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Grounded Rattlers to earn bus full of money

By: Wally Hall
Published: Thursday, August 17, 2017
Florida A&M offensive lineman Keenen Anderson (75) linebacker Emilio Gibbs, center, and defensive tackle Javon Hunt (94) watch from the bench during the final minutes of an NCAA college football game against Miami, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016 in Miami Gardens, Fla. Miami defeated Florida A&M 70-3. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Florida A&M offensive lineman Keenen Anderson (75) linebacker Emilio Gibbs, center, and defensive tackle Javon Hunt (94) watch from the bench during the final minutes of an NCAA college football game against Miami, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016 in Miami Gardens, Fla. Miami defeated Florida A&M 70-3. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

It started with a simple story in the Tallahassee Democrat about how the Florida A&M Rattlers would bus to Little Rock to play the Arkansas Razorbacks on the night of Aug. 31 at War Memorial Stadium.

Jay Bilas, an ESPN basketball analyst, read the story and tweeted: "Make no mistake, all players are used to making their schools money. A crazy bus ride to Arkansas...for $750,000."

That tweet sent the story to another level of attention and ticked off at least one FAMU (the Rattlers are widely known as FAMU) official.

Chris Asa, associate athletic director for ticket and corporate sales, responded several times, although Bilas never entered that fray.

"Currently our budget for FY17-18 is $9.5 mill. With football. As you know the model for FCS has long involved these 'paycheck games.' "

Five minutes later Asa went back on Twitter: "I'm sorry we aren't a $100 million budget school. If Bama was taking this bus ride, you might have a point."

Asa needed even more than the 140 characters Twitter allows, adding: "But we ain't Bama. We ain't FSU [Florida State]. So try not to use us to drive your narrative."

Two minutes later Asa tweeted: "All our SR Staff inc myself and AD [Milton] Overton will be on the bus w team putting our $ where our mouth is so, respectfully sir, buzz off."

Did anyone really think the Rattlers were coming for anything more than a paycheck? Simple math tells you it was pretty smart of them to bus.

It is a more than 10-hour drive from Tallahassee that is fairly easy because it is all freeway. They'll start out on Highway 20 and ease onto Interstate 65 before switching to I-22 in Birmingham, then hit I-40 from Memphis to Little Rock. Our man Tom Murphy probably would share his shortcut around Memphis traffic if asked.

This is such a play for profit for the Rattlers that they won't be bringing their band, which is a loss for the fans of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. FAMU's marching band is amazing.

The Rattlers obviously need the money, as do most schools, but this is their only big payday of the season. Only 23 athletic programs in the country make money, and the UA is one of those.

Chartering a plane was out of the question. The cheapest round-trip airfare as of Wednesday was $503 per person, there was no guarantee of getting 75 or 80 tickets on the same flight, and there certainly wasn't a direct commercial flight.

What might be tougher on the Rattlers is that they open their season Aug. 26 by hosting Texas Southern, just five days before the game with the Razorbacks, meaning four days after that game they are getting on the chartered buses and heading to Little Rock.

And they are doing so without complaint, as they should. The team is young, and youth is good for traveling.

While this is a money game for the Rattlers, it is not a guaranteed huge loss.

FAMU returns 15 starters, eight on offense and seven on defense, and the Rattlers will have a game of experience under their belt.

Of course, this is also a program that hasn't won more than four games in a single season since 2011.

It will be the Rattlers' second televised game in a row because their opener is on ESPNU; the one with the Hogs will air on the SEC Network.

When head Coach Alex Wood arrived for the 2015 season the Rattlers went 1-10, but they improved to 4-7 last season. He has a dual-threat quarterback in sophomore Ryan Stanley, who took over the starting job last season when FAMU was 0-4.

Florida A&M will get on the bus to go home with a loss, but it won't be because of the bus ride.

Sports on 08/17/2017

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