Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany made some news last week when he announced the league’s football scheduling policy beginning in 2016.
Delany said that the Big Ten schools would move to nine conference games–something currently done by the Pac-12 and Big 12–with one mandated opponent from another Power Five conference. Delany also announced that his teams would no longer schedule opponents from the FCS (formerly I-AA) level.
Now getting to where Delany wants to go may be easier said than done. This season seven Big Ten schools play teams from the FCS. In 2016 that number grows to eight. In other words, it’s going to take a while to get the FCS games off the Big Ten schedules unless you just buy those opponents out.
I respect what the Big Ten is doing. Delany and his athletics directors have looked at their conference, the landscape of the College Football Playoff selection committee, and their fan bases and have picked the scheduling model that works best for them.
“We think it’s what the fans want. We think it’s what our players want. And we think it’s what the College Football Playoff committee wants,” Delany said at last week’s Big Ten media days.
But does it mean that every Power Five conference should adopt that model?
Of course not.
This season every SEC team but Florida will play one team from the FCS .The list includes: Charleston Southern, UT-Martin, Jacksonville State, Southern University, Eastern Kentucky, McNeese State, Northwestern State, SE Missouri State, The Citadel, Western Carolina, and Austin Peay. Western Carolina (Tennessee, Texas A&M) and UT-Martin (Arkansas, Ole Miss) will each play TWO SEC teams.
Right about now I can see many of you rolling your eyes. I’ve heard from you. I raised the issue on Twitter a couple of times before writing this column. It was hardly a scientific poll but it’s clear where the vast majority of the fans stand on this issue.
You don’t like fighting traffic and spending a bunch of money to watch your team beat up on an opponent that is there to offer token resistance and collect a big check (on average about $500,000). Yes, occasionally Appalachian State beats Michigan but not often.
You are also afraid that if your team gets into the thick of the race for one of the four playoff spots that playing that “cupcake” could cost you a chance to win the national championship. You want your team to play 12 really good opponents.
And you don’t like it that a bunch of these games are played on the third Saturday in November, right before rivalry week.
I get it. Fans are focused on what is best–or what they perceive is best–for them and their enjoyment of college football.
But I would ask you to step back and take a look at the bigger picture.
First of all, in the new world of the College Football Playoff there has been this incredible rush to demand conformity: Everybody’s got to play a conference championship game; everybody’s got to play 13 games; everybody’s got to be in a conference; everybody’s got to have the same kind of schedule. There seems to be this incredible desire to make college football like the NFL where conformity reigns supreme. In reality that’s the LAST thing a true college football fan should want. It’s no fun. It’s also pretty damned boring.
The Big Ten is different than the SEC, which is different than the Pac-12 which is different than the Big 12 which is different than the ACC. Every conference should determine the best scheduling model for its members knowing that the Selection Committee will be the ultimate judge on whether it is good enough to make the playoffs. If the current scheduling model proves not to work, then go to another one.
But the bigger question deals with the overall health of the game. The games with the big boys are the financial life blood for the FCS schools. Northwestern State will get $400,000 for playing at Mississippi State on Sept. 19. That’s a huge chunk of money for a small school that sponsors 12 sports.
You say you don’t care if the little guys are able to keep playing football? Well, you should. When you walk into the College Football Hall of Fame you come face to face with a three-story wall with over 700 helmets. That’s how many colleges and universities at different levels play football in the United States. The game is not healthy if only 100 schools can afford to play it. It can’t always be about what’s good for your team or your conference. Sometimes things have to be done for the good of the game.
How about this as a compromise? Rather than eliminate FCS opponents, I’m going to propose that down the road the SEC adopt this scheduling format:
**–Nine conference games. It will be a hard sell to the coaches but I believe that in the CFP era it is going to become necessary. When 2016 arrives only the SEC and ACC will still be playing eight-game conference schedules. Right now Alabama’s Nick Saban is the only SEC coach that supports a nine-game schedule.
**–One game against the other Power Five conferences. This mandate is already in place for the 2016 season and there are a bunch of really good games–like Georgia’s home and home with Notre Dame–in the pipeline.
**–One game against the Group of Five FBS conferences (American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt).
**–One game against the FCS. Schools may choose not to do this and opt for another team from the FBS. It’s their choice.
That would give each SEC team a minimum 10 opponents against the Power Five, which should be enough to satisfy the CFP Selection Committee.
But is it enough to satisfy the fans? You tell me.