How FAU plans to schedule games against top competition with the move to the American Athletic Conference

As FAU brings itself into the national spotlight entering the American Athletic Conference by 2023, Athletics Director Brian White explains what goes down in scheduling games against stronger competition.


Courtesy of FAU

University Press stock photo of James Riordan.

Richard Pereira, Sports Editor

When FAU announced its move from Conference USA (C-USA) to the American Athletic Conference (AAC) by 2023 in October this year, Vice President and Director of Athletics Brian White said that the university is moving to a “different level of success” with the decision.

As the institution realized its goal of bringing itself into the national spotlight thanks to the lucrative television contract the AAC has with worldwide sports network ESPN, it has started another objective: expanding its outreach so it can schedule out-of-conference (OOC) games against new opponents and convince top-level teams to play in Boca Raton.

How the AAC will Impact FAU

White said going to the AAC is “huge” because it improves the school’s brand.

FAU, even with the move to AAC, is a Group of Five school. The Group of Five consists of five conferences: C-USA, the AAC, the Sun Belt Conference (SBC), the Mountain West Conference (MWC), and the Mid-American Conference (MAC). To be a Power Five school, an institution has to be a member of the Southeastern Conference (SEC), the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the Big Ten, the Big 12, or the Pac-12.

Nevertheless, White believes there’s a “brand stigma” from Power Five schools in scheduling and playing at a Group of Five stadium. As FAU’s brand grows, he said there can be some positives for top-level schools looking to be comfortable playing games in their stadium.

“It’s what we desire and for us to have that happen, we just need to continue to grow our brand so we’re seen as an even better brand for them to have in their state so that they can sell more tickets because FAU’s coming to town,” White said.

According to AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco, heading to the conference will bring “plenty of advantages” for FAU once the university becomes a member by 2023.

“Being in the [AAC] will give FAU a much higher profile. We have a good deal for more television exposure that our teams are getting now,” Aresco said. “We tend to be in the center of a lot of controversies regarding playoff access and things of that nature, and that gives our schools a lot of attention and publicity.”

James Riordan, the director of FAU’s Sport Management program, said that it’s part of the progression the university started when Howard Schnellenberger came and built the football program from the ground up. Schnellenberger was FAU’s first head coach as he took the team from the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) to the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) with the SBC after its first four seasons and won two bowl games in 2007 and 2008.

“I think moving into the AAC was a natural progression, the next step and the trajectory for having a successful program,” Riordan said.

How FAU Schedules its Games

White stated that within a 12-game football season, the conference office schedules eight conference games so he looks to plan four non-conference games. Often, those matchups involve money games at home or on the road and a game against an FCS school since FAU’s in the FBS. It also includes a game involving a home-and-home series, which has two teams play in their respective stadiums in two or more specified years.

According to White, any two of those games bring over $1 million in much-needed revenue. He said they’re constantly in conversations with Power Five schools for home games as they are taking care of the opening spots they have on future schedules.

“For us, we’re just looking to bring the best brands we can into our stadium. Coach [Willie] Taggart is great to work with on scheduling, and he’s very open to playing the best names we can get to schedule with,” White said. “It’s like putting an asset in the bank; you’re still [going to] have it and be excited to have that [and] want to continue to work on [it].”

White said scheduling a non-conference game usually starts with a call or a text message to the athletic director of another school.

“We would always talk with our football coaches before we schedule a game and make sure it’s something that they’re comfortable with. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t,” White said. “We tend to be the ones reaching out more than we get reached out to, but we do get reached out to from programs that would like to schedule us and a lot of times, it makes a lot of sense; and sometimes, it’s not the ideal game to schedule in a given week.”

For early season contests, Riordan sees the AAC’s ESPN contract having great opportunities for FAU to capitalize on scheduling OOC games against big-name opponents.

“It would be awesome [with] FAU being in the AAC now and having these opportunities because the opponents would welcome the opportunity to get on the big stage as well,” Riordan said. “The ESPN stage, the ABC stage, the CBS stage, so I think it’s an awesome opportunity for FAU to go and get that.”

While Aresco said the AAC doesn’t oversee the scheduling of non-conference games, it does organize games that are within the conference as they focus on the algorithms from plenty of scheduling models to figure out the best option for its members.

“The goal is to have a fair schedule to have everybody try to play each other over a period of years and with 14 teams, [it’s] a little tougher. We’ve got more teams now and we will probably stick to the eight-game conference schedule,” Aresco said. “We like the idea of being able to play four non-conference games that can really matter as we need to go out [to] play and win those games to build credibility for the conference.”

How FAU Negotiates Game Contracts

Negotiating schedules involves game contracts, documents that require agreements from two teams to play one another at one or more determined dates.

There are three types of game contracts FAU has regarding compensation for every game: one where the hosting team pays FAU as the away team, one where FAU pays the visiting team, and one where no compensation is involved unless a game gets canceled for any reason stated in the contract, therefore having the breaching team disburse their payment to the non-breaching team.

