Northwestern just paid out $1.2 million to Nevada to get the Wolf Pack to come to Evanston to play a game in 2017.
That is a really large sum of money.
That's a larger sum than Michigan paid Miami (OH) a couple of years ago ($1.1 million). It's a larger sum than what Wisconsin paid to the same Miami team in 2015 ($1 million), or Nebraska paid FAU ($1 million), or Iowa paid Ball State ($900,000). It's a helluva lot more than the $500,000 Northwestern paid Northern Illinois to play in the 2014 season. It's a head-turning number.
It's not even like Nevada is a good team. Since 2010, the Wolf Pack's final S&P+ rankings have been 36th, 50th, 78th, 81st, 81st, and 99th. This is not a mid-major school that boosts a resume or gets fans excited. This is not even a nearby school that stokes interest among local fan bases. Nevada provides little more than a spot filled on a schedule. This Nevada program is now a far cry from what it was when Colin Kaepernick was pulling the strings. The Wolf Pack are darn near the bottom of the "Teams That Should Be Making Stacks Off Of Mercenary Games" power rankings.
In a vacuum, the $1.2 million price tag for this game makes no sense. But in the ever-evolving world of NCAA and Big Ten regulation, this might make slightly more sense than it first appears.
Big Ten schools do not have the bargaining power they once did in scheduling non-conference games. With the move from eight to nine conference games, Big Ten schools have fewer games to schedule. Couple that with a ban on FCS games, and schools in the conference don't have as many opponents available to fill the shrinking slots. Multiply that by the possibility of playing five conference road games in a season thanks to the 9-game conference slate, and you get a formula that places home non-conference games in the highest regard.
The Big Ten member institutions now find themselves in a strange position. Thanks to a rule that many programs didn't want, they've lost a significant amount of leverage in dealing with non-conference partners. The Nevada's of the college football world know that the Northwestern's need them to make road trips more than ever. Their price has gone up.
They also know that Big Ten schools have plenty of cash to throw. Power conference athletic departments are filthy rich and getting filthier and richer. The Big Ten is nearing the end of its 10-year, $1 billion contract with ESPN, and the new deal(s) figure to be significantly more lucrative. While the deal is yet to be officially put to paper, a myriad of outlets have reported that the Big Ten and Fox are close to agreeing to a 6-year, $1.5 billion contract...for about half of the Big Ten slate of games.
This influx of capital is significant. The already bloated coffers of Big Ten athletic departments will be fattened even more. With the Fox deal and the second half of the rights being picked up for a similar cost, Northwestern's athletic department could be pulling in outrageously high levels of revenue in a few years time.
The $1.2 million Northwestern is giving up then to beat up on Nevada is pocket change. Could Northwestern have saved money by scheduling a home-and-home? Sure. But with all of the revenue coming in, the powers at be decided that having an extra home game was well worth the expenditure. The scary thing is that their math probably checks out. Northwestern has change to throw. Teams know that and know how important they are to Northwestern, so they'll jack up the price. And as long as the cash keeps flowing in, Northwestern will be more than happy to foot the bill.