Opinion: Why is Ole Miss Playing AT South Alabama?

Ole Miss football announced on Tuesday a new home-and-home series with South Alabama to help fill out their 2028 and 2029 schedules. But why are the Rebels voluntarily playing on the road at USA?

Ole Miss football announced on Tuesday a new home-and-home series with South Alabama to help fill out their 2028 and 2029 schedules.

It's a pretty standard practice in college football, scheduling games nearly a decade out to fill out the non-conference schedule. But there's a relatively simple, bizarre part to this scheduling – why the hell did the Rebels agree to travel to South Alabama in 2029?

Over the past decade the practice of non-conference scheduling has become relatively formulaic. Most strong programs will schedule one tough (or appearing tough) non-conference game against another power-five program and fill in the rest of the non-conference slate with what amounts to fluff games or should-win games. 

In 2020, for example, Ole Miss opens the season with a neutral game against Baylor. They then will play Southeast Missouri, UConn and Georgia Southern to round out non-conference play. Over the next three years following Baylor, that tougher game is Louisville (in Atlanta) and then a home-and-home with Georgia Tech. Then, you play all your other non-conference games at home. 

So I will ask again, why play at South Alabama in 2029? 

Here's a full list of future, true road games Ole Miss has on the non-conference slate: Georgia Tech (2022), Wake Forest (2024), Southern California (2025), South Alabama (2029), Oregon State (2030), Virginia Tech (2032) and Purdue (2034).

One of these things is not like the others.

With all due respect to the Jaguars, their stadium seats 25,000 fans. Seeing an SEC school play a non-conference game in that atmosphere would be strange. 

Here's the one logical reason I can come up with for scheduling such a game at South Alabama – cash-flow concerns. Every university and every athletic department are dealing with monetary issues right now over lost revenue (or planned lost revenue) because of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Filling out the non-conference schedule can often be expensive. Because many smaller FBS schools know they have little shot at winning a game at Ole Miss or at Texas or at Michigan, bigger programs often have to pay smaller ones to come and play them on their home turf. These fees can be exorbitant. It's pretty typical for one of these games to cost a program six-figures in cash and sometimes the fees push close to $1 million. 

Right now, with questions surrounding the season and whether or not fans will be able to attend, financial health concerns are plentiful. Some estimates project that programs could lose a combined $4 billion if games are not played. Of course, that number is on the high end and represents if the season is cancelled altogether. Yet still, it represents how serious of a financial hit some programs may be in for. 

Here's the simple solution in my mind – if this is truly a cash-flow problem, why not schedule a two-for-one series? That's a relatively common way to get two home games with a non-power-five school in exchange for one road trip. It's not the even 50-50 split, but it makes more sense for a partnership like Ole Miss and South Alabama. 

Obviously, South Alabama will not be the only non-conference games played in the 2028 and 2029 season. The Rebels will likely add one high profile game both years and fill out the rest with easier to win games. 

With playing the 2029 USA game on the road, the Rebels will likely to look to host a bigger name in that season, as to not play two non-conference road games. 

Of course, this game could still be bought out. If the financial situation stabilizes or a better available game comes along in the next few years, the Rebels could buy out this game with South Alabama and replace it with what they view as a better option. 

Still, we are nine years away from this planned game, but the decision to play at South Alabama seems sort of baffling. 

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