CONWAY — As the player chosen to represent the Coastal Carolina football team at the Chanticleers’ weekly news conference Wednesday, senior running back Jeremy Height got to handle all the usual questions that arise about this time of the season as the program ventures to the home of a bigger, stronger, more established FBS opponent for its annual fall paycheck.
Height wasn’t giving in, though.
Asked a half dozen different ways about the fact that Coastal is going to be a decided underdog Saturday at Toledo, that the Chants haven’t been competitive in these sort of games in past years, etc., he stuck more or less to the refrain that it’s just another week, just another game.
“I don’t approach it as a David and Goliath [situation],” Height said after the final question from reporters. “[From] an offensive perspective, if we just do our jobs, if we execute, the holes will be there, the plays will be there. We’re going to be coached very well, he’s going to put us in the right situations and everything will work out.”
No, it’s not quite David and Goliath. And it shouldn’t even be like Coastal vs. Georgia a year ago, but this is certainly not just another game on the Chants’ schedule and everybody knows that.
It’s a necessary reality for football programs at the FCS level, a guaranteed paycheck – $375,000 in this case – in exchange for providing FBS programs like Toledo a home game and an expected victory.
Coastal has played Penn State, Kent State, Clemson, West Virginia and Georgia in past years while scoring a combined 13 points in those five games. The only remotely competitive of those contests was the 18-0 loss at Kent State in 2009, while the average margin in the other four was 48 points. Last year, Georgia walloped the Chants to the tune of 59-0 in Athens, Ga., while holding the visitors to 112 total offensive yards.
“The bottom line is it’s an opportunity to be able to play up. There is a cost when you do that,” CCU head coach Joe Moglia said. “There is a physical cost that in effect you’ve got to pay. And that’s the one that I think when [athletic director Hunter Yurachek] and I talk, that’s the one we’re probably concerned about most.”
The Chants (2-1) are in a grueling stretch. They suffered their first loss last week against a physical Eastern Kentucky team that was No. 20 in the FCS rankings coming into Conway. Now it’s Toledo, which won the Military Bowl last year and is off to a 2-1 start this fall with its lone loss coming in overtime on the road at Arizona. After that, its a road trip to perennial FCS power Appalachian State, and after the bye week, a home game against Big South Conference favorite Stony Brook.
Yurachek said he and Moglia, in looking ahead to next year’s schedule, have discussed whether playing these guarantee games against FBS programs are the best approach for the program.
Coastal has contracts to play Clemson in 2014, Kent State again in 2015 and has had talks with South Carolina about a game in the following years. But so far, there is no FBS opponent on the Chants’ 2013 schedule and Yurachek isn’t sure if there will be or not.
“I’m looking and coach and I are still debating if that’s the best for our football program to do that,” he said. “But if we put that aside, we’ve got to offset that next year by how we’re going to come up with that money. We’ve got the new basketball arena, which will help us generate more ticket sales with three times as many seats. We continue to sell more season tickets that would maybe offset some of that revenue.”
But that nice lump sum like the $375,000 the athletic department will collect this week is a nice boost toward the annual operating budget of Coastal athletics.
“It’s a minimal percentage, but it’s an important percentage,” Yurachek said.
A large part of the reason Coastal doesn’t have such a game locked in for next season is also due to factors beyond the program’s control. With the continuing evolution of the college football landscape and the conference expansion that has taken place in recent years with the big FBS conferences, there are fewer opportunities for those teams to fit in a game against FCS foes.
“The conference expansion has created a problem because most have gone from eight now to nine, some even to 10 conference games,” Yurachek said. “So the bigger conferences are looking for less of these games.”
At the same time, Coastal has a schedule – and that budget – to fill too. With Stony Brook leaving the Big South after this season, the Chants will be down to five conference games and as the calendar falls, they have the opportunity to play 12 games each of the next two seasons. That’s seven potential non-conference games to fill. So how hard should the Chants look to get another one of these games on the slate next fall? And in the future, is the program and school better off with or without the paycheck?
That’s the dilemma, and it’s not just Coastal’s dilemma, of course. Savannah State became a talking point for debate on that matter earlier this month after it lost 84-0 at Oklahoma State and 55-0 at Florida State in a weather-shortened game in consecutive weeks earlier this month.
As for Coastal’s 2013 schedule plans, that’s for Yurachek and Moglia to sort out still, but in the meanwhile, the Chants have a road game to play at Toledo. And as far as the players are concerned at this point, it’s just the next one on the schedule.
“We’re going to approach it the same way we approach any game,” senior defensive tackle Johnny Hartsfield said after practice. “We’re preparing hard this week. We’re going to come out and try to do everything we can to execute. We’re going to try to control everything we can control on our side of the ball, and then whatever happens at the end of the game will happen.”
That’s echoes Moglia’s message as well.
“This is the way I really feel, and I really, really, truly genuinely mean this,” he said. “A lot of times you can’t control whether or not you’re going to win a game, but you can finish a game and say ‘You know what, our guys genuinely honest-to-God gave it everything they’ve got.’ If you can also say, ‘And we did a good job preparing for that game,’ then whatever’s going to happen that day is going to happen that day.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.