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How to start a college basketball team and get rich doing it

Guaranteed games against D1 schools offer a nice check. The only thing you need to cash it is a college basketball team. It's easier than you might think.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Dr. Eric Capaci is a man of many trades.

First and foremost, he's Pastor Eric Capaci, the founding pastor of the Gospel Light Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas, which opened in 1992. But his time away from Gospel Light, he hits an interesting trifecta: "Eric Capaci, college president," and "Eric Capaci, college basketball coach."

The founder of Champion Baptist College, which opened its doors in 2005, Capaci is a rare breed, serving as both college president and collegiate basketball coach, despite having no previous experience in either. The combination makes sense when you consider Champion Baptist's circumstances. It's a new, unaccredited school that has graduated just 200 students and focuses mostly on training students to work in the church ministry, "with the purpose of training leaders in old-time fundamentalism," according to the school's website.

Champion Baptist is not big-time college basketball. But Capaci is an ambitious guy, and he wants to play teams that are big time. And that's in part why he's now "Eric Capaci, NCAA record-breaking basketball coach," despite Champion Baptist being in the Association of Christian College Athletics, far outside the boundaries of the NCAA.

In December 2013, Champion Baptist set an NCAA record for the largest deficit to ever start an association-sanctioned basketball game, as the Tigers started their game against the Southern Jaguars down 44-0. They lost the game 116-12.

That's just one of many games the Tigers have played against Division I teams, and they played four more in 2014-15, losing by an average score of 73. As the scores indicate, Champion Baptist isn't close to the level of any team in Division I.

UT-Martin 115, Champion Baptist 29
Lamar 128, Champion Baptist 54
Louisiana-Monroe 106, Champion Baptist 39
Southern 114, Champion Baptist 50.

Clearly, Eric Capaci doesn't have a future coaching major college basketball. That's fine because he's not really a college basketball coach, and he's done extremely well for himself in other parts of his life. He finds coaching rewarding despite the scores, and good on him for the optimism.

But despite not really being a college basketball coach, Capaci has a college basketball team, and one that routinely plays teams in the sports top division. And this is not an isolated example.

In fact, as Capaci and many others have demonstrated, you, too, can have your own college basketball team. And if you play your cards right, you can make a lot of money doing it.

Step 1: Start a college and a team

"To be honest, anyone could start a college."

That's what a Florida Department of Education spokeswoman told the Tampa Bay Times when the paper inquired about a school on the fringe of college athletics.

It takes a lot more than that to start an accredited college, but if your goal is to simply call yourself a college and be able to compete athletically against Division I teams, all you need is some players, a theoretical degree and the ability to create a Wordpress site.

"With some of these Southland schools, there's not a whole lot of accountability," Capaci said. "A coach could make himself look real over the phone or with a small website."

That may sound absurd, but it's all the NCAA requires for Division I teams to count their non-NCAA opponents as legitimate. Here's the official bylaw:

Only games against varsity teams of four-year (or two-year senior colleges), degree-granting institutions, that play a majority of their contests against U.S. college varsity teams, should be included on the schedule form.

That's essentially every school. Even the NAIA, which has incredibly relaxed rules compared to the NCAA, has a special list of "non-countable" schools. However, many of those colleges have been deemed good enough of NCAA competition, as a Reddit user found that NCAA Division I teams played 14 games against them in 2014-15.

While many unaccredited schools are legitimate operations -- Champion Baptist is an example -- others are extraordinarily questionable. One of the non-countable NAIA schools, College of Faith-Charlotte played and lost to MEAC power North Carolina Central, 123-65, this year.

Unlike many of its fellow fringe teams, College of Faith-Charlotte is an online only school, and it's part of a group of College of Faith schools, with two others based in Florida and Arkansas. The school's website was created out of a WIX template, and despite being an online school, the website was either down or inaccessible for some time in early January. The new and improved website just has a slider of stock photos, plus one photo of Saints football players in uniform.

College of Faith-Charlotte administrator/coach Dell Richardson declined an interview request through College of Faith system president and athletic director Sherwyn Thomas. His school's campus is limited to, "a small room in a run-down church in northwest Charlotte," according to the Davidson News. Richardson is also the coach of the football team, which set an NCAA record by finishing with negative-100 total yards in a game against Division II Tusculum this year.

The football team for the Arkansas "campus" -- nicknamed the Mighty Believers -- is just as ragtag. In an interview from 2013, Thomas, a street preacher, detailed how he just started a team out of the blue, with no money and virtually no curriculum. He had already set up a football and basketball schedule for a two-year school that folded, so he thought rather than not honor those schedule commitments, he could just create his own school.

"I prayed about it, and I said let me research about how to start your own college," Thomas said in the interview.

It really is that simple.

Step 2: Find teams to play. They'll be begging to play you.

There are 351 teams in Division I basketball, so there are theoretically plenty of games to go around between teams from the NCAA's upper division. However, Division I teams have played 408 games against non-Division I teams this year, winning all but six of them and winning by an average of 29 points.

How does that happen? The cynical view is that teams just want to pad their stats, and that's true of the bigger teams like Baylor, San Diego State and Utah, which have all played terrible non-Division I teams in recent years. But for teams in the smaller conferences -- particularly the Southland, MEAC and SWAC -- scheduling non-Division I teams is a necessity.

That's how North Carolina Central ended up scheduling College of Faith-Charlotte this year.

Just like College of Faith, NCCU spends much of the first part of its season traveling around the country playing "guarantee games," in which they're paid to play a bigger opponent in what's likely a guaranteed loss. This year, the Eagles played at North Carolina, Cincinnati, Creighton, Maryland and Memphis.

