When the Binghamton men’s basketball team announced its 2018-19 schedule last summer, a few nonconference matchups immediately stood out to Bearcats fans. The team was set to travel to Northwestern, Notre Dame and Michigan. This set up a much more challenging slate of nonconference games for Binghamton than in past years.
“In spite of breaking the school record the last two years in nonconference wins, it didn’t produce much when we got to America East play,” said BU head coach Tommy Dempsey at the team’s preseason media day. “I decided to play a bigger schedule — just focused on putting the guys in some different environments against some bigger, stronger teams and trying to grow through that process and have them better ready for what we’re gonna see in January and February.”
It is common for mid-major schools like BU to schedule road games against power conference opponents. Although unlikely to yield a victory for the mid-major school, facing off against big-time opponents can provide valuable opportunities for student-athletes and fans. The chance to play or attend games in notable venues can be a great experience for everyone involved.
These games also provide national television opportunities that are generally unavailable to mid-major schools during conference play — something that appeals to fans and provides strong marketing opportunities for the school. The games against Northwestern and Michigan were both televised on ESPNews and the Big Ten Network, respectively.
“It’s certainly exciting to go play in those venues, and we have some great TV opportunities,” Dempsey said. “I think that you know what you’re preparing for, too, because we’re just a couple of weeks away here from playing in some big-time atmospheres against some big-time opponents, so it certainly adds some urgency to your preseason.”
In light of these commonly known benefits, perhaps the most important reason why mid-major teams schedule games against major conference opponents is for the guaranteed payout. In order for powerhouse teams to fill out their nonconference schedule, they pay mid-major schools that they expect to beat handily to come play them. These guarantees can be substantial.
According to public records, the men’s basketball program received $95,000 guarantees each for playing in games against Michigan and Notre Dame. The team also received a $90,000 guarantee to play against Northwestern.
The women’s basketball program also partook in similar matchups this season. The team received an $18,500 guarantee for its trip to play Notre Dame and $17,000 for its game against Marquette. The two basketball programs earned a combined $315,500.
As expected, both Binghamton teams lost all of their guaranteed games. Most notably, the men’s team was close against undefeated No. 2 Michigan until the final 10 minutes of the game, when the Wolverines finished on a 28-9 run and won by a margin of 22 points.
These buy games usually end with results in favor of the purchaser, but this isn’t always the case. Syracuse University, home of New York’s strongest college basketball program, participated in several guaranteed games during its nonconference season. Most notably, the team was defeated in the Carrier Dome by Old Dominion last December.
Binghamton has had ups and downs thus far in conference play, and whether or not these games helped the team on the court this season is questionable. However, the guaranteed payouts and exposure received from playing Northwestern, Notre Dame and Michigan have likely helped the program this season and in the future.