Big Ten Conference: Bring Back FCS Opponents

Big10This week, I will be traveling to Charleston, IL to attend the Western Illinois – Eastern Illinois football game.

This is a match-up I circled a few months ago as a great season opener for two 2015 FCS playoff teams.

It should be an entertaining start to each school’s season.

Since I am traveling this far East into Illinois, I was curious if there were any nearby games to extend the weekend with my trusty photographer Bryan Finley.

I discovered Illinois State will be hosting Valparaiso this Saturday, so the two of us will be putting a little extra gas in the tank and attending this game.

I then excitedly realized if we drove a little further on Friday, Furman from the Southern Conference plays at Michigan State.

And as an added bonus, early Saturday afternoon the Ohio Valley’s Eastern Kentucky plays at Purdue.

So for those of you keeping count, that will be four games in three days!All-time-FCSwinsBig10

I  have attended a handful of Big Ten Conference games against FCS opponents in the past 10 years including games at Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Illinois.

I enjoyed watching these games especially when the FCS opponent was one of the top teams in the subdivision.

Most of the games I have seen in person have not been blowouts and in some cases, the FCS team has won (NDSU over Minnesota in 2007 & 2011 and Northern Iowa nearly defeating Iowa in 2009 and Wisconsin in 2012).

And one that colleague David Coulson attended might be the most memorable FCS win of all time.  Who could forget that Appalachian State win over Michigan in 2007?

With two of the four games this weekend at Big Ten stadiums, I recalled that this Power 5 conference put together a policy to not play any school outside of the FBS ranks in the future.

I truly question this policy after the personal observations I have seen in the past.

I think the Big Ten officials did a disservice to all college football with this rule.

The nearby fans of the schools in the Missouri Valley Football and Ohio Valley Conferences that reside in the same state or in neighboring states with Big Ten Conference schools are the big losers with this policy.

I believe in the long run that this policy will actually hurt the Big Ten, especially those teams not named Michigan, Ohio State, or Nebraska.   Remember the bowl win policy of six wins (five if there is not enough six win teams)?  I say good luck to those schools in the middle of the standings getting there with this policy close to being fully in place.

This Big Ten policy needs to go away.

When did the Big Ten’s policy go into effect?

Conference officials started this policy two years ago.  The conference did allow schools to fulfill remaining contracts. A number of Big Ten schools had contracts in 2015, 2016, and even a few beyond.2015-results

Last year, there were seven games featuring FCS teams playing at Big Ten teams.  The Big Ten teams won all seven but Southern Illinois nearly defeated Indiana—losing by just a single point after attempting a two point PAT in trying to win at the end of the game.

There are eight FCS games this year for the Big Ten but that number is supposed to take a dramatic drop in the future.

FutureFCSIn 2017, only two games are currently listed on future schedules and only one each from 2018 through 2020.

The current scheduling policy states that each Big Ten team’s schedule will include at least one opponent from another power five conference (Big 12, PAC-12, SEC and ACC, including FBS independents of BYU and Notre Dame) and  each can schedule two against what is considered the Group of Five conferences (Mid-American (MAC), Mountain West, Conference USA, American, and Sun Belt Conferences).

The mandate went into place in an attempt to bolster the Big Ten’s strength of schedule and keep it ahead of at least one of the other Power Five conferences now that there is a four team playoff.

If I am an official from school from a Group of Five conference especially from the nearby MAC, I am loving this policy.  My school can increase its requested guarantee  for playing a Big Ten team as a money game or even go so far as asking for straight up home and away games.

The MAC benefits by this artificial manipulation of the economic rules of supply and demand.  When Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany enacted this policy, the supply of available schools was dramatically reduced, and that smaller group of remaining schools eligible to play Big 10 schools under the new policy are able to demand a higher dollar figure.

Dollar numbers are near or exceed $1 million of “guarantee money” paid to members of Group of Five conferences before the policy fully took effect.

But with this newly mandated reduced supply in the equation, there are just over 50 schools now to go around to 14 Big Ten teams,  these dollar figures will grow.

As this Des Moines Register report from last year shows, FCS teams were demanding between $500,000 to $750,000 for FBS one and done games.  The price each Big Ten school now will have to pay to the non-FCS teams will be greater and could be upwards of $3 million for a game.

I know schools like Nebraska, Michigan and Ohio State are almost swimming in money, so this added expense is not too big of a deal to have to pay a little more to fill out their football schedules.

But I believe some other Big Ten schools are not so lucky, and this new scheduling price tag will result in taking something else away from its athletic department.

