Last week’s news that the Big Ten would play a conference only fall sports season (at best) was a blow to everyone in the league. The NCAA has already lost one of its big moneymaker sin March madness this year. It has now lost at least part of its other large moneymaker in college football. Since the Big Ten is going to try and do a 10-game conference-only schedule Purdue does pick up one of its lost home games against Air Force and Memphis. The Boilers will now likely host Maryland, Ohio State, Michigan State, or Penn State assuming that the other three crossover games of at Michigan, at Indiana, and home against Rutgers stand.
One home game and one road game was lost, however, and it may not matter much anyway if they try to play with no fans or at a limited capacity. That is a discussion for another time, however. What I wanted to address in this post is what happens with those contracts Purdue had with Memphis, Air Force, and Boston College.
As our friends at Anchor of Gold stated yesterday, there may be lawsuits coming:
The issue is that as a general rule, force majeure clauses only apply if the game is literally unplayable. It doesn’t cover cancellation where playing the game merely becomes more difficult or less profitable. And to understand this, it’s probably worth pointing out the economics of a guarantee game from the perspective of the bigger school. Yeah, a Power 5 school will cut a check to a smaller school to come play a one-off game at their stadium, but the bigger school usually makes that money back through ticket sales. But now it’s extremely unlikely that fans will be in attendance at any level that would make it profitable to play a guarantee game, if fans are in attendance at all.
First, let’s look at the contracts here. The Boston College one is pretty easy. That was a straight up home and home series. The Boilers hosted the Eagles in 2018 and were scheduled to go to Chestnut Hill this season. Per the Indy Star, Purdue was going to get $250,000 by going to Boston College this season. It is very likely that it is the same amount Boston College got for coming to Purdue in 2018 because most of these home-and-homes are straight up trades.
The same article mentioned that Air Force was going to get $800,000 to come to West Lafayette for a one-off game and Memphis was going to get $750,000. Those are staggering numbers to the average person like me, but in a way they were steals in this current market for “guarantee games”.
As a refresher, a guarantee game is one where one school agrees to play another without the promise of a return game, usually for a large check that helps fund their athletic department. Many of these contracts have started to go north of seven figures for schools. Last season alone Auburn paid both Kent State and Tulane $1.9 million each. Oregon was set to pay North Dakota State $650,000 this year AND lose because if there is one immutable truth when scheduling your FCS game it is DON’T SCHEDULE NORTH DAKOTA STATE!
The best way for Purdue to avoid these (and get its $250,000 from Boston College) is to find a way to reschedule. Assuming the entire season is not cancelled and everything gets moved forward a year (i.e., the 2020 schedule remains the same and moves to 2021, 2021 to 2022, and so on) we may have to wait a while. Purdue has only three non-conference slots each season, and right now they are packed for most of the rest of the decade:
2021: Oregon State, at Connecticut, at Notre Dame
2022: Indiana State, at Syracuse, Florida Atlantic
2023: Fresno State, at Virginia Tech, Syracuse
2024: Indiana State, Notre Dame, at Oregon State
2025: Ball State, Connecticut, at Notre Dame
2026: Wake Forest, Indiana State, Notre Dame
2027: at Notre Dame, Miami (OH), OPEN DATE
2028: Western Illinois, at Wake Forest, Notre Dame
2029: at Vanderbilt, OPEN DATE, OPEN DATE
2030: at TCU, OPEN DATE, OPEN DATE
2031: All three dates open
2032: All three dates open
2033: at Ole Miss, OPEN DATE, OPEN DATE
2034: Ole Miss, OPEN DATE, OPEN DATE
The absolute earliest we could reschedule even one of the teams is 2027, with 2029 being the earliest for the remaining two. Another factor is the current way the Big Ten is scheduled. Currently, in even numbered years Purdue and the rest of the West Division host only four Big Ten home games and have five away games. That is reversed in odd numbered years. It also meant that this season, along with the next four Purdue was only getting six home games instead of the seven we have been used to (2017 was only six, but had the special neutral game in Indianapolis against Louisville).
We also need to have these teams be free as well. Boston College has a little flexibility because the ACC only plays eight conference games per year instead of nine, but we can probably rule out a return trip to Boston in 2027. According to FBSchedules.com they are already hosting Ohio State and Cincinnati that season with a trip to Rutgers. It seems unlikely they would try to schedule three Big Ten games (though by 2027 they could be in the damn Big Tenteen for all we know).
Memphis currently has three openings for 2027 and Air Force has its usual Army and Navy games, but has two open spots. With Purdue already going to Notre Dame in 2027 and with five Big Ten home games, plus Miami (OH), Air Force or Memphis would slot nicely in there.
Looking at 2029, our next open spots, Boston College only currently has a trip to Stanford scheduled. Air Force only has Army and Navy, while Memphis has trips to Arkansas State and Mississippi State. That makes Memphis unlikely to want to take three road games out of conference, and they are big enough program to not have to do that. Right now Memphis has nothing for 2030 or beyond, while Air Force has only Army and Navy from here to eternity or when the Space Force gets its own football team.
There is another factor that could come into play. Right now Purdue has four games against FCS competition coming up: three against Indiana State in 2022, 2024, and 2026 and one against Western Illinois in 2028. These are the very definition guarantee games. We’re buying a home game and a win in an even year when we know we only get four Big Ten home games. They can be kicked down the road, however.
Take Indiana State, for example. We can play them pretty much any time, and three games against one FCS team is a lot. We can always take the 2022 game and move it down the road a bit. Maybe we even sweeten the deal by giving them a basketball home game since we are currently scheduled to play them at Mackey this season anyway. After all, that is how Purdue played at Ohio this past basketball season. The Bobcats worked out a basketball home and home in conjunction with the 2017 home opener in football. I can definitely see doing something similar with the Trees, and Purdue basketball has played in Terre Haute (and lost) as recently as the 2006-07 season.
Moving the 2022 game is unlikely because Air Force is currently full that year, as are Boston College and Memphis. Memphis currently has only a home game against Troy on its 2024 non-conference slate and Air Force has only Army and Navy (waiting for Space Force). Boston College has at Missouri and home against Michigan State. In 2026 Memphis hosts Arkansas State and goes to Arkansas, Air Force has only Army and Navy, and Boston College goes to Cincinnati and Ohio State while hosting Rutgers, leaving them one open spot.
It seems like the Boston College game is the trickiest. Purdue almost certainly wants a home game if it moves one of the Indiana State games, as it already has road non-conference games in 2022 and 2024. If you move the Boston College game to those years Purdue suddenly has only five home games. 2026 has all three non-conference games at home so going to BC that year would give us six home and six away, but it seems unlikely they would want to play three Big Ten teams in one year (and maybe a fourth in a random bowl game).
Assuming these games are shifted to later it seems likely that the earliest we can get to Boston College is 2029. Eleven years may seem like a lot between games in a home and home, but we’re currently scheduled at 10 for Vanderbilt, 11 for TCU, and went between 1998 and 2011 for a home and home with Rice, so it is not unheard of. As for Memphis and Air Force, one of those can slot quite nicely into that 2027 slot, with the other going to 2024 or 2026 if we shift Indiana State to later. Otherwise, you’re looking at 2029.
Of course, this is all speculation at this point. I think we can all agree we just want this all to be over. We want to watch a damn football game in peace again, but until then all we can really do is speculate.