For three college football teams, 2017 is a very interesting year. In this case, “interesting” ranges from special to depressing.
This is a special year for UAB because in its return from the dead, the Blazers became bowl eligible and won a program best eight games. It’s depressing for Idaho because the Vandals will leave the FBS without one last bowl appearance. Although going 3-for-3 in bowl games is at least something to be proud of.
So in a scale of Idaho to UAB, where is New Mexico State?
New Mexico State hasn’t sniffed a bowl game since 1960 but if the Aggies can defeat South Alabama in their final game as members of the Sun Belt Conference, they will finally be bowl eligible.
Only one problem. According to a report from NBC 9 in El Paso, New Mexico State can’t afford any of the Sun Belt’s bowl bids with the lone exception of the Arizona Bowl.
“If you stick us too far back east, then it becomes a financial issue with our fans and if you’re obligated to buy X number of tickets and we can’t sell them to our fans, then it becomes a costly enterprise,” New Mexico State chancellor Garrey Carruthers told the station.
So it’s either the Arizona Bowl or New Mexico State will have to decline their first bowl bid in 57 years.
According to the Las Cruces Sun-News, New Mexico State balanced its budget and cut a total of $12 million. The athletic budget has been reduced by approximately $1 million over the past two years.
Participating schools are forced to buy ticket allotments from bowl games to sell to their fans at the listed price. Some bowls bring in enough revenue for a return on investment. That’s usually not the case for many of the lower tier bowls.
The Sun Belt have ties to bowls in Orlando, New Orleans, Alabama and Tucson. It would be a stretch to expect the fan base to travel cross country to the elusive bowl game. The bowls are really for the players to play for a trophy and play on national television, sometimes for the first time. The Arizona Bowl is one of the few bowl games not on ESPN.
In the wake of this reality, if playing for the Arizona Bowl as an independent is going to be the biggest affordable aspiration for the Aggies, is it really worth the FBS membership?
Like Idaho, New Mexico State were left to wonder the wastelands after the Western Athletic Conference folded as a football conference. After a few seasons as an independent with hardly any hope of a costly bowl berth. Most of the athletic department’s revenue comes from the football teams getting in abusive relationships with the bigger programs. Nearly $3 million of the school’s $17 million athletic budget for the 2017-18 year came from getting paid to get stomped on by Arkansas and Arizona State on the road.
The Aggies didn’t get much conference revenue from the Sun Belt and by Christmas, they won’t be in the conference anymore.
Their 2018 schedule won’t look so different as this year as independents. The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that NMSU will receive a $700,000 payday to play at BYU, $800,000 to play at Minnesota, and will pay $350,000 to bring in Alcorn State.
The payment to the FCS team isn’t the only questionable aspect of the schedule. The Aggies are going to play fellow FBS independent Liberty twice in the same season. That never happens unless that second meeting is at a conference championship game.
Similar to Idaho moving on to the Big Sky Conference, New Mexico State can make the same amount of money as SEC punching bags as members of the FCS with a better model to their limitations then continue to languish with the very bottom of the FBS.
The college football playoffs are much more attainable in the FCS than FBS and unlike the bowl games, the Aggies wont be forced to buy and sell tickets like they otherwise would be in the one bowl they apparently can afford.