The term “buy game” is a familiar phrase in college football. A buy game occurs when a larger program, most notably a power five program, pays a smaller program to play them during pre-conference play with the smaller team traveling to the larger team.
Ball State Football is no stranger to buy games, especially when it comes to nationally recognized teams. According to past game contracts, the Cardinals’ matchup against Notre Dame in 2018 netted $1.1 million, Indiana University in 2018 netted $700,000 and most recently Penn State in 2021 earned $1.4 million.
“Basically it's an enticement to come and play the game,” Beth Goetz, Ball State director of athletics, said. “It's not a direct payment for expenses…They call them buy games for a reason, they are trying to buy a win against a lesser team. So it's really marketing value.”
In the case of the University of Tennessee Sept. 1, the Cardinals will receive $1.5 million for playing the Volunteers – a financial figure Goetz said is the going rate during this era of college football.
“They generate revenue in lots of ways: television, ticket sales. They’re not selling more tickets because they’re playing us, it’s not a direct correlation,” Goetz said. “They’re looking at their overall revenue in a given year and then they’re using some of that revenue to pay for a team to come in and play that allows them to prepare for the rest of their season.”
Goetz added that the Cardinals will be playing on the radar of the South Eastern Conference (SEC) to kick off the season, arguably one of the best conferences in college football with five of the last eight national championships.
“Our student athletes, they certainly want the opportunity to compete against those at the highest level,” Goetz said. “They look forward to those games, to be able to showcase their talent and to do it on a bigger stage than we have generally on our campus or in the MAC.”
Former Ball State quarterback Drew Plitt was on the sidelines against Notre Dame and Indiana while starting the games against Penn State and NC State, highlighting the atmosphere those types of games give the players.
“It was cool, just having the experience of being there,” Plitt said. “I had the big games [at Ball State], I wish I would’ve won one, I mean we were close on a couple. I am hoping to get down there for [Tennesee].
In the same way that Power Five schools host mid-major schools, the Cardinals host a smaller caliber team each season – in 2022, it will be Murray State. Goetz said Ball State generally looks for a team in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), but most of the plan comes down to scheduling.
“There are other strategies around who you chose and a lot of it has to do with who's available on a given weekend,” Goetz said. “You know, we like to play people that are regionally close to us, and sometimes that works out, sometimes there's just not somebody available.”
While most sports schedule one or two years in advance, Goetz said football is “a different beast.” Cardinal Athletics is currently planning the 2028 season with the University of Miami (FL), the University of Iowa and the University of Kentucky on the docket for upcoming years.