Liberty University will open its 2018 football season at home against Old Dominion University, a privilege for which the conservative Christian institution reportedly paid $1.32 million, according to the Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk.
The payment made some jaws drop across the Internet. Sums that large are usually paid by major Football Bowl Subdivision programs who routinely pay to play less competitive schools on their home turf in exchange for near-guaranteed wins.
Liberty’s payment to ODU, meanwhile, guarantees no such win (the Monarchs, in fact, will likely be favored to win), but it does mean the Flames will open their 2018 season — their first in the FBS — in Lynchburg, Va., against an FBS opponent, signalling that the school is quite serious about meeting the FBS reclassification criteria to become bowl eligible by 2019.
Liberty is in the Big South Conference in the Football Championship Subdivision, but three months ago the NCAA permitted to school to begin its transition to the association’s highest level of competition. Expected to take two years, the transition will see Liberty compete as an independent in 2018 before joining a new conference in 2019. It remains unclear which conference Liberty might join.
This massive investment is the latest sign that Liberty wants to raise its profile in the sport. The move comes not long after Liberty hired Ian McCaw as its athletic director. McCaw had resigned from the same post at Baylor for allegedly helping cover up a widespread sexual assault scandal involving multiple football players.
McCaw told the Virginian-Pilot on Monday that the money to pay for ODU’s visit isn’t coming from the school’s $1 billion endowment, but from a “seven-figure sum” another school was paying Liberty to visit them. That school is believed to be either Auburn or Virginia, both of whom the Flames will visit in 2018.
That we know that is another curiosity. In another unprecedented scenario, the school had President Trump announce several upcoming opponents during his commencement speech to the 2017 graduating class on Saturday.
— Liberty Flames (@libertyflames) May 13, 2017
“I’m a little bit concerned,” Trump joked before revealing what could prove a grueling schedule for the Flames.
“U-Mass. [on Nov. 3, 2018], Virginia [on Nov. 10, 2018], Auburn [on Nov. 17, 2018]. Jerry, are you sure you know what you’re doing?” Trump asked, referring to Liberty founder and President Jerry Falwell. “This could be trouble, Jerry. … Maybe in four or five years I’ll come to a game. You’ll build [the program] up.”
That will likely take more money and, perhaps, more record-breaking sums. With its $1.32 million guarantee, ODU now holds the record for highest amount paid to a Conference USA school for a game. Previously, that record was held by Western Kentucky, whom Alabama paid $1.3 million to play in 2016, the Virginian-Pilot reports.