The big-money game - Indians see incentives in Div. I-A foes

Thursday, September 12, 2002

Southeast Missouri State University's athletic department cashed in the past two years when its football team hit the road to play an NCAA Division I-A opponent.

This season, the school's athletic department will double its pleasure.

The Indians face two Division I-A squads that will bring the university $185,000 before travel costs, and school officials say even higher-profile opponents from the Big 12 or Southeastern Conference could be scheduled down the road.

The Indians begin their money march Saturday with a game at Eastern Michigan in Ypsilanti. Southeast visits Middle Tennessee near Nashville on Sept. 28.

Southeast athletic director Don Kaverman said games like these -- including those in basketball season, where the paydays are not as big -- are a financial boost, especially in light of newly proposed budget cuts. School officials have mentioned cutting as much as $80,000 from the athletic budget and hope to have a final decision on cuts in the department by Sept. 25.

The money from this year's Eastern Michigan and Middle Tennessee games goes into general athletic department revenue to support overall department operations, Kaverman said.

"If it weren't for that revenue, we wouldn't be able to function," he said. "With the cuts we have sustained and will continue to sustain, we need that revenue."

Eastern Michigan, one of the nation's lower-ranking Division I teams, will pay Southeast $125,000. Middle Tennessee, which already has played national powers Alabama and Tennessee this year, will pay Southeast $60,000. That discrepancy is because the contract with Middle Tennessee, which used to compete with Southeast in the I-AA Ohio Valley Conference before moving to Division I-A in 1999, was already signed when Kaverman was hired at Southeast in 1999.

"We wouldn't play them for that now," Kaverman said. "It would take a lot more."

Eastern Michigan paid Southeast $100,000 last year and needed a late touchdown to beat the Indians 16-12. Two years ago, Marshall paid Southeast $120,000 and won 63-7.

Similarly, Southeast pays smaller schools to compete at Houck Stadium. Division II schools like Arkansas-Monticello this year and Quincy College last year are guaranteed $20,000 for trips to Cape Girardeau. No Division II opponents are scheduled next season.

Southeast's scheduling plans include at least one Division I-A opponent every year with a guaranteed amount money. But along with playing two Division I-A teams this year, the Indians play two again next year -- at Ohio and at Arkansas State in Jonesboro, games that should again pay the university close to $200,000.

Southeast has not yet scheduled a Division I-A opponent for 2004, but is looking. In 2005, the Indians play at Kent State.

Southeast coach Tim Billings said he welcomes playing a Division I-A opponent every year, although he'd rather not face two in the same season.

"I don't mind playing Eastern Michigan. I'd rather not play Middle Tennessee," Billings said, referring to the difference in talent between the programs. "But I understand that we need the money for the athletic program right now.

"Don and I are on the same page. Our football program wants to do all we can to help the university."

Rather than play two Division I-A teams for $185,000 -- as the Indians are doing this year -- Billings said he'd like to look into playing one team from a more high-profile conference in a game that could net the school upwards of $200,000. Opponents could be from the Big 12 or Southeastern Conference, he said.

"We could get a lot of money by playing one major school a year, like a Kansas or a Kentucky, and it would be a relatively short trip," Billings said.

Kaverman said that's a possibility, as is a date with the University of Missouri. Kaverman said he and MU athletic director Mike Alden have had discussions about the schools meeting in football and basketball. The Indians and Tigers have met a few times on the basketball court in recent seasons.

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