Presbyterian College built a weight room. Georgia Tech scheduled a football game. Ryan Bamford kept a pen.
The Yellow Jackets will play Presbyterian Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium. The end product of a frantic scheduling effort, it came about due to, among other things, ESPN’s wishes, the visiting team’s football scholarships and, as is the case with just about everything in college athletics, cash.
Said Bamford, an associate athletic director at Tech, “It was a lot of phone calls and locking myself in my office, trying to find somebody that fit.”
A year ago this time, the Jackets were scheduled to play Southeastern Louisiana in its 2012 season opener followed by Middle Tennessee State. During the season, ACC officials asked if Tech would have any interest in playing Virginia Tech in the league’s Labor Day game on ESPN.
Tech was not. The ACC came back later.
“And they said, ‘Look, ESPN really wants this game,’” Bamford said.
ESPN just started a contract with the league that will pay about $3.6 billion over 15 years. The network tends to get its way.
With that, Bamford, whose duties include scheduling football and men’s basketball games, had a new priority. The first two pieces were easy. Southeastern Louisiana, which had negotiated a $250,000 guarantee with Tech for the opener, was too happy to be released, as it could receive a bigger payday and eventually scheduled Missouri. Tech wanted to move Middle Tennessee State, scheduled for Sept. 8, out of that date because the Jackets didn’t want to play an FBS team on a short week of preparation. That game was re-scheduled for Sept. 29.
That left finding a new opponent for that date. One complicating detail was an NCAA rule that allows FBS teams to count one win over an FCS opponent towards its bowl eligibility only if that team gave out 90 percent of its maximum 63 scholarships over a rolling two-year period. Tech’s strong preference was to play such a team. That eliminated schools such as Savannah State, which was interested and later was added to Florida State’s schedule.
“[Florida State] figured they’d get to the six wins (not including a win over Savannah State),” Bamford said. “We just didn’t want to take the risk if we didn’t have to.”
Bamford thought he had reached an agreement with Florida A&M and sent the school a memorandum of agreement. He got a call back saying the school was going to play Oklahoma instead.
Over about three weeks in February, Bamford estimated he and athletic director Dan Radakovich made 150 to 200 phone calls in search of an opponent. They consulted a scheduling database to see who had openings. Bamford talked often with ESPN officials and ACC associate commissioner Michael Kelly.
“There weren’t a lot of schools that had openings,” Bamford said. “The ones that did wanted a lot of money because it was late in the game.”
Using the database, Bamford called teams with Sept. 8 games, proposing switches for those teams and their opponents, and offering to help with buyout payments.
Late in the search, Presbyterian athletic director Brian Reese’s phone rang. The Blue Hose already had a game against Tennessee Tech and, moreover, were scheduled to play Vanderbilt the following week. At first, he was not interested. Bamford, though, got Reese’s attention with a $400,000 guarantee, which included money from the ACC. A day later, after consulting with coach Harold Nichols and school administration, Reese told Bamford he had a deal. He sweetened the deal with two games against the men’s basketball team.
Presbyterian recruits metro Atlanta heavily, has a sizeable alumni base there and wasn’t about to turn down $400,000. Over the summer, the athletic department built a $300,000 weight room for its student-athletes, a project that had been about five years down the road.
The deal was completed Feb. 23. The black Bic pen used to sign the contract sits on a shelf in Bamford’s office.
Said Bamford, “It worked itself out in the end, but, boy, those three or four weeks, it was crazy.”
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