When I was four, I made my first trip between the hedges. It was a journey looking back, I should have savored more: I was more preoccupied with Thomas the Tank Engine and his locomotive friends than whether or not Georgia would win the SEC East that year. But I remembered the final score in that 2005 game at Sanford Stadium: a 44-7 whomping that favored Georgia. The recipient of the beatdown?: Louisiana-Monroe, whose undergraduate population is four times smaller than UGA’s.
This is one of hundreds of examples of a “buy game.” Smaller schools like ULM, Samford or Furman will be monetarily compensated by schools like UGA, Alabama or Ohio State to play in a given sport. The main sports where buy games are the most prevalent are football and basketball; in 2022, there were 119 football games scheduled between FBS teams (Alabama, etc.) and FCS teams (Samford, etc.).
Buy games, I believe, are a detriment to the sports where they are employed. They are a disservice to both fans of the juggernauts and the underdogs, and without them, college football and basketball would arguably be better than they already are.
Samford athletics in 2023 proves this theory perfectly. In football, the Bulldogs made the trip to the Plains in their third game of the season, where they suffered a 45-13 defeat to Auburn. Meanwhile, Bucky Ball has played two buy games and lost both: an embarrassing 98-45 loss to Purdue followed four days later by a 75-65 defeat at the hands of VCU. While this does not condemn Samford football and basketball, it shows that buy games are all too predictable. When comparing FBS to FCS matchups all-time, the scale tips heavily toward the big boys. FBS teams have nearly 3,000 wins over FCS teams, compared to 490 total wins in 45 years of competition between the two divisions. That’s an absurd number, and college basketball teams who are paid to play more prominent schools win around 8% of their contests. This creates predictability, almost guaranteed wins for the big schools, and at best, a generational victory for the small ones. With one of the best parts of sports being unpredictability, removing buy games would create more quality matchups and make the products of college football and basketball better.
Duke’s basketball schedule this year is a brutal one: add the regular ACC conference schedule with nonconference matchups against powerhouses Arizona (which the Blue Devils lost), Michigan State, Arkansas and Baylor, and you’ve got one of the most demanding schedules in college basketball. Even if Duke goes 0-4 in that stretch, those games will help rather than harm them. Playing premier competition early and often creates a resiliency in teams that translates to postseason success. But Duke is playing at least seven buy games. Imagine the possibilities if those seven games were filled with legitimate competition. A Duke-Kentucky matchup in Cameron Indoor is every basketball purist’s fantasy, but instead, the masses will be treated to the blockbuster matchup that is Duke vs. Southern Indiana.
I realize that buy games can positively impact schools like Samford. The money gained creates opportunities for the school to grow and creates unparalleled experiences for athletes and students alike, but buy games are like eating a Warhead: you know what you’re going to get, so why would you even take a bite? A lack of buy games would create dozens more quality matchups across football and basketball, with every game meaning something and the programs featured being elevated because of them. It would also allow smaller programs to focus on their conference games and play competition more fitting to their level.
Samford’s mascot may be a canine, but college football and basketball belong to big-dog programs, so programs like Samford might as well stay off the porch.