Did you happen to catch the latest episode of HBO’s "Real Sports" hosted by Bryant Gumbel? It debuted a week ago and will continue running on HBO for much of the remainder of this month. If not, did you at least hear about one feature story from the broadcast entitled, “The Guarantee Games”?
Too bad, too.
With the college basketball/shoe company scandal — that has led to the downfall of Louisville’s Rick Pitino, among others — sucking all the air out of the room, little attention has been paid to the HBO story.
And in a sense, what is uncovered by Real Sports correspondent David Scott is every bit as scandalous and involves a lot more money. Pitino, it has been alleged, channeled $100,000 to a recruit. Football Bowl Subdivision Division I teams with 85 scholarship players routinely pad their non-conference schedules by paying Football Championship Subdivision I teams with 63 scholarship players upwards of $500,000 to come for a visit and lose.
These “Guarantee Games” are guarantee wins where any sense of genuine competition is false, but the increased risk of injury is very real.
Which is the bigger fraud, paying someone under the table to play or overtly paying a school to lose?
Very rarely is there an upset. The most famous occurred 10 years ago when Appalachian State defeated Michigan. Still, that game was no fluke as Appalachian State went on to win the FCS National Championship.
Earlier this year, UNLV paid Howard to visit and lose. Only somebody forgot to tell the Howard coaches and players. Final score? Bison 43, Rebels 40.
Infinitely more often than not, though, the FCS team takes a scoreboard drubbing and a physical one to its players. In his report, Scott acknowledged that there is not much data available on injuries suffered by FCS players while playing against FBS teams.
However, a survey published by a University of New Mexico doctoral student in 2015 found that a “majority of FCS athletic trainers (67 percent) said their student-athletes suffer from increased soreness and are 'banged up’ following games against FBS schools. The majority also said that playing multiple FBS opponents in the same season is detrimental to the health of their student-athletes. The athletic trainers who reported that their school had played FBS opponents in consecutive weeks saw an increase in injuries.
“None of the (athletic) trainers reported that FBS games resulted in an increase of season-ending injuries, career-ending injuries, or catastrophic injuries.”
Nonetheless, Scott’s report, which focused on historically black colleges and universities, found one such case in Southern University’s Devon Gales, who suffered a C-6 fracture in a game against Georgia in 2015. The $650,000 that Southern received to play in that game is a pittance in comparison to the cost of the medical care the paralyzed Gales will need for the remainder of his life.
There are a handful of FBS schools that have refused to give in to the temptation of the automatic win. Notre Dame, UCLA and USC have never scheduled an FCS opponent. Meanwhile, the Big Ten recognized the error of its ways and banned its members from playing FCS schools in 2013.
In the interest of fairness and safety, local larger high schools should do the same and not schedule smaller schools with fewer and smaller players who are forced to play both ways for an entire game.