13 August 2010

Cut out the Cupcakes

Now, that the coaches’ poll has been released, start of the college football season is close at hand. While a few weeks of debate over the pre-season rankings inevitably will occur, some attention needs to be focused on the schedules.

Each program selects a handful of opponents to play in addition to the slate determined by its conference affiliation, the three independents excepted. Unfortunately, for the fans, teams load up their non-conference dance cards with outmanned teams from the five minor conferences of the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly known as Division 1-A) or from the Football Championship Division (previously called Division 1-AA). The Southeastern Conference typically feasts on Sun Belt & Conference USA teams. The Big Ten loads up on Mid-American Conference members. The Pacific Ten Conference has Western Athletic Conference and Mountain West Conference teams to pad win totals. The Atlantic Coast Conference and Big East demonstrate more variety in choosing foes.

Considering the continual climb of the cost of tickets, the fans deserve more than three to five of the games on the home schedule consisting of mismatches versus “rent-a-wins”. Obviously, the major conference members will keep the tradition of opening the season at home versus an overmatched opponent with no hope of ever playing for the Bowl Championship Series title. A second such punching bag will annually be chosen as the victim for homecoming. In order to coax the BCS conference members to play teams from other BCS conference, the National Collegiate Athletic Association could implement one or more of the following:

1. Forbid games versus 1-AA members: This surefire approach would narrow the pool of possible conference opponents to the one hundred twenty programs currently participating in the highest level of NCAA football. Of course, this step would not prevent BCS conference teams from scheduling only opponents from the five minor conferences if Division 1-A for typically boring mismatches.

Such a prohibition would affect nearly every Division 1-A program if the trend of adding 1-AA teams continues. Out of the hundred twenty FBS teams, only eleven did not invite a FCS member as a sacrificial lamb: Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Colorado, Oregon State, UCLA, Southern California, Washington, Alabama, Vanderbilt and Notre Dame. This translates to over a hundred creampuffs on the menus for everyone else. Those should cause the pancreases of all college football fans to go into overdrive.

2. Make victories versus 1-AA and lower division teams not count toward bowl eligibility: A slightly less harsh rule that might actually hurt Division 1-A teams more. If a team is unable to fill in its schedule, it may have to resort to dipping into the lower division to find an opponent. However, a problem could arise if several teams finished 6-6 but each had a win over an FCS team. Given the overabundance of bowls, it is conceivable that not enough teams won six or more games against FBS teams, thus, leaving some of the bottom-tier bowls without squads to participate in their games. Would this rule have to be suspended in such a year? Would those bowls be allowed to invite FCS teams instead? Would those bowls just be cancelled?

3. Limit number of home games to seven. Hopefully, this move would force teams into home-away series w/ other BCS conference teams. Teams would have to choose between playing at small stadiums of minor conferences for meager amounts of guaranteed payments and traveling to BCS conference opponents for larger payments with games much more likely to be televised, increasing the revenue from such contests.

Those inter-sectional games are coveted by the networks, especially in September when most viewers are deciding to watch a live game instead of season premiers of series. If nothing else, it might to lead to the creation of more neutral site games like Illinois and Missouri have been playing in St. Louis or the recently established annual ACC vs. SEC game in the Georgia Dome. Notre Dame has negotiated some neutral site games which appeal to their subway alumni. The Alamo Dome & the Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium (better known as “Jerry World”) in Arlington, Texas have both hosted a few non-conference match-ups.

The downside to this proposal is that some programs’ fans will not travel in significant numbers to make games on the road or at neutral sites as profitable. Instead of teams signing equitable contracts for a home game paired with a game at the opponent’s home stadium, some powerful programs may be able to bribe their way to make the “away” games to be played at a nearby stadium, thus retaining a de facto home field advantage. Such examples from this coming season are Louisiana-Monroe’s supposed home game versus Arkansas in Little Rock and Florida Atlantic’s cross-country trip to Detroit face the “visiting” team from Michigan State.

4. The NCAA could impose a rotating schedule of non-conference opponents similar to that done by the NFL. For example, everyone in the SEC and Big Twelve could have two contests, one at home and one on the road, against members from the other conference. Following the NFL’s example, the first place teams from each conference last season would have to play the first and second place teams from the other conference. That would result in some intriguing contests: Alabama versus Texas, Texas versus Florida, Alabama versus Nebraska and Florida versus Nebraska. The networks would drool over these, possibly even increasing the size of television contracts if these types of contests occur annually.

Realistically, the chances that the conferences would cede control over their scheduling to the NCAA are less likely than Paris Hilton winning a Noble Prize in every category all in the same year. Programs squabbled enough over scheduling decisions made by their own conferences such Auburn having its long time series with Florida and Tennessee terminated or annual Nebraska’s showdown with Oklahoma interrupted due to divisional formats. The amount of rancor from some programs resenting mandatory games versus others which they deliberately avoided could cause enough dissent to fracture the NCAA’s monopoly on major college football.

