Originally created 09/17/99

Playing for a big payday



STATESBORO, Ga. -- Georgia Southern senior slotback Cherard Freeman admits he's never seen the Pacific coast, nor has he ever been to Oregon.

And while Freeman will do both this weekend, he knows Saturday is all business when Georgia Southern travels across the country to meet Division I-A Oregon State.

"We know this isn't going to be a vacation," Freeman said. "We know that we're helping the (Georgia Southern athletic) program but at the same time we're helping ourselves because we're seeing how good we are by competing at that level."

Since football was restarted at Statesboro, Ga., school in 1982, the Eagles are 0-10 against Division I schools, so some fans are wondering why Georgia Southern would travel 3,000 miles across the country to play a Division I school.

The answer: A guaranteed $225,000 paycheck the Eagles receive from Oregon State is a portion of the money the school needs to keep its $5.3 million athletic budget afloat.

"That's the way we build a budget, that's part of our revenue," said Georgia Southern athletic director Sam Baker.

Over the past decade, Division I-AA football programs haven't been reluctant to play a larger Division I-A football program. It gives smaller schools a chance at the big boys and it also gives I-AA schools a guaranteed paycheck, something that isn't always guaranteed when you rely strictly on gate receipts.

Some Division I-A schools still choose not to schedule I-AA opponents because to become bowl eligible, a I-A school must win six games against I-A competition. A I-AA victory may only be counted once every four years.

Larger schools usually sandwich Division I-AA schools in between conference games or they choose to open their season against a I-AA opponent. This gives I-A schools a chance to tune up for their upcoming opponent and also gives the coaches and players a chance to work on things they normally don't do in a bigger conference game.

"I don't really enjoy playing these games, (we probably wouldn't play them) if we could generate enough gate receipts," Baker said. "But playing these games are part of it. We certainly don't schedule a game that we don't think we can win. We've already had a couple of Division I-AA programs knock off Division I-A schools this year."

Georgia Southern will open next season in Athens against Georgia. Again, the Eagles will receive a $225,000 paycheck.

Seven of the nine members in the Southern Conference will play at least one Division I-A opponent this season, excluding The Citadel and VMI.

"The first thing that you gain is a guaranteed paycheck. I think that's why every I-AA team plays ACC schools," Western Carolina coach Bill Bleil said last week before his Catamounts played Maryland.

Oregon State first-year coach Dennis Erickson likes the challenge of facing the top-ranked team in Division I-AA. He says playing Georgia Southern will give his team a major tuneup before opening the Pac-10 schedule in two weeks at Southern California.

"I think there are a lot of benefits playing Georgia Southern," Erickson said. "One of our goals was to go 3-0 to open the season and it's real important for us to accomplish that. Of course if they were to upset us, that would be a temporary setback.

"When you talk about Georgia Southern, you're talking about one of the top Division I-AA programs in the country. It's not the end of the world if they upset us, but they sure scare the heck out of us."

Chart info:

How much some Division I-AA schools received to play at a I-A opponent:

Chattanooga -- Sept. 11 Louisville $150,000

Western Carolina -- Sept. 11 Maryland $150,000

Appalachian State -- Sept. 4 Auburn $300,000

Furman -- Oct. 30 North Carolina $225,000

Connecticut -- Sept. 11 Kentucky $275,000

Georgia Southern -- Saturday Oregon State $225,000