Trickle down sports economy benefits everyone involved

Tuesday , September 11, 2012 - 8:13 PM

LaVell Edwards Stadium wasn’t filled to capacity when the Weber State Wildcats visited Provo last Saturday. I know it’s never a good idea to assume (my father taught me the old saying about what it means to do so) but the presumption here is that BYU fans stayed away because their Cougars weren’t playing a powerful enough opponent.

It makes sense, I suppose. After all, BYU and its fans believe the Cougars to be a big-time college football program and their recent ascension into the top 25 confirms they’re a pretty good team. On the other hand, if they’re truly one of the big boys, playing a big boy schedule is part of the deal, right?

Over the years it’s become a college football tradition for the haves (i.e. the major programs) to play the have-nots (i.e. FCS programs, like Weber State) in what are known as “payout” games. These games usually occur early in the season so the FBS teams can knock off a little rust in preparation for their upcoming conference schedule. Additionally, FCS schools get a nice payout for going like a lamb to the slaughter — or so the theory goes.

Sometimes the smaller program actually pulls off an upset — it happened last weekend — and gets the money, too. Generally speaking, those teams don’t often get invited back to the party.

For their trouble, the Wildcats were paid around $375,000, which goes to help fund other aspects of the school’s athletic department. A nice, six figure check is not an uncommon reward for FCS teams like Weber State or Northern Colorado, which visited Utah to open the 2012 season.

During the current political season we’ve heard all sorts of back-and-forth banter about the ills/benefits of trickle down economics. Whether that particular theory works or not is a debate for another section of the newspaper, but when it comes to college football it not only works, it’s a way of life.

Major programs make huge sums of money and when a smaller program — which exists on a smaller budget — comes for a visit, it gets a nice chunk of that money. It’s a win-win situation, even when one of the teams loses.

Look, I get why Edwards Stadium wasn’t filled last Saturday. Weber State isn’t Notre Dame or USC or even Washington State. The Wildcats aren’t a flashy opponent. Fans pay good money for tickets and they want to see a clash of the titans, not a payout game.

But the truth is, it was hardly a worthless game.

For one thing, Weber State’s kids got the thrill of playing one of the “big boys.” And for another, they got to do so in front of 60,000-plus fans, some of them family members.

That’s an aspect of the payout game fans and media rarely mention. But think about it, Weber State has players who grew up rooting for the Cougars and dreaming of someday playing inside Edwards Stadium. However, for a variety of reasons, they ended up in Ogden instead of Provo.

Thanks to the beauty of the payout game, they still got to have a memory they won’t soon forget, even if it meant a 45-13 loss.

They also got to measure themselves — even if it was just for a handful of plays — against the “big boys.” Surely there were moments when a Weber State player walked back to the huddle with a feeling of satisfaction, knowing his best was good enough on the previous play. There also were moments when he walked to the sidelines with a greater understanding of what he needs to do in order to improve.

No, the Wildcats weren’t the kind of glitzy opponent some fans crave, but anyone complaining is only seeing half the picture.

Jim Burton is the Standard-Examiner’s sports columnist. He also covers the Utah Jazz and the NBA. He can be reached at 801-625-4265 or at jburton@standard.net. He tweets at http://twitter.com/jmb247

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