Cash game: Illinois football paying big bucks to opponents

Cash game: Illinois football paying big bucks to opponents

Another future Illinois football opponent — Eastern Michigan — was revealed on Wednesday.

The MAC school, which will visit on Sept. 14, 2019, is the latest to receive a hefty paycheck — $1 million — from the Illini. They aren’t the only school who will see its bank account rise thanks to Illinois.

Here are the top five payouts Illinois is giving to various non-conference home opponents in the next five years.

Western Michigan

Kickoff at Memorial Stadium is ... Sept. 17, 2016

Go or stay home? Go and see if Bill Cubit can point up 70 points on his former employer, which was initially supposed to host this game.


Kent State

Kickoff at Memorial Stadium is ... Sept. 1, 2018

Go or stay home? Stay home. Illini open season against Lou Holtz’s alma mater, which has gone to exactly one bowl game (and lost) in last 41 years.


Eastern Michigan

Kickoff at Memorial Stadium is ... Sept. 14, 2019

Go or stay home? Go if you want to witness a win. Eagles haven’t gone to a bowl game since 1987 and are 28-90 in the last decade.  


Middle Tennessee

Kickoff at Memorial Stadium is ... Sept. 26, 2015

Go or stay home? Stay home. Save up for next home game on Oct. 3, 2015, as Nebraska visits Champaign for first time since 1986.


Western Kentucky

Kickoff at Memorial Stadium is ... Sept. 16, 2017

Go or stay home? Go. Chances are former Illini assistant Jeff Brohm isn’t still the WKU coach after he wins big early in his tenure with Hilltoppers.


Others cashing in
Illinois won’t lose any money for its contracts with Washington (2013 and 2014), North Carolina (2015 and 2016), South Florida (2017 and 2018), Connecticut (2019 and 2020), Virginia (2021 and 2022) and Kansas (2023 and 2024). Those games are part of a home-and-home series for two years, with each school paying the other one $200,000 (in Washington’s case, $275,000).

For instance, Illinois will receive $200,000 for playing at North Carolina in 2015 before paying the Tar Heels the same amount to visit Champaign in 2016.
Illinois will, however, pay nonconference foes at least eight more times:

(School, Amount, Game)
Ball State, $900,000, Sept. 2, 2017
Western Kentucky, $875,000, Sept. 6, 2014
Texas State, $860,000, Sept. 20, 2014
Kent State, $600,000, Sept. 5, 2015
Youngstown State, $560,000, Aug. 30, 2014
Western Illinois, $425,000, Sept. 8, 2018
Western Illinois, $375,000, Sept. 12, 2015


Ask the expert
Jason Lener, Illinois executive senior associate athletic director, is the point man for football scheduling. Not counting the upcoming season, Lener has reached agreements for 21 nonconference games spanning the next 10 seasons. His reasoning:

“The farther out you get ahead of it, the easier it is to do. From just a planning perspective, it was just, ‘Why not?’ We don’t need to be waiting a year or two like everybody else. Let’s get out and get it done. The other thing is the cost of games, I don’t know where it’s going to be seven years from now. If I can lock in a price for a game right now for say, 2020, I’m assuming I’m going to get a good deal because who knows where the going rate will be then.”

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