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Why it's so weird that Liberty is paying ODU $1.3 million for a football game

This kind of money is usually being spent by major Power 5 schools, not teams that aren’t even in FBS yet.

NCAA Football: Liberty at Southern Methodist Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

In February, the Liberty Flames announced that they would be making the jump from the FCS to the FBS starting in 2019, a decision that was a bit surprising. Now that the Flames are headed to the big leagues, they will start paying opponents like it. On Monday, the Virginian-Pilot obtained the figure that Liberty will pay Old Dominion for the Flames’ home opener in 2018: a whopping $1.32 million.

Liberty athletic director Ian McCaw said the school could afford to pay that much only because it signed a guarantee game in 2018 with a Power 5 school “that is upwards of seven figures.” That guarantee essentially will be forwarded to ODU, he said.

(That opponent is apparently Auburn, a matchup announced by Donald Trump on Saturday.)

Seeing a small program shelling out that type of cash is head-turning, even though Liberty University is well-off, mostly because that price is usually given out by the Alabamas of the world, not by soon-to-be FBS independents with smaller stadiums. The Tide gave Western Kentucky $1.3 million last year. Liberty’s figure is close to what other Power 5 schools paid out to lesser opponents last season, too.

In Week 1, a bunch of the biggest programs in college football will pay big sums to destroy lower-echelon teams.

Louisville will host Charlotte (for $600,000), Iowa will host Miami of Ohio (for $1 million) and Florida will host UMass (for $1.25 million), among scores of other games.

Ironically, Liberty will be paying more than it’s ever received for playing a DI school, as the Virginian-Pilot pointed out that the Flames got $1 million for traveling to Vanderbilt last season.

The game was attractive to ODU for more than financial reasons. Lynchburg is a 3½-hour drive from Norfolk, close enough so fans can drive, and the Flames have an FBS-ready venue in the 19,200-seat Williams Stadium. ODU will receive 1,500 tickets.

And at a time when putting games on television has become increasingly difficult for C-USA schools, the Liberty Flames Sports Network reaches a potential audience of 80 million homes.

The other interesting factor here is how close this matchup looks like it’ll be.

Schools that pay seven figures typically are highly favored to win. Old Dominion, which moved up to FBS in 2014, just had a 10-win season last year, capped off by winning its first-ever bowl game, over Eastern Michigan.

However, the Flames have won shares of seven Big South titles since 2007, and former Buffalo and Kansas head coach Turner Gill is 35-25 at Liberty.