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Big-money football games are a must for Aggies

New Mexico State athletic director Mario Moccia said he certainly understands the league commissioner’s desire to have Sun Belt Conference teams playing fewer big-money football games against big-time opponents. But for a school like NMSU, those games are a “necessary evil.”

During the league meetings on Monday in New Orleans, Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson said he wants the football programs to work on shedding their “addiction” to big-money, non-conference matchups with heavily favored, Power Five programs.

Those games typically lead to two things:

• A huge payday for the Sun Belt squad.

• A huge blowout victory for the Power Five program.

Benson said more non-league games with “peer conferences” would improve the chances of a Sun Belt team going unbeaten and getting a bid to one of six New Year’s Day bowl games.

“As nice as it is and as great as it is to win a game against one of the ‘Big Five’ – I don’t want to minimize that – but right now, in the system that we have, competition with our peer conferences is so important,” Benson said. “Those are the games that we really need to focus on.”

New Mexico State opens its 2015 season at Florida on Sept. 5 and visits Ole Miss on Oct. 5. Last season the Aggies lost 63-7 at LSU, but were paid $975,000 for the game.

Moccia, in his first year as the Aggies’ athletic director, told the Journal on Monday that he agrees with Benson’s philosophy.

In theory. Reality, however, dictates a different path for NMSU.

“Unfortunately our situation, financially, is not going to allow that to happen for several years,” Moccia said of shedding the big-money, probable tail-kickings.

“The guaranteed, games, or whatever you would like to call them, I see them as a necessary evil. Often times, in that group of five (smaller conferences), virtually everyone needs to play one of those a year. The payouts are anywhere between $1-and-$1.5 million. It’s a quick way to fund your operational budget for the year. Now, I also think that playing more than one of those, isn’t the best way to build a football program.”

Moccia, who came to New Mexico State from Southern Illinois – a member of the Football Championship Subdivision – said the Aggies are scheduled to play two guaranteed each season through 2019.

But he said he is also committed to having the Aggies play future schedules that will allow them to be more competitive. NMSU hasn’t been to a bowl game since 1960.

“In a perfect world, you would play one of those (guaranteed money) games,” he said. “You’ve got your annual rivalry games; UNM, UTEP. Then if you could play an FCS at home, that gives you an opportunity to have six home games every year. It’s good for the season ticket holder and – I came from FCS, so I would never consider that a warm-up game, so to speak – it is an opportunity to play somebody with less scholarships and use that as a developmental-type game. You have to be smart in scheduling those, too. You could schedule (FCS power) North Dakota State, and they could have a field day with you.”

Moccia said that Benson didn’t tell schools they should change their schedules as soon as possible.

“These are guidelines or suggestions,” Moccia said. “But at the end of the day, your financial situation has to dictate that. There’s no other way, speaking candidly, that New Mexico State University can make $1-to-$1.5 million (other than a big-money football game). When there’s bills to pay, those are the realities we face.

“There are other realities less appealing, such as a reduction of sports and things like that, and that’s a barrier we don’t want to cross. We will continue to do this with the football program, but it’s incumbent upon the athletic director to make sure that our fans and our leadership are aware of what it means – to play two guaranteed games – for your program. It’s not the best way to build a program. It’s not the easiest task to build a program. But as they say, when you have to feed the family, you have to feed the family.”

ALL-SUN BELT: New Mexico State wide receiver Teldrick Morgan earned preseason All-Sun Belt Second Team Offense honors.

Morgan had 75 receptions for 903 yards to average 12.0 yards a catch and 82.1 receiving yards a game in 2014.

The Associated Press contributed to this story