RUSTON, Louisiana — Tommy McClelland says that when he became athletic director at Louisiana Tech, the football team was committed to some non-conference games way out of its league in 2016. With a few contract changes and a fellow athletic director's help, he changed that.
The Bulldogs were 7-1 in the Conference USA last year and 9-5 overall, including non-conference road losses to No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 5 Auburn. And in 2016, they were scheduled to face Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Arkansas.
"We were in the SEC West essentially when I first took over the job" in 2013, McClelland told The News-Star (http://tnsne.ws/1AhlZrE) on Wednesday. "My first reaction was I gotta provide our team the opportunity to be competitive. That's just brutal."
Now the 2016 non-conference opponents include Texas Tech, Arkansas and UMass.
McClelland says the Mississippi State game in Ruston was not canceled, just postponed to 2017, with a scheduled 2017 game in Starkville to be played in 2021 or '22.
Tech now has three road games and still needs to add a Football Championship Subdivision home game for 2016.
McClelland said A&M administrators had asked if he'd pay $500,000 to buy out the game, which would have paid Tech $200,000. Texas Tech offered an $800,000 game guarantee, so Louisiana Tech will be $100,000 ahead even after paying A&M.
Tech won last year's Heart of Dallas Bowl 35-18 against Illinois.
"We think we have a chance to continue to be pretty good," McClelland said. "As we continue that momentum to '16, we want to do our best to give our players and fans the opportunity to continue to be successful."
He said Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin called in 2013 to ask if he wanted to postpone the games.
"I said I want the home game," McClelland said. "I'm still going to get the home game, I'm just going to get it in another year, but I have to mitigate and break this down a little bit because you can argue the SEC West is the best conference in football."
Under two contracts signed by former Tech athletic directors Derek Dooley and Bruce Van De Velde, Tech had been scheduled to play Mississippi State for four straight years, starting this season — once in Ruston and three times in Starkville.
The 2015 meeting in October is a game guarantee and 2016 was scheduled as the beginning of a home-and-home.
"We want to play the games with Mississippi State, don't get me wrong," McClelland said. "I don't know if their fans want to see Louisiana Tech four years in a row on the schedule. We needed to spread that out and create some breathing room."
Instead of a straight 2-for-1, most schools, like Tech in its upcoming series with Baylor, have a guarantee game and a home-and-home. Sometimes the back-end return game will be postponed for years, as Tech did with Mississippi State.
A return trip from an old three-game contract between Tech and Mississippi State fell within the current three-game deal, which included a guarantee game in Starkville (2015), a home game in Ruston (2016) and a return trip to Starkville for no additional money.
The game at UMass is part of a home-and-home, with a game in Ruston in 2018 or 2019.
McClelland said he's had numerous calls from Power Five schools for guarantee games, which would have put him back into the predicament he inherited.
Instead, he struck a deal at Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots, with UMass, which is searching for Football Bowl Subdivision home games during its transition to independent status.
"UMass has a great on-campus facility, but you have the opportunity to play in a professional stadium and get your kids that experience," he said. "It's not the reason we did it, but it was definitely brought up by me. I didn't just want to sign a home-and-home."
Information from: The News-Star, http://www.thenewsstar.com
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