Bethune-Cookman of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference plays at No. 8 Florida State while fellow MEAC member Savannah State is at No. 16 Miami. VMI of the Big South travels to Charlottesville to play Virginia.
The games are unlikely to be competitive, but will likely be a win-win for both schools.
The Atlantic Coast Conference schools get a victory that counts toward bowl eligibility, and if things go as expected, a virtual live scrimmage that allows the coaching staff to get many backups some experience.
“For us, it’s just about getting our team better,” said Miami coach Al Golden, whose team played Florida in their last game. “There is a big disparity from going to an SEC opponent to this week. ... But what I’m trying to teach our team is that it really doesn’t matter what the other team does.”
For the little guys, it’s a nice payday: Bethune-Cookman will receive $475,000, Savannah State $375,000 and VMI $325,000, and that can be critical funding for a school whose athletic department is strapped for funds.
But VMI coach Sparky Woods said there’s more than money to be gained, there’s also the experience and exposure for the
“You want to, as a team and an individual player, to do well against these guys, so we’re excited about the opportunity,” he said of the Keydets, who haven’t had a winning season since 1981 and are coming off a 37-24 loss at home to North Greenville, an NCAA Division II program. “... Certainly we appreciate the money, and we’re going to go over there and get after it and do our very best to put the best football team we can out there.”
The environment will be one the Keydets rarely experience.
“Everybody likes to play on the big stage or play in front of large crowds, TV, so on and so forth, and we have that opportunity,” Woods said. “So if you aspire to be the best college football player that you can be, then you get a chance to match yourself against the best. It’s a great life experience.”
Every now and then, the little guy does more than just show up.
This season eight FCS teams knocked off FBS programs on the opening weekend, though that looks unlikely in the ACC matchups.
Last year, Savannah State lost 84-0 to No. 18 Oklahoma State and 55-0 to the No. 6 Seminoles in a game that was shortened by severe weather. Coach Earnest Wilson said he doesn’t discuss the financial necessity of playing the games with his team, but rather challenges them to rise up and make a good accounting.
Those two losses last season also earned the Tigers $860,000 toward a $5.1 million athletic budget.
“What we talk about it, if you want to play on a certain level or if you want to be great like they are, then you’re going to have to play with these guys and you’re going to have to be able to make it happen on the field,” Wilson said. “If you don’t, then there’s no reason for the NFL to come look for you. That’s what we’re trying to explain to them.”
The players appreciate the opportunity to compete on the highest stage.
“Anytime you can play up, I think it’s a good thing,” Wagner coach Walt Hameline said after his team lost 54-0 at Syracuse. “... If you want to better your program, you want to be able to play up. You don’t want to play more than one, though. I can tell you that right now.”
Elon would probably agree. The Phoenix received $250,000 to play at Georgia Tech, and when the score became 70-0, coach Jason Swepson asked for a running clock in the fourth quarter.
“The positive thing from this game is that we had a lot of young kids play college football for the first time,” Swepson said afterward. “Great eye-opening experience for those young men.”
And one, Hameline said, that his players are likely to talk about for years to come.
“I know for a fact that our kids will look at that (game) and say, ‘We went up to play Syracuse,’” he said. “They probably won’t tell anybody the score, but they’ll say, ‘Hey, we played in the Dome.’”