On Saturday, Kent State (1-2) will be back on the road battling its third opponent currently ranked among the nation’s top 18 during the month of September to close out the non-conference season. The last foe is the most ferocious yet — reigning national champion and No. 1-ranked Georgia (3-0).
The Golden Flashes have been scheduling three non-conference contests against prominent Power Five opponents each year since 2018, a philosophy that has benefitted the entire athletic program by solidifying the football program’s overall financial status.
But playing such a difficult non-conference slate leaves a Flashes program that’s now contending for Mid-American Conference titles on an annual basis under coach Sean Lewis vulnerable to injuries and demoralization before conference contests even begin.
That’s all about to change ― somewhat.
Lewis said during his weekly press conference on Monday that he’s now working with second-year KSU Director of Athletics Randale Richmond to assemble future non-conference schedules.
“I’ve got tremendous input now with our new [athletic director] in the direction that we’re headed for future scheduling,” said Lewis. “We’re looking to put our kids and our department in the best position to be successful across the entire spectrum of sports here at Kent State. That’s the main goal.”
Richmond confirmed the new set-up on Tuesday during an interview with the Record-Courier, while accompanied by Senior Deputy Athletics Director Greg Glaus.
“When Greg and I got together we were trying to figure out how we were going to move forward with the football program, and we decided to ask Sean what things were important to him,” said Richmond. “We asked him how we could help this relationship moving forward. He said that when we put together these non-conference schedules he understands that we have a budget to meet, understands what this model is, but boy would he love to have a conversation because there are things that he sees from a coach’s perspective that would be helpful in this space. And he was right.”
Kent State football plans change in scheduling philosophy
The Flashes will pocket $5.2 million for playing Washington ($1.8 million), Oklahoma ($1.5) and Georgia ($1.9) this season, a schedule that was assembled by the previous athletic administration. That number will shrink to $3.6 million next season, when Kent State visits UCF ($900,000), Arkansas ($1.6 million) and Fresno State ($1.1). In 2024 the Flashes will visit Pitt, Tennessee and Penn State. They have agreed to play at Ohio State in 2026, and will receive a $1.9 million guarantee for that contest.
Lewis was actively involved with negotiations for several of these future non-conference contests and helped foster a unique deal with Fresno State according to Richmond.
“We were able to get over $1 million [to play at Fresno State], and as part of the deal with the football game we’re getting Fresno State to come here for a men’s basketball game in 2023-24,” said Richmond. “That’s going to give us an opportunity for ticket sales with a great opponent coming here to the M.A.C. Center.”
Lewis agreed to a contract extension last August that runs through the 2025 season. A perk in the contract gives the football program $50,000 for each non-conference game scheduled that nets $1 million or more, and $200,000 if three games are scheduled with guarantees of $1 million and above.
So, the football program will get a $200,000 kickback this year for taking on three of the top programs in the country over a four-week span in the month of September. Richmond, who was not involved with this year’s non-conference schedule, admits that’s a small consolation prize.
“At the end of the year we might have three top 10 programs that our young folks have had to go up against,” said Richmond. “They’re going to give it everything they’ve got each week, and we’re going to go in to win these games. But the deflation of that not being the outcome is evident.”
Richmond said Kent State is looking to get “more creative” with its non-conference scheduling philosophy in the future.
"We’re still going to look for things that will help us budgetarily. But I think some of our foundational approaches have changed,” said Richmond. “When the previous regime made these deals, they were making them at a different time. This year’s number [$5.2 million] is astronomical, far higher than in previous seasons. Now there’s uncertainty in college athletics, and the guarantee) money is drying up somewhat. Our focus is, how can we make the best deal for our actual budget as well as care for our student-athletes? We’re thinking about it in a way where we can be creative to get where we’re trying to go.”
National uncertainty trickles down to Kent State
Glaus said the prominent Power Five programs aren’t scheduling as far out in advance as they did in the past due to the uncertainty caused by multiple teams changing conferences and the impact that could have on scheduling, the new college football playoff format, new television contracts and various other lingering issues.
“Things will become more clear over the next year, as the [NCAA] Transformation Committee makes decisions,” said Glaus. “We’ll see if there are going to be more or less [non-conference] games each year. That will shape the supply and demand curve moving forward.”
Richmond would love nothing more than to avoid playing three money games each season eventually.
“Right now we’re not shying away from the big [guarantee] numbers. We still need those for our budget. That is the model, until we can figure out a way to get people behind this program enough to bring in private money so we don’t have to do that anymore,” said Richmond. “That is the ultimate goal. That’s what Greg and I and the rest of the team are trying to do every day, tell the story that we need to start supporting this program externally if we want it to be what it can be. That's the story we’re telling, because it’s true.”
This article originally appeared on Record-Courier: Richmond agrees KSU football non-conference load must be lightened