Hey, ESPN is talking about the same thing this week. I guess that’s as good a time as any to publish this post that’s been sitting in the drafts for a while.
The internet age in sports has led to, among other things, lots of whining and hand-wringing by fans who otherwise wouldn’t have had an outlet to express their feelings. Among college football fans in particular, there are a couple topics that seem to really hit home: 1) The BCS, and 2) The downward trend in scheduling among high-major conference teams. So, since the offseason is time to cure all the world’s ills, what should be done to rectify item #2?
- The NCAA, via its rule changes over the years, is implicit in the consistent scheduling of 1-AA teams. In 1978, the NCAA’s Division 1 separated into 1-A and 1-AA subdivisions, in order to have 2 more level playing fields. The thought was that 1-AA schools were not able to compete on the same level as 1-A schools. So, why can teams from the two subdivision play each other? I have no idea. Take it away. Better yet, allow teams to play 1-AA schools, but don’t count wins against lower-division teams towards bowl eligibility or BCS standings. If Texas Tech can’t count its 2 games against FCS opponents last year towards the BCS standings, they don’t stand a chance against either Oklahoma or Texas in the computers. Better yet, they have an incentive to schedule teams with (slightly more of) a pulse. If Sun Belt teams can’t bolster their bowl hopes against 1-aa tomato cans, the chain reaction will follow that they won’t sign themselves up to be sacrificed to teams with BCS aspirations nearly as often, because they won’t be able to trade off a sure loss for a sure win.
- Michigan has sold out its entire stadium for what seems like forever, and will continue to do so forever into the future, barring more 2008-esque years (knock on wood). However, other BCS-conference schools do not sell out their stadiums for every game. Why don’t they schedule big-name opponents in order to draw more fans, and by extension, more money? The short answer is that they’re not getting all the money. Revenue sharing deals within conferences are a way to enhance NFL-like parity (ugh, don’t even get me started on that), and level the playing field somewhat within a conference. However, they also provide a disincentive to schedule good opponents. Indiana scheduled Murray State in 2008, which drew 30,123 fans in their stadium, which has a capacity of 49,255. So, why don’t they schedule, say, Oklahoma and fill those other 19k+ seats? Because they only get an eleventh of the money from those extra fans, and they’re willing to sacrifice most of that money for a potential win towards bowl eligbility. They’ll still get their 1/11th of Michigan’s money, and 1/11th of Penn State and Ohio State’s (those three all fell in the top 4 in attendance last year). The same goes for TV money. ESPN is undoubtedly willing to pay schools big money to play compelling games, but why bother when nobody else is doing it, and you get less than 10% of the money?
- Speaking of ESPN, they (along with other media outlets) could certainly hold a lot of power in this situation. On top of paying the big bucks for out-of-conference matchups on TV, they also have the ability to direct the conversations in college football. Does Florida make the 2006 championship game if they don’t have the CBS announcers spouting them as “teh greatest team of EVAR” each week after Michigan falls to Ohio State? ESPN perpetuates the mostly meaningless memes that the SEC and Big 12 are head-and-shoulders better than the rest of the conferences. This rhetoric actually affects those who vote in the AP and Harris polls, if only because they don’t have the time to watch every game, and simply believe what they hear talking heads say. If ESPN were to make it taboo to play a weak schedule, and talk down on teams that schedule 1-AA opponents, there could be actual penalties on the table for those who do choose lower-division opponents. Add in the fact that this would lead to more marquee out-of-conference games, and more money for ESPN and ABC’s primetime broadcasts, and you have a win-win situation for the media.
- I’m not the biggest advocate in the world for a playoff (though I do favor a limited one), but it certainly would remove excuses for teams to schedule cupcakes non-conference schedules. If one loss knocks you out of the national title discussion, coaches and athletic directors are going to do whatever it takes to ensure they finish their season without a loss (which didn’t help Auburn in 2004, of course). If that means scheduling The Citadel, Western Carolina, and the like, then so be it. Of course, if a single loss wasn’t a crippling blow to a national title run, that wouldn’t be necessary. If computers took into greater a team’s account strength of schedule, it would help as well. That could hurt teams that try to schedule tough and end up with Notre Dame 2007 on their schedule, but them’s the ropes: only 1 team can win a national title each year.
What else could be done by the various powers-that-be (NCAA, conferences, media, etc.) to help encourage good out-of-conference scheduling?