said of the big-money contests. “And football, because of their ability to generate guaranteed revenue, they are the only program that generates profit at the end of the year. They help subsidize the rest of our programs and our athletic department.”
The Vandals, as recently as 2007, have played multiple opponents in a single year from conferences such as the Pac-10 and Big 12. But this is the third consecutive season that UI will take on only one team from a Bowl Championship Series league.
The shift in scheduling has been deliberate.
“A lot of people think we should have home-and-homes with bigger schools,” Spear said. “That opportunity is still out there because we can schedule home-and-homes with BCS schools. However, with our scheduling philosophy, we want to play one of those and it makes sense for us to do that on the road and fill our home games with other like conferences.”
Last year the football program brought in just more than $1.3 million in revenue during an 8-5 season capped by a thrilling Humanitarian Bowl win. Yet the previous year, the program actually generated slightly more revenue – despite a two-win season – because of a higher payout from the University of Arizona.
The Wildcats, before they bludgeoned Idaho 70-0 in 2008, agreed to give UI $600,000 in a guaranteed payout. (Last year, University of Washington gave the Vandals $575,000).
Akey is content to travel to bigger schools, just as long as it’s only once per season. Going to UW or Nebraska, he said, is a good experience because it prepares the club for a potential bowl opponent.
“And obviously, for the university and the program, it’s a financial necessity,” Akey said. “I completely understand that. I’m a pretty good team guy.”
Yet depending on how the Western Athletic Conference’s realignment shakes out, the Vandals may have to bulk up their non-conference schedule or possibly add more BCS opponents.
One option is reigniting a series with Washington State. Spear said he’s spoken with WSU AD Bill Moos about playing the Cougars as early as 2013, and at one point he thought they had an agreement.
“But that has not come to fruition,” Spear said. “There is interest on our part in doing that in the future. It makes sense, I think, for both schools because of the location. I’m not really in favor of doing it every year. But I do think doing it every few years would be the right thing to do for both schools.”
Idaho’s last win against a BCS-conference team came in 2000 against WSU. Since then, it has lost 20 straight to big-conference schools by an average of 29.6 points per game.
NOTES AND QUOTES
- The status of running back Deonte Jackson is still up in the air. The senior had his right ankle wrapped in practice yesterday, and Coach Robb Akey said it will be determined later in the week if he plays at Nebraska. Right tackle Tyrone Novikoff practiced yesterday after missing some of the North Dakota game with cramps.
- Akey was asked how much bigger a win for Idaho over Nebraska would be compared to Boise State's win over Virginia Tech on Monday. His answer: Saturday's game vs. NU is "the only one I care about. I could care less about what Boise is doing right now."
- Here's what Keo said in regard to the injury risk playing big-name opponents: "We’re all Division I. We’re all scholarship guys. They pay their guys to go to school, so do we. There’s not a big difference. They might be a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger, even a little bit faster. But it all comes down to who’s going to execute. As a D-I athlete, no one’s going out there thinking they’re going to break their leg. It’s not on their mind, and if it is, those guys usually are not on the field. So it’s hard to say that it’s in the back of somebody’s mind. But hey, everyone’s nervous. … But once you get that first play, that first hit in, all the nerves just go away and you start to play."
- In the same vein, Akey was asked how UI's improved depth will come into play on Saturday: "At any point in time, the more depth you have, the better your going to find yourself. Hopefully it’s because you’re trying to put a fresh horse in the ballgame. That’s where you really want to see depth. If that’s the case, that means you’ve got enough guys at a position who are performing well enough, that they’re capable of being the guy. You would certainly hate the necessity reason is why your depth is showing up in a ballgame. That’s also the reason you build depth. I mean, every backup playing in the country is a hit away from becoming a starter. We are improving in our depth. I still think we have a lot of work to do in terms of overall depth."