Mike Hamrick struck the closest thing to gold on Friday afternoon.
Marshall’s athletic director revealed that the Thundering Herd will make the trip to Williams-Brice Stadium come 2018 to square off versus the South Carolina Gamecocks — a pairing that will pay the mid-major affiliate a thumping $1.4 million.
Marshall’s been far from adamant in beefing up its future schedules, South Carolina is just another foe on the Herd’s wish list of non-conference competitors. Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Boise State and North Carolina State are shuffled into the mix to host head coach Doc Holliday and Co. sporadically within the next four seasons.
Those pool of candidates can only ride the coattails of South Carolina’s reimbursement, however. The $1.4 million cache that will be arriving in 2018 marks the largest single-game payment in Marshall’s history.
The Conference USA as a whole has been decimated by recent unforgiving television contracts, not to mention certain athletic departments — Marshall included — may encounter their own potential budget cuts. In no way was Hamrick hesitant in piling up the SEC compensation.
“The economics of this game made sense with a $1.4 million guarantee,” Hamrick said. “That’s the largest guarantee in our program’s history. When we have a spot where we can throw in a road game that can be of financial benefit, you obviously have to look at that and this opportunity in 2018 presented itself.”
College football being the money-making enterprise that it is typically has minimal restrictions on powerhouse programs paying the irrelevant underlings lump sums of money to come into their confines. Aside from the Big Ten’s recently instituted policy that will forbid the conference from bookmarking FCS schools into their itineraries, premiere programs are still paying hand-over-fist for partial cakewalks.
Except for Marshall, this isn’t a run-of-the-mill, cross-country expedition into uncharted waters only to get punched right in the mouth. Forget the Conference USA-SEC labels — ask Vanderbilt how its Week 1 opener versus Western Kentucky panned out last season. While the Thundering Herd, who are more than two years out from the big day, are already winners on the financial side, there’s still a game left to play.
Crystal balls and tarot cards aside, right now it appears that the odds aren’t as stacked up against Marshall as the prototypical Power Five-Group of Five song and dance.
The Head Ball Coach era in Columbia, South Carolina has withered. Additionally, the program is undergoing complete turnover and has plunged to the depths of the SEC. The Gamecocks are currently the longshot to take home the conference title in 2016 at 300/1 while the ‘books are pegging first-year head coach Will Muschamp to chalk up all but five wins.
This writer may catch some flak for fractionally comparing this upcoming season’s South Carolina club to the one that will suit up versus Marshall in 2018. Rest assured, the Gamecocks have managed to slip somewhat off the grid in the span of only two seasons; it’s only a question of how quickly the regression train can come to a screeching halt.
And who knows? Marshall may not even be the sleeping giant that it is right now within the Conference USA in two calendar years. One thing is certain, and that’s that the ever so loyal Herd fan base will drown out the garnet and black that paints Williams-Brice on Saturdays with green and white.
“Our fans have familiarity with that program and we recruit in that area,” Hamrick said. “I think from a lot of standpoints, it is a win-win for us.”
As it stands, there are far too many factors in a two-year stretch to even begin making predictions or dishing out analysis, so we’ll refrain from doing so. There’s a good chance that just as Marshall has recently soared up the charts — whereas South Carolina has dipped — that both teams may, for whatever reason, reverse roles.
All that’s left for Hamrick right now is to decipher whether he wants his money in ones, fives, tens, or twenties. It’s a big week for the program. Call it a win.
2018 could be the next one.