This week the University of Louisville will take on in-state Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Eastern Kentucky University. The gap between revenue and resources between the University of Louisville and EKU (particularly in football) is vast. At Charlie Strong’s weekly press conference Strong was asked about playing an FCS opponent: “We’ve got to play somebody, some people don’t want to play us.”
It is well-known that Tom Jurich and the University of Louisville Football program have attempted to schedule a marquee game for 2013, but Jurich & the Cards have struggled finding games for a LONG time now. VP of Athletics, Jurich, calls each and every Big Ten & SEC team every year trying to schedule a series. In fact, a recent New York Times article highlighted Jurich’s mentality in a piece titled: “At Louisville, Athletic Boom is Rooted in ESPN Partnership”. Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere. That’s been the motto for Tom Jurich while overseeing the football program since his arrival.
So why is Louisville playing an FCS school? Why do other programs play FCS programs? Why is it Good/Bad? Let us examine some of the reasons why the Cards and other programs continue to play FCS programs.
Scheduling Around the Myth
A lot of programs don’t have the confidence to open the season on the road or in a neutral site against solid programs. This week College Football saw some outstanding football: Georgia traveled to Clemson while Alabama vs. Virginia Tech, TCU vs. LSU, & Mississippi State vs. Oklahoma State were neutral site games.
Other programs, most other BCS conference schools play lesser opponents. We call that “Scheduling Around the Myth”. When a school like Louisville can not find a decent game on its schedule while Oregon opens up with Nicholls State, that’s a problem. Florida hasn’t played an out of conference game away from the state of Florida since a loss in the Carrier Dome to Syracuse in 1991. That’s sad.
In all, Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) programs lined up against FCS opponents 29 times during College Football’s opening weekend, here is the list:
Liberty vs. Kent State
Presbyterian vs. Wake Forest
Indiana St. vs. Indiana
Illinois St. vs. Ball St.
Southern Utah vs. South Alabama
Towson vs. Connecticut
Western Carolina vs. Middle Tennessee
Jackson St. vs. Tulane
Sacramento St. vs. San Jose State
Morgan St. vs. Army
Samford vs. Georgia State
Southern vs. Houston
North Dakota State. vs. Kansas State
Northern Arizona vs. Arizona
Elon vs. Georgia Tech
Villnova vs. Boston College
William & Mary vs. West Virginia
Southern Illinois vs. Illinois
Colgate vs. Air Force
NC Central vs. Duke
Nicholls State vs. Oregon
Eastern Washington vs. Oregon State
Howard vs. Eastern Michigan
Austin Peay vs. Tennessee
McNeese State vs. South Florida
Murray State vs. Missouri
Wofford vs. Baylor
Eastern Illinois vs. San Diego State
Northern Iowa vs. Iowa State
Scheduling Around the Myth has been in common practice for a long time. Getting to 6-6 and a bowl game is MUCH easier for programs with an FCS program on the schedule, than it would be if FBS programs would just decide to play each other instead of shelling out the 6-figure paycheck to these schools. Much of it is donor driven. Athletic Directors & University Presidents want to be able to claim the football program had success and point to a bowl appearance. That works in the middle just fine….but at the top when there are sometimes as many as 5 teams with a claim to be in the Top 2 at the season’s end to play for the National Championship that extra legitimate game could have been VERY helpful.
Must Have 7 Home Games
One of the reasons why the FBS game happens is because programs RELY on the 7th home game every season to fund their entire athletic programs. An extra home game for a school, like Louisville, with 55,000 seats can sell each ticket at an average of $50/ticket and earn an extra $2.75M on ticket sales alone. That doesn’t include parking, concessions, signage, or any other stream of revenue.
Why Is It Good/Bad?
Playing the FCS game is good for the FCS school. Big-time programs often pay out 6-figures or more for FCS programs to travel paychecks to travel into FBS programs. The big checks help fund a HUGE part of the FCS budget and other sports programs. Also, a lot of the early season games get picked up on national or regional television and provide exposure for the school that they wouldn’t ordinarily receive.
Outside of the easy payday for both schools, the game is bad for the FBS program. FCS teams come to town with nothing to lose, a guaranteed payout, and a chance to beat a big-time program. If the FBS school doesn’t win by a HUGE score the fans are angry, if they lose……it’s worse.
Last week, in the 29 games that featured FBS vs. FCS schools there were 8 FCS “upsets” over FBS schools:
Kansas State lost to North Dakota State, Oregon State went down to Eastern Washington, South Florida was upset by McNeese State, Connecticut fell to Towson, San Diego State lost to Eastern Illinois, Northern Iowa bested Iowa State, South Alabama lost to Southern Utah, Georgia State dropped to Samford
Do you think these 8 programs were happy to wait an entire off-season of optimism to lose to a school, that probably didn’t have a single athlete recruited by their program?
Personally, I think the FCS game needs to exit the regular season. But I do think there is still a way to get the payday for both schools, and do it in a way that is more interesting than it is currently. PLAY THE GAME IN THE SPRING. Everyone likes a little Spring Football, but lining up Offense vs. Defense just doesn’t get the blood boiling quite the same way as it does when your team takes the field against a real opponent.
Play the FCS game in the Spring. Sell tickets, concessions, put it on Television. Both programs get the the cash benefit, the fans get the benefit of getting to cheer on their school, and the programs can line up against another team that isn’t as familiar as its own. Losses don’t hurt FBS programs, and those programs can try and develop REAL game depth outside of practice before the season starts with some of the younger players.
Currently an NCAA rule does not allow this. But I think a rule change would be fantastic. If nothing else FBS schools would have to play ALL 12 of their games against FBS schools. Moving into a 4-team playoff in 2014 is a step, having that 12th legitimate game would be another in terms of clearing the way to finding a true champion and increasing the revenue of college football.