Less than 24 hours after the Big Ten announced a conference-only schedule for all fall sports, Arkansas State athletic director Terry Mohajir was still processing how the decision would affect his school’s football program.
“We’re just working through the options right now,” he said.
A tone of frustration could be detected in his voice. Mohajir’s Red Wolves had planned on going to Ann Arbor to play Michigan on Sept. 19. “We have a contract with them and my contract says a certain date,” he told the Free Press in late May.
The agreement with Michigan stipulates $1.8 million be paid to Arkansas State in exchange for its visit to the Big House.
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That is, unless it becomes impossible to play “because of inclement weather; an act of God; strike; lockout or other labor dispute; any decision, order, law rule or regulation of the NCAA, or any other federal, state or municipal agency or official … or the occurrence of any other material event that is beyond the reasonable control of a party.”
Mohajir wouldn’t say if Arkansas State would try to collect its guarantee fee, but it wouldn’t be unprecedented for the school to try to recoup money lost due to a game that had been called off.
After the University of Miami football team canceled a 2017 visit to Arkansas State because of Hurricane Irma, both schools filed lawsuits, with the complaint from ASU citing a “breach of contract” and seeking compensation for damages. A settlement was later announced, which called for Miami to pay Arkansas State $400,000.
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For Mohajir’s department, the $1.8 million guarantee attached to the Michigan game would be a huge chunk of its revenue. If applied to the 2018-19 budget, it represents 23% of the proceeds brought in by the football program, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
For that reason, Mohajir was disappointed and surprised by the Big Ten’s move to excise nonconference games from its member schools’ fall schedules.
Before the announcement was made, Mohajir said he had had no communication with Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel.
“I think everybody was caught off guard by it, to be very candid with you,” Mohajir said.
MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher acknowledged as much, saying he “did not expect this decision quite so soon.”
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One of the athletic programs Steinbrecher represents, Ball State, was set to face the Wolverines on Sept. 12 and receive $975,000 as part of the arrangement. The school already has removed its games against Michigan and Indiana from its website, but didn’t respond immediately to a request for comment following the Big Ten’s decision.
Washington athletic director Jen Cohen appeared to take the news of the Big Ten’s announcement in stride. Her Huskies were scheduled to host Michigan in the season opener Sept. 5, and included in the game contract signed in 2014 was a stipulation that would require the visiting team to pay a $1.5 million cancellation fee and also forfeit a $1 million guarantee.
“Earlier today Warde Manuel notified me of the Big Ten’s decision to play a conference-only schedule this fall, cancelling our Sept. 5 game with Michigan at Husky Stadium,” Cohen said in a statement. “Our fans and football program have been looking forward to this game for several years, but we understand this decision was made due to the impact of COVID-19 and prioritizing the health and well-being of student-athletes.”
(The Pac-12 on Friday announced it would hold only conference competition for football and some fall sports this year.)
Mohajir, meanwhile, is trying to pivot and assess a football landscape that seems to change one day to the next.
He sighed as he thought about what could have been with Arkansas State’s trip to Ann Arbor.
“I am disappointed for our students, for our guys on our team,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to play and it’s an iconic stadium. Yo…