Liberty University will stop at nothing, it seems, to raise the profile of its football program. Last fall, it hired disgraced former Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw, who resigned from Baylor when it came out that he took part in covering up reports of rapes that involved university football players. That didn’t stop Liberty from welcoming him with open arms. McCaw described his intention to elevate Liberty to “the level of Notre Dame,” and Liberty’s president Jerry Falwell Jr.—the man who once exhorted his students to “end those Muslims”—praised McCaw’s tenure at Baylor, calling his hiring “exciting.”
Now, the Liberty Flames will pay Old Dominion an unprecedented $1.32 million to play them in their 2018 season home opener, according to the Virginian-Pilot, which got a copy of contract. While less morally bankrupt than its hiring of McCaw, Liberty’s decision to pay this huge sum shows how desperate it was to ensure its home opener for 2018—its first season as an FBS program—would be against FBS competition.
It’s unheard of for universities like Liberty, an evangelical mid-major in Lynchburg, Va., to pay this much for a “buy game”—such huge amounts usually are offered up by programs in the power conferences to smaller schools in return for nearly certain record-padding victories. But Liberty, with its $1 billion endowment, its own televised sports network, and its army of Christian supporters and donors, had the means to ensure its football team would play FBS competition in its first 2018 home game. In this case, the Pilot noted, Liberty isn’t even favored to win.
The 2017 and 2018 seasons will be part of the Flames’ transition to FBS. NCAA rules mandate that they have to play at least three FBS home games in 2018. They are scheduled to play four FBS home games: Old Dominion, North Texas, Troy and New Mexico State, which Liberty also will play on the road. As for the rest of Liberty’s schedule, the Pilot reported:
Liberty officials had planned to release their schedule later this spring, but President Trump forced their hand when he read the school’s future schedules aloud at Liberty’s graduation on Saturday.