“Home-and-homes either have no money exchanged or [might] have a set amount that’s even on both sides,” White said. “So when an opponent plays here, we pay them $200,000 but when we go there, they pay us $200,000 and that just helps a given year off set the travel costs.”

According to some game contracts spanning from 2018 to 2031 that the University Press acquired via a public records request, the lowest amount was $150,000 each for two games against the University of Central Florida (UCF) in 2018 and 2019, and the highest was $1.7 million against the University of Missouri in 2027.

White states it is part of the negotiation as they can have a glimpse of the market to understand their value thanks to GRIDIRON, a website that allows teams to see open dates and available games on future schedules in real-time for any given year.

“If a Power Five school wants to have seven or eight home games, they’re [going to] have to buy a couple of extra teams,” White said. “We know [the] value that we bring to the table [so] we try to negotiate the best we can for the university.”

Home-and-home series are games that White sees as a way to get top-level opponents to come to Boca Raton, such as the games FAU has scheduled with the University of Missouri for 2027, 2030, and 2031. He does, however, explain the difficulty in doing so, saying that some teams and football coaches don’t want to play on the road in a Group of Five stadium.

“We would obviously prefer home-and-homes, but we understand the difficulty that some schools are harder to get to commit to that. I think it’s worth it for us to even take what is obviously a lopsided agreement to play twice on the road and once at home,” White said. “It’s worth it for us to get better teams in our stadium and in this community, so we’re willing to agree to those, and obviously the financials of it have to make sense as well.”

Scheduled Games in Uncharted Territory

Attracting new opponents, whether it’s in Boca Raton or on the road, can bring interest and anticipation for many people. FAU has played two away games each against the University of Alabama and the University of Auburn and hosted the University of Miami (UM) once in years past. White believes there could be others that could be open to playing in Boca Raton, as it would bring a great experience for everyone involved.

“You can just see there’s some athletic administration, university football coaches that are just willing to do it and you see it [when] a Power Five school plays on the road,” White said. “We’re working and constantly seeking to schedule teams that are open to having conversations about it.”

Against in-state teams in Florida, the FAU football team has faced Florida International University (FIU) 20 times, the University of Florida (UF) four times, the University of South Florida (USF) four times, UM three times, UCF three times, Florida A&M once, and the now-defunct Jacksonville University football program once. One major school in Florida they have yet to face is Florida State University (FSU).

Even though White said that FAU hasn’t had recent conversations with FSU, they are very interested in playing them sometime in the future.

“It’s typically a matter of fitting the puzzle pieces in,” White said. “Their schedule is probably pretty scheduled out as well but if we can make it work, that’s one that would be a tremendous game for our fans.”

FAU’s Potential in the AAC

As FAU completes its transition into the AAC, White views it as an upward trajectory because it will give them the chance to schedule more games against better opponents, excite fans on and off campus, have more sold-out games that will garner more revenue for the university, and expand the potential of what the brand could be in the future.

“It’s probably something that in terms of out-of-conferences, it takes some time and we’re definitely going to do our best to be flexible and open,” White said. “At the end of the day, it is what you’re willing to agree to and I think we are willing to agree to a lot of things for the benefit of our fans.”

“If you do college sports correctly, it’s the front porch of your university.”
– Mike Aresco, AAC Commissioner

For Riordan, it comes back to putting FAU on the grand stage, as it’s another step up and it’s where the university needs to be for student-athletes, at the academic level, and for the brand itself.

“There are similar institutions within the AAC that have the same academic philosophy and success as FAU, so it’s a match all the way around,” Riordan said. “People have to continue to come out and support FAU and put people in the stands. With the fanbase doing their part, that will help make the move look even better and make it more successful.”

Schnellenberger died in late March of 2021, and Riordan believes this is what he dreamed of when he started the football program.

“He was dreaming right from the start to be bigtime for football [and] for FAU. Him seeing FAU’s [now] moving on to the next stage, I think this is exactly what he planned,” Riordan said. “You need to take steps and sometimes baby steps but as long as they are upward steps, you’re going up the stairs as opposed to down the stairs.”

According to Aresco, FAU will be able to generate more fan interest and attention thanks to the teams joining the AAC, which will help drive attendance. Not only will the higher profile and exposure contribute to benefitting the institution, but he believes it will also lead to more applications, an expanded applicant pool, and increased SAT scores that will improve how people perceive the university.

“If you do college sports correctly, it’s the front porch of your university,” Aresco said. “In the end, I think it’s a mutually beneficial relationship that they’re going to be embarking on. I think they’ll be very happy in the league and I think it’ll be great for everyone.”

Editor’s Note: This story is a part of our December/January issue titled “Unfinished Business,” which you can pick up on campus or read online here.

Richard Pereira is the Sports Editor for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @Rich26Pereira.