COLUMBIA - In an ideal world, Southeast Missouri State Athletic Director Don Kaverman would avoid the situation. But, in all likelihood, his Redhawks will arrive in Columbia and become a delicacy by the time they bus away. Games against BCS powers offer financial reward for smaller Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) programs. The reality of his team's prospects, though, never slips his mind.
"It's basically a revenue issue for us," Kaverman said. "The guarantee that we'll earn for playing the game will far surpass anything we can do in a single afternoon to generate funding for our program. That's why we play these games. If money weren't an issue, we probably wouldn't be playing these games, because it's clearly a mismatch."
The mismatch won't prevent SEMO officials and fans from enjoying their cameo appearance in a big-time college football environment. Most will arrive Saturday in Columbia without entertaining ambitions of victory against No. 6 Missouri. Rather, they approach the first meeting with MU since 1936 with guarded optimism - accept the payout, avoid injury and hit Interstate 70 to head back home.
Financial benefits will enhance SEMO's athletic department budget. In February 2007, the two schools agreed to a $250,000 payout, an amount that will support SEMO's general department expenditures. Later this month, MU will pay Buffalo $600,000 and Nevada $200,000 to play at Memorial Stadium and complete the Tigers' four-game nonconference schedule.
SEMO officials said the heightened awareness during MU game week benefits the school. Positives includes press coverage in Kansas City and St. Louis, locations where SEMO would like to expand representation within its student population. Based on first-day estimates for 2008, SEMO had an overall enrollment of 9,843, an increase from 9,763 last year. Any buzz is positive, they said.
"I think success is getting added media coverage. We're getting a lot of coverage," said Ron Hines, SEMO's sports information director and a 1965 MU graduate. "It wouldn't be happening if we were playing somebody else. We're getting a lot more press in St. Louis and Kansas City, and that's good for us student-wise and recruiting-wise."
SEMO has scheduled Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) programs before. Since 1992, the Redhawks are 1-12 in games, most recently a 59-3 loss to Cincinnati to open last year. In 2006, SEMO fell to Arkansas, 63-7. SEMO enters such contests at a disadvantage; whereas FBS programs carry a roster with 85 scholarship players, SEMO has 63.
Students said the MU game presents a desirable dynamic. Located a 3 1/2-hour drive from Cape Girardeau, Columbia provides a more convenient destination than past matchups against FBS schools.
"There's a different feel for it," said senior Erika Thurman, sports editor of the Capaha Arrow, SEMO's student newspaper. "A lot of times, (SEMO) might play a big-name program, but it's not near (us) ... so it doesn't give students a great chance to go see it or connect to it. The difference is, with this situation, most of the students will have an opportunity to go only a couple hours away. A lot of students have been up to Mizzou for different functions. It's something where it's closer to home, so it means a little bit more."
SEMO's student government President, junior Sarah Snyder said, "People are excited. I've heard a lot of people wanting to come to the game. I think everyone is looking forward to playing an in-state rival.
"It's something that's new for us, and we don't always get the chance."
It's a chance SEMO fans will observe with caution. They plan to enjoy the experience, but they're not expecting an upset.
"Most people don't think we have a chance, which we don't," said Greg Brune, SEMO director of athletic development. "But we're excited."