Miami about to become Bethune-Cookman's top test
Bethune-Cookman will get everything it wants this weekend. A check for appearing. A chance to gather thousands of alumni in one place. Another opportunity to play on national television.
And best of all, a shot against one of college football's big-time programs.
Only 86 years after starting its football program, Bethune-Cookman - a relatively small, historically black university in Daytona Beach, Fla. - is finally going to play one of football's top brands. The Wildcats visit Miami on Saturday afternoon, marking the first time the team from the division formerly known as I-AA will line up against a team with ties to the Bowl Championship Series.
Suffice to say, there's going to be no shortage of alumni from the visiting school entering Sun Life Stadium this weekend.
''It happens to be the biggest game this week for us,'' Wildcats athletic director Lynn Thompson said. ''But I have to give credence to the fact that it's an opportunity for the university to be seen on a national platform. It's an infomercial on B-CU. For 3 1/2 hours, we'll have the nation's undivided attention. We're hoping to utilize this opportunity to penetrate some recruiting circles and maybe tell potential donors and sponsors something about Bethune-Cookman.''
Bethune-Cookman (2-1) is a perennial contender in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, where it plays alongside the likes of Florida A&M, Howard, Hampton and South Carolina State. Miami (1-2) is using this as another tuneup for its return to the Atlantic Coast Conference season next week, with road games looming at Virginia Tech and North Carolina.
The Hurricanes are quite clear on what this opportunity means to Bethune-Cookman, which expects ''thousands'' of graduates to attend.
''It's their Super Bowl,'' Miami quarterback Jacory Harris said. ''We understand they're going to come out here playing their hardest. They're going to give us their best game. We're going to give them our best game.''
For the Bethune-Cookman players and coaches, it means as much as any rivalry game would. Maybe even more, when considering that it's a homecoming for Wildcats coach Brian Jenkins. Like about two dozen of his current players, Jenkins grew up in South Florida, maybe a 20-minute drive from the stadium the Hurricanes call home. He rooted for them. He wanted to be them.
Come Saturday, he'll try to beat them.
''It gives us a chance to play against one of the most premiere college programs in the nation, rich in tradition of winning,'' said Jenkins, whose team was crowned the nation's best from the pool of historically black colleges and universities last season. ''They've won national championships and everyone knows they've put several athletes in the NFL. Just to have the opportunity to line up against these guys and compete is great.''
There's no denying that the money helps, too.
Across the nation each season, there's dozens of the so-called ''guarantee games'' where big-name schools use big-time checks to lure supposedly overmatched opponents in for nonconference matchups. Neither Miami nor Bethune-Cookman has released what the financial terms are for this game - both are private institutions who do not have to adhere to the same open-records policies as public schools - but it's a safe bet the Wildcats will turn a profit.
''We play every game for a check,'' Thompson said. ''I'm in the business of intercollegiate athletics. At some point, we've got to sit down and do accounting on each one of these games, so when you do scheduling you schedule based on opponents and revenue, no question about that. It will do a lot for our university. The revenue that we generate on these games is just as important as the exposure we get on national TV.''
The money and notoriety and fan interest notwithstanding, Bethune-Cookman has made it clear all week that this game isn't about just having a chance to play Miami.
Just like any other week, the Wildcats say they have a chance to win - which would be worth more than anything else. It's happened before, good teams from the Football Championship Subdivision topping teams from the upper echelon of college football, most notably when Appalachian State upset Michigan four years ago and when James Madison downed Virginia Tech last season.
''If we line up and we beat the University of Miami, of course you can use that as a powerful recruiting tool, to show we competed against one of the best college football programs in the nation and found a way to win the ball game,'' Jenkins said. ''Just having them on the schedule, that alone doesn't give you a recruiting advantage. Look at Appalachian State. They were already winning, but when they beat Michigan, their recruiting went through the roof.''
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