Alas, this writer can only dream about upgrading the all too common yawn-inducing ambushes disguised as college football games. Until a solution is found, the fans’ only solution is to shame those who pad their slates with the sport’s equivalent of junk food while applauding those who serve up feasts for the senses in the form of marquee match-ups. This writer is willing to do his part in exposing those guilty of schedule-fluffing while praising those who do not fear playing quality competition out of conference.

For the purpose of clarification, I will explain some terms and notions that I employed in this article. For the purpose of scheduling, Notre Dame is considered on par w/ a BCS conference members. Minor conferences are those without a guaranteed Bowl Championship Series bid for their champions. I included the Military and Naval Academies’ teams on par with the minor conference members.

The following BCS conference members deserve applause for scheduling by two BCS non-conference opponents without any 1-AA opponents. Their opponent affiliations are included:

Colorado (PAC Ten and SEC), UCLA (two from the Big 12), Southern California (ACC, Big 10 & Notre Dame), Washington (Big East & Big 12), Alabama (Big 10 & ACC), and Vanderbilt (Big 10, Big East & ACC)

Alabama, the defending national champs, should not need some child-sized punching bags but the game at Duke will serve as one. Vanderbilt, the one team who might be excused for needing a tomato can or two to kick around before serving as the rest of the SEC’s whipping boy declined to do so. Colorado will have a sneak-peak at life in its conference for the future with a game at California. The Pacific Ten has enough high profile games versus other conferences to bolster its claim as the strongest conference, depending on how many they win.

Also deserving applause among the minor conferences by scheduling three BCS opponents and no 1-AA opponents are the following. Maybe they are seeking to prove their worth for an invention to BCS bowl or it is just that major conferences pay bigger sum for assumed beatings?

East Carolina (three from the ACC), Memphis (two from the SEC and one from the Big East), Rice (two Big 12 opponents and one Big 10 opponent), Eastern Michigan (Big 10,SEC & ACC), Arkansas State (SEC, Big East & Big 10), Florida Atlantic (Big 10, Big East & Big 12), Florida International (two from the Big East plus one from Big 12 and from the ACC), Louisiana-Lafayette (two from the SEC and one from the Big 12) and Western Kentucky (Big 12, SEC, Big 10 & Big East).

Florida International and Western Kentucky are competing for “Most Masochistic Schedule of the Year” honors. The Panthers face two Big East members plus one from the Big Twelve and ACC respectively to start the season, three of those on the road. The Hilltoppers will endure contests versus an opponent from the Big Twelve, SEC, Big Ten and Big East in four consecutive weeks, three of those on the road. One has to wonder if the players at these and other Sun Belt programs may just prefer to compete at the 1-AA level with a realistic chance of ever competing for national titles instead of serving as others’ punching bags.

Some programs deserve a thunderous chorus of boos for their schedules. The derision comes for scheduling no BCS opponents or two 1-AA opponents. Baylor understandably chose to play two former Southwest Conference rivals but including Sam Houston State and Buffalo too? If Baylor needs to avoid any BCS opponents outside of its conference, perhaps the Bears belong in a minor conference. Texas Tech followed Baylor’s example and will host two former SWC rivals yet also included New Mexico and Weber State. Shamelessly, the Red Raiders have fattened their win totals with such an anemic level of non-conference competition in the previous seven years. Ball State’s two consecutive trips to Big Ten stadiums do not justify two home games versus 1-AA opponents in the preceding weeks. Arizona State lined up two of three non-conference games are against 1-AA teams. San Jose State’s season opener at the defending national champions does not excuse two games versus FCS members. All five of the programs should be forced to win seven games for bowl eligibility in return for such cushy slates of games.

A plethora of programs receive mixed reviews of their selected opponents since they signed on to face two major conference foes yet also slipped in a creampuff: Boston College (Notre Dame and Syracuse but Weber State), Clemson (Auburn and South Carolina but Presbyterian), Florida State (Oklahoma and Florida but Samford), Georgia Tech (Kansas and Georgia but South Carolina State), Miami (Ohio State and South Florida but Florida A&M), North Carolina(LSU and Rutgers but William & Mary), Wake Forest (Stanford & Vanderbilt but Presbyterian), Iowa (Iowa State & Arizona but Eastern Illinois), Michigan (Connecticut & Notre Dame but Massachusetts), Georgia (Colorado & Georgia Tech but Idaho State) and Louisiana State (North Carolina & West Virginia but McNeese State). In the writer of this opinion, facing two BCS conference members out of conference offsets the revolting inclusion of an FCS member.

Undoubtedly, this will not end the discussions of strength of schedules of teams. If the BCS rewarded teams facing formidable foes outside of their conference and penalized those loading up on cupcakes, maybe the fans would see more enticing contest and not have to endure visual junk food.


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