For weeks, Citadel athletic director Mike Capaccio worked the phones.
The Citadel had made it clear, the Bulldogs wanted to play fall football despite the coronavirus pandemic. But after the Southern Conference postponed fall sports and wiped eight games from The Citadel's slate, would Capaccio be able to find anybody for the Bulldogs to play?
Even the previously scheduled game at Clemson hung in the balance as college football sorted itself out in the COVID-19 era.
"The last three or four months have been very stressful for everybody, trying to figure out what we are going to do," Capaccio said. "It's always the unknown, and now we've brought some closure to that. Now we know we're looking at four games in the fall, and now we have to prepare to be successful in those four games."
Monday's announcement that The Citadel will play at Army West Point on Oct. 10 completed Capaccio's task with an exclamation point. The Bulldogs will play three FBS road games — at South Florida on Sept. 12, at Clemson on Sept. 19 and at Army — along with a Sept. 26 home game against FCS Eastern Kentucky.
The three road games are worth a combined $950,000 to The Citadel (Clemson will pay $450,000, South Florida $275,000 and Army $225,000), a boon to an FCS program that was facing severe financial difficulty without a full fall football slate. Capaccio had already enacted a 10 percent across-the-board budget cut after the spring season and lucrative NCAA men's basketball tournament were canceled.
"The most important thing is that our cadet-athletes will be able to compete, as they want to, and we'll be able to keep our staff working through the fall," Capaccio said. "But it's definitely going to plug some holes we're going to have. We're still going to lose money because of ticket sales and sponsorships and Brigadier Foundation memberships. It's going to be difficult on those fronts, but it does plug some of that hole."
In 2018, some 11 percent of The Citadel's athletic revenues of $18.4 million came from $2.01 million in ticket sales, mostly from football, according to the Knight Commission database. With only one home game this fall, ticket sales will fall far short of that number in 2020. The SoCon is planning for a conference season in the spring, but it's unclear if that will actually happen.
Citadel coach Brent Thompson said team morale has been boosted as the schedule came together over the last week.
"I'm not overly concerned about how tough the schedule is, but if we would have a schedule," he said. "We knew it would be whatever opponents we could get to fit in that time frame of four or five weeks. Just having the opportunity to play is all that we were looking for. We knew it would be difficult, but anything that's difficult for us is a good challenge for us, and will get us ready for a SoCon schedule in the spring."
As all 13 FCS conferences eventually postponed their fall sports to the spring, finding potential opponents became more difficult. Capaccio said he and assistant athletic director Geoff Von Dollen reached out to 15 or 20 teams while scrambling to put together a four-game schedule.
"The most difficult part was just finding times and dates and financial situations that could work for everybody," Capaccio said. "We were not going to make any trips unless we could cover our costs."
Ticket policies for the lone home game have yet to be announced. Many schools have announced attendance policies of 20 to 25 percent of stadium capacity, and The Citadel seems likely to go that route. That could mean anywhere from about 2,300 to 3,000 spectators at 11,500-seat Johnson Hagood Stadium.
"We'll probably be in line with what USC and Clemson are doing which looks like 25 percent or so," Capaccio said. "But we are investigating all those things now and how to make it work."
The game at Army West Point will be the Bulldogs' first against the military academy since 1994.
“Playing Army and going to West Point will offer our football team a unique opportunity we haven’t had for a while,” said Capaccio. “I know the team and our fan base will be excited for this matchup.”
The Bulldogs and Black Knights will be meeting for the 10th time overall. Army holds a 7-2 advantage in the all-time series, but the Bulldogs have won two of the last three meetings. The Citadel won 20-14 in 1991 and 15-14 in 1992.
In the last meeting between the teams in 1994, Army kicked a 24-yard field goal as time expired to hand the Bulldogs a 25-24 defeat.
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