Muscogee County schools sell 'home' games to raise money for athletic programs

Seven teams raised more than $109,000 by hitting the road

dmitchell@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 3, 2013 

Seven teams raised more than $109,000 by hitting the road

By DAVID MITCHELL

dmitchell@ledger-enquirer.com

For the second consecutive season, Carver football fans will have to drive more than two hours to see the Tigers take on talented Colquitt County, which one preseason poll has as the best team in Georgia.

It'll be three hours if you want to see Hardaway take on powerhouse Lowndes.

Rather than playing the more common home-and-home series with those two state powers, both the Tigers and Hawks agreed to sell home-field rights, gaining an extra road game but earning a hefty payday in the process.

Georgia and Alabama

high school teams are heading into the second year of what is typically a home-and-home arrangement. On occasion, however, teams will sell their "home" games to earn money to help support the athletic program.

Since no tax monies can be used to fund athletic programs, schools have to rely on gate receipts, booster clubs, and other things to pay for athletics.

Selling games is not a new practice. In this two-year cycle, seven Muscogee County School District teams sold games -- only Northside did not -- and Russell County sold its game to Central. Overall, 11 home games in the area were bought out for 2012-13.

Reasons for the sales vary, but a few common threads can be found in the explanations of coaches and athletic directors. The most common centered on the makeup of teams' regions in the area.

"A lot of it is that we're so spread out in our regions, we don't have a lot of familiarity with the teams we're playing," first-year Carver coach Joe Kegler said. "A lot of people aren't going to come see us play Pike County or they don't want to see Carver play Central-Macon. They say, 'I don't know who Central-Macon is.' So, it helps you make up for being so spread out."

To explain Kegler's point, the Muscogee County teams are spread across four different classifications, including Carver, which is in Class AAA by itself among school district teams. Carver's region opponents must travel an average of one hour and 23 minutes to play in Columbus, limiting attendance and potential revenue. Also, home fans have less of an interest in the opponent than they would if it were a team they were more familiar with.

"If we play a Kendrick, we'd make more than if we played Jackson," Kegler said.

Spencer coach Calvin Arnold echoed that sentiment. The Greenwave is in Class AA with Jordan and Kendrick.

"If we played more teams in town, we'd get a better turnout," he said. "A lot of people don't know the team from out of town."

Muscogee County system-wide athletic director Gary Gibson added that when you have so many teams playing games over the weekend, each team gets a smaller slice of the pie.

"When you break it down in our community to eight high schools, it changes the slice of the pie," he said.

That wasn't as much of a problem prior to the most recent reclassification of Georgia high schools. Prior to last season, Carver shared a region with three Columbus schools (Kendrick, Jordan and Spencer).

Jordan coach Jim Brown, whose team sold three games (Heard County, Bowdon and Bremen), said having too few stadiums is another reason. MCSD teams play at Kinnett (a MCSD field) and A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium.

With Memorial hosting other events over some weekends, i.e., the Tuskegee-Morehouse and Fort Valley-Albany State games as well as youth football games, Kinnett must accommodate a large number of games over a weekend, pushing games to Thursday, Saturday or earlier in the afternoon.

"People don't get used to saying, I'm going to go see Jordan on Friday night, because sometimes you play on Saturday," he said. "And those schools we play don't want to come down for a Thursday or a Saturday, so they're saying, 'Why don't we pay you to come here on a Friday because our fans aren't going to come down and no one's going to make any money.' That's not a complaint, that's just the issue here in Columbus."

Manchester coach Tanner Glisson, who took over for Brent Oglesby, confirmed that notion.

"A lot of our crowds don't necessarily want to travel for a Thursday or Saturday night game, so the gate may not be as big," he said. "Coaches like a schedule, too. You try to eliminate deviations from that set schedule."

More often than not, the money teams get for selling the game is not significant. Jordan's contests against Heard County were sold for $2,500 each, while Manchester bought out Spencer for $3,500. On the other end of the spectrum, Carver is receiving $10,000 apiece for its games with Colquitt County and Hardaway $12,000 against Lowndes.

Less expenses, Brown estimated the school may only gross about $500, but that's more than it would get for host Heard County. In 2010, when that game was last played in Columbus, Jordan grossed just shy of $293 after expenses were paid.

"Athletic departments rely on gates and booster clubs for funding, and when we don't have that the program seriously suffers," Brown said. "When you're talking about us as a Double-A team going somewhere for a few thousand dollars, you consider bussing and all the other expenses, you aren't making a lot.

"We're almost just breaking even. But $500 is better than nothing."

The $10,000 Carver will make against Colquitt County this season seems like a lot, but it's only half the net profit from its home contest against Buford in 2010, the most comparable opponent in recent history.

In either case, coaches say that games bought for that sum is a good way to have guaranteed money for their athletic budgets.

"Our home region games do not bring in much gate, so anything I can do to boost the income, I try to do," Hardaway's Jeff Battles wrote in an email.

Gibson said athletic departments are facing a "new normal" with funding, and that it's important to explore these avenues to build a solid foundation.

The money gained from selling games, he said, goes to equipment and funding non-revenue sports, which ultimately helps the student-athletes.

"The bottom line on this is if we can sell the game … and we're not putting students at risk, then we're helping students," he said, adding that all the money from selling games goes to the schools. They are audited like every other education department, but how they spend the money is up to them.

As with anything, there are potential problems inherent with the selling of games.

If multiple games within a region are bought out by a single team, couldn't it cause a competitive imbalance that favors a team with more home games?

Manchester coach Glisson said he's not worried about that, even though his team is in a region with Heard County, which played five of its eight region games at home in 2012 and won the region championship.

"If I was the team traveling to play at Heard County, I would be concerned," he said. "But as far as being the odd team out, I don't see that as a problem. That's an agreement between two other teams.

"We're just worried about us. … I don't worry about that kind of stuff because I don't know what other programs' financial state is. If a coach is doing that to put better equipment on his kids, then I say do it. Sometimes, that's just what you have to do."

Gibson said that he doesn't see the high volume of sold games as a negative other than that it is just a sign of the state of the economy and funding.

He's hoping that one of the main causes -- teams being spread out -- can be resolved in the next reclassification.

"That's why we're behind," he said. It's going to take a few years. If we were all in the same region, if we can get close to having most of our schools in one or two classifications, then we can have our games here."

David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.

SELLING GAMES

Seller Buyer Amount of money

*2012-13 seasons

**Spencer Manchester $3,500

Spencer Heard County $5,000

***Shaw Carrollton $8,000

Kendrick Americus-Sumter $15,055.20

Kendrick Bremen $4,000

Jordan Bowdon $5,500

Jordan Heard County $5,000

Jordan Bremen $4,000

Hardaway Lowndes $24,000

Carver Colquitt County $20,000

Columbus Carrollton $15,000

****Russell County Central TBA

* Teams received half last year and half this year except where noted.

** Manchester will keep all gate receipts for the 2013 game

*** Shaw received all $8,000 last year. It also received 26 complimentary tickets.

**** The teams split the gate receipts last season and are set to do the same this year

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