"We play somewhere around $400,000 worth of games," NCCU coach LeVelle Moton said. "When we were independent, prior to being in a conference, we played a lot more. What I found at that time, six or seven years ago, it can eat you."

Teams need home games to counteract the low morale that can come from constantly being on the road, and they need to be able to draw some sort of a crowd before conference play begins. For Moton and NCCU, that task has proven to be nearly impossible.

"We didn't finish our schedule until mid October of this year," he said. "Even with that, we had to compromise with things. We've contacted pretty much everyone. There aren't many schools that are willing to come play in our gym in Division I basketball."

The only Division I team to agree to a game at NCCU this year was IUPUI, and even they tried to opt out, according to Moton.

Part of that is because the Eagles are the top team in the MEAC. What low-level Division I team wants to go into NCCU's gym and use one of its away games -- which could instead be a higher-paying guarantee game -- to get its butt kicked? The solution, Moton said, is to lose, but that's obviously not an option.

"As we've gotten better and better, the phone calls have diminished," Moton said, "We've gotten blatant answers from people who say, ‘Heck no, we'll never play you.'"

So rather than lose and hope to attract more Division I opponents who will give up an away game -- and even that wouldn't be a given -- the Eagles opted to play three non-Division I teams this year, including College of Faith-Charlotte, winning by an average score of 111-52.

These Division I schools will do basically anything to fill out their schedules.

"There's not a ton of communication with the schools other than a phone call," Capaci said, noting that Champion Baptist makes an effort to do things about the board and that he probably says "too much" when talking to coaches looking for opponents.

That's where fringe schools can make their money. Schools like NCCU that can't find Division I opponents can use national databases, like Basketball Travelers, to find alternatives. And if you're a good salesman, you can get even bigger fish from Division I conferences to happily pay you and run you out of the gym.

St. Katherine, a tiny, unaccredited college in San Diego, has proven to be exceptional at this strategy. While the Firebirds are currently an NAIA non-countable and are only in their second season, they played a grueling schedule in year one.

"When our president asked (former coach) Scott Mitchell to start a basketball program ... he went out and said the first thing I need to do is find a schedule," athletic director Adam Fowler said. "He was very ambitious and started calling Division I schools."

St. Katherine played the likes of San Diego State and Utah, among others, in its first season -- the Firebirds lost those games 118-35 and 124-51, respectively -- and essentially used that as a recruiting tool. It's an effective pitch for kids who never got to realize their Division I dreams, and Mitchell's team-building skills helped St. Katherine boost enrollment -- one of the main objectives of starting a sports program, and partly how the school hopes to become accredited.

The problem is, losing by that much all the time can be demoralizing for athletes who hoped they could play at a Division I level. When it came down to it, Mitchell, who is no longer with the school, said that the average player on St. Katherine was "a supplemental kid on their high school team."

"It's great playing a D-I school, but you have to live with the pounding that they throw," he said.

The good news for St. Katherine is that there is never a shortage of players looking to play college basketball, whatever the level. While Fowler noted that scheduling Division I teams can be bad for retention, it's great for bringing players in. St. Katherine's first team had some players you wouldn't expect to see on a college basketball court, including a 34-year-old who never finished college (Mitchell said he was an anomaly on the team), and one player who had played professionally overseas. Since St. Katherine is attempting to adhere to NCAA and NAIA rules, it had to reevaluate how it recruits and who it allows to play.

But with a surplus -- even if a revolving door -- of athletes and an easy win as his selling point, Mitchell was able to build a legitimate schedule for a team that did not exist a year earlier. The secret?

"We can be bought fairly cheaply," Mitchell said.

But "cheap" is relative, and with so many teams needing games, there's the opportunity for fringe schools to rack up some serious money on the Division I scheduling circuit.

Step 3: Profit

The term "profit" comes with a caveat here. If you're trying to build a school, like St. Katherine is, you're not going to get rich all of the sudden, since you'll presumably need to pay for a staff and infrastructure.

But if you're building your school, or you just want to make some cash while hosting all of your classes online, guarantee games can actually go quite a ways.

There's no science to guarantee games. A school makes an offer and the guarantee beneficiary can decide whether to accept it. The size of the guarantee correlates pretty well with the size of the beating a team is about to receive, but the range is huge.

"Our guarantees range from $1,500 to $10,000," Fowler said. "They just kind of make an offer."

The $10,000 came from a Mountain West team, as teams in larger conferences typically pay better, but another Mountain West team paid $3,500.

Champion Baptist hasn't played a team of Mountain West caliber, but it still gets pretty good guarantees. Division II teams will pay anywhere between $1,000 and $2,500, while Division I teams will pay between $5,000 and $6,000. Expenses generally come in at $1,000 per road trip, so it's a substantial boost for the school.

In paying its teachers and trying to fulfill other expenses, basketball still didn't cover all of St. Katherine's costs -- the school spent about $1.5 million on paying teachers and coaches last year, according to Fowler -- but there are opportunities for schools that can barely be classified as such to make some serious money.

"If you're playing a game that brings you $10,000 in profit revenue, and you just practice outside and don't have any home games, you could make, conservatively, $400,000-$500,000 per year," he said. "That's before you pay your teachers."

Getting $10,000 per game for a schedule that long is wishful thinking, but there is still some major money to be made if you minimize your expenses, and that's what schools on the fringe of college athletics are figuring out.

What is the end game? It's unfair to generalize, as there are undoubtedly a myriad of factors for these schools, from making money to boosting enrollment to working toward accreditation. For Capaci, the goal is to one day be the school paying the guarantee.

"We have a vision at Champion," he said. "We want to be an NCAA Division I school."

That's a long way off for Champion, but Capaci's current situation isn't all that bad, either. For now, he's a pastor/college president/college basketball coach, and his Tigers are paid handsomely to keep on losing.