College Football: Big Ten won’t penalize schools that schedule FCS teams
If all goes according to plan, the possibility of one of those attention-grabbing FCS wins won’t exist much longer in the Big Ten.
The College Football Playoff is coming next season, and strength of schedule is part of the criteria the selection committee will use to determine the four teams. Playing FCS opponents wouldn’t help the cause.
That’s only part of the reason Commissioner Jim Delany is encouraging Big Ten schools to keep FCS schools off non-conference schedules. He said recently that games against FCS foes don’t create enough excitement for players, fans and television networks.
While FCS-FBS matchups usually result in lopsided games that serve as little more than scrimmages to the FBS teams, the chance for the upset offers some intrigue. It happened eight times last week, and fans in Big Ten country will long remember Appalachian State’s 34-32 victory at Michigan in 2007.
Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said Tuesday it’s “an opportunity of a lifetime” for the FCS players. Andersen speaks from experience. When he was head coach at Southern Utah in 2003, his team went to Nevada and played the Wolf Pack to within 24-23.
“Those kids still talk about that,” he said.
Delany said in Madison, Wis., last month that conference members have made it a goal to keep FCS opponents off schedules.
“We don’t have any penalties for those that don’t,” Delany said. “It’s not like a violation of our rules. But everybody agreed when every game is televised, every game matters and the fans matter. Interest in those games is less. They’re from another division. They have 20 less scholarships. It’s like a junior college team playing against a high school team or a high school team playing against a JV team.”
Taking FCS schools out of the pool of potential opponents will add to the challenge of scheduling.
The Big Ten will go from eight to nine conference games beginning in 2016. That means each school will have four home conference games one year and five the next.
Athletic departments ideally need seven home games to make ends meet. To reach that threshold, FBS schools have turned to FCS programs. In return, the FCS school shows up to (usually) take a beating and goes home with a paycheck for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
When FBS schools schedule non-conference games against each other, both parties typically desire a home-and-home series. Sometimes a lower-level FBS school will accept a two-for-one deal, and sometimes cash is involved.
But if a Big Ten team wants to schedule a fellow FBS opponent with no obligation for a return date, it’s going to cost big bucks.
“For the (FBS) teams that are available,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said, “it’s probably a good thing for them. It drives the market up a little bit.”
Every Big Ten team except Michigan and Penn State is playing an FCS opponent this season. Three of those games are this week: Missouri State at Iowa, Indiana State at Purdue and Tennessee Tech at Wisconsin.
Big Ten teams are scheduled to play nine FCS opponents in 2014, including Michigan’s opener against, yes, Appalachian State.
The number of FCS opponents penciled in by Big Ten teams drops to four in 2015, two in 2016 and one in 2017.
The Big Ten is 72-6 against FCS teams since 1998, according to STATS. The Southeastern Conference is a nation-leading 111-2 in those games over that span.
Indiana coach Kevin Wilson has mixed feelings about the loss of FCS opponents. His Hoosiers opened with a 73-35 win over FCS Indiana State, whose campus is about 65 miles away from Bloomington, Ind.
“A number of Big Ten teams are playing Missouri Valley teams, some of the teams out of the Ohio Valley Conference as well — that to me makes a little bit of sense,” Wilson said.
Delany said: “It doesn’t mean if you’re Indiana you have to go play Southern Cal, but maybe you can go play Kentucky.”
Wilson said he understands why Delany wants upgraded schedules.
“By eliminating FCS, you’re just playing better opponents,” he said. “It makes the schedule tougher, but hopefully you’re going to get fans in the stands, because it’s a difficult. With HD TV, it’s difficult getting folks to the games, so we’ve got to play great opponents as well.”