Georgia shelling out record amount for non-conference game

Arkansas State (white jerseys) playing against Louisiana-Lafayette earlier this year.

ATHENS — Georgia has agreed to the highest payout for a non-conference opponent in school history. And it may be the most at this point in all of college football.

Arkansas State will receive $1.8 million to play at Georgia in 2019, according to an agreement between the two schools that has not been finalized yet. The Jonesboro (Ark.) Sun reported the agreement, via an Open Records request. An official at Georgia confirmed it was accurate.

It’s an astounding figure to pay for a non-conference game, but it represents a larger trend.

When Alabama announced in February that it had paid $1.7 million to schedule a 2018 game against Arkansas State, it was written by Footballscoop.com that it was “believed to be the largest single-game payout in college football history.”

Now Georgia has topped that. The game is set for Sept. 14, 2019.

“This will be another great opportunity to compete against one of the top brands in the country,” Arkansas State athletics director Terry Mohajir told the Jonesboro Sun. “I think it’s a great regional matchup and an attractive game for both programs, which is a great tribute to our players and coaches. This game allows us to meet all of our strategic scheduling parameters.”

Arkansas State is also getting $1.65 million from Nebraska to visit Lincoln in 2017.

How quickly has the cost of these games gone up? Georgia is paying another Sun Belt team, Appalachian State, a guarantee of $1.25 million to come to Athens as next year’s season opener. The contract for that game was signed last year, and at the time was believed to be the most UGA had shelled out for a guarantee.

It’s cheaper – though still not actually cheap – to schedule FCS teams: East Tennessee State is receiving $550,000 to come to Sanford Stadium in 2020.

Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity declined to respond to questions about the Arkansas State game at this time. But he spoke generally about why the cost of scheduling such games has escalated: Within the FBS, teams in the Power 5 conferences (SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12) have less leverage financially in scheduling teams from the other FBS conferences, known as the Group of 5.

“The art of scheduling is becoming more difficult every year, due to the same institutions negotiating with non-Power 5 schools for guarantee games,” McGarity said. “And there’s no question that it’s an issue moving forward with the guarantees being in place. The Group of 5 certainly have negotiating power, knowing the specific dates you’ve got to work around, conference games. It presents challenges in scheduling for all of us.”

He pointed to Arkansas scrambling to fill its schedule in 2018-19 because Michigan dropped its series.

“On the worry scale, it’s close to the top,” McGarity said. “Because you’ve got to have those home game opponents, unless you want to have a home-and-home (series) with a non-Power 5 schools, which some schools in the conference have elected to do. But we have not gone in that direction.”

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