If the FCS schools would be considered again as opponents, the price tags for guarantees will come down to a more realistic number.  And as an added bonus, the Big Ten can also help fund FCS programs that rely on these types of money games to support their full athletic departments.

In these short economic times, these types of payday games will help all parties as the so-called small schools can continue to play football and continue to be opponents.

What are the other Power FBS Conferences stance on playing FCS opponents?

There are no other Power 5 conferences (or Group of 5 conferences for that matter) that have taken this kind of stance. There are some other schools, however, that have a self-imposed mandate to only play FBS competition.  Southern California (USC), California-Los Angeles (UCLA), and Notre Dame are three FBS schools that have never played an FCS opponent in their history.

This is where I don’t really understand the Big Ten’s policy to basically be the lone wolf conference not scheduling FCS opponents.

On one hand, I agree with many of the arguments that playing a 1-10 record type FCS team very well could result in a 70-7 type score.  This type of game is something that no one really wants to see.

But when you see a Top 25 type FCS team play a FBS team especially one that is outside of the FBS Top 25, the results become much closer.

Even Wisconsin Athletic Director and former football coach Barry Alvarez believed there has to be exceptions to the Big Ten’s FCS scheduling policy when he told ESPN two years ago, when this mandate appeared.

“In some cases, they’re (FCS) a tougher opponent than some of the FBS opponents,” he said.

Big10BowlsBased on the numbers provided from Football Geography, FBS schools have a record of 2028-423-18 (.824) vs. FCS schools from 1978 through 2013.

What that means for the FCS schools is that just under 20 percent of the time, the FBS team loses to an FCS team.

Another point to make is that the Big Ten has an incredible nine bowl ties this year.

Playing a winnable game against a FCS team might not mean much for the schools atop of the Big Ten standings, but for the ones in the middle or even in the lower half one more win could still garner a bowl bid which should be meaningful for the whole conference.

Last year, two Big Ten teams made bowl game with 5-7 records—Nebraska to the Foster Farms Bowl and Minnesota to the Quick Lane Bowl.

Overall, the FBS had 40 bowl games in 2015 equating to 80 schools making a bowl game.  And this year, there are 41 such bowls so the situation will only get worse in terms of losing teams getting bowl bids.

Playing a tougher schedule will give similar results and the Big Ten will likely not always be able to fill their bowl allotment as it will not have schools with at least a .500 record.

FBS-championsAnother argument made is playing FCS teams hurts your chances at the current FBS playoff of four teams.

Of the past ten FBS championship finalists, 17 of the 24 teams played an FCS opponent.

As can be seen with these FBS championship caliber teams, playing any FCS opponent does not hurt your chances of winning a FBS national title, so that argument really does not hold water at all.

How would I change the Big Ten scheduling policy?

I think the Big Ten needs to reassess the current policy on playing FCS opponents.

As shown above, playing an FCS opponent does not hurt a schools chances at the FBS Playoff.  However, not playing a FCS opponent will hurt the Big Ten’s ability to get enough teams for its allotted Bowl ties.

I do understand one-sided games are something fans both of the Big Ten and FCS schools do not want.

But I believe a compromise might be needed to preserve the Big Ten’s higher strength of schedule but relaxed enough to allow Big Ten members the ability to schedule FCS opponents.

My proposal would require any FCS opponent scheduled by the Big Ten to have a minimum .500 average record over the past three seasons.

This way, both parties win.  As would the fans and television networks covering the Big Ten that wish to see competitive games.

This plan would basically take only the top half of the FCS as possible FBS opponents.  From the Sagarin football ratings, the top half of the FCS is in line with the bottom half of the FBS (look between the #44 and #100 rankings and you will see nearly as many FCS as FBS schools).

My policy gives something for the nearby FCS schools to strive towards if they want to play a Big Ten opponent to reap the benefit of this kind of game.

So Big Ten Commissioner Delany please look at this type of plan and let your conference schools again schedule FCS opponents.  Both sides can then have a win-win here.

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 Kent’s CSJ FCS Game of the Week

Western Illinois (7-6 in 2015) @ Eastern Illinois (7-5 in 2015), Thursday, Sept. 1, 7:00 EDT

Both the Leathernecks and Panthers were a playoff teams last year.  WIU defeated Dayton in the opening round before losing to MVFC mate Illinois State in the second round.

Western Illinois leads the all-time series 41-21-4 with 23 of those wins in Charleston. The last time the two teams met at O’Brien Field came when they were still Gateway Conference rivals, playing on October 12, 1996, a 10-7 win for the Leathernecks.

The two teams, however, did meet last year in Macomb with WIU coming out with a rather easy win – 33-5.

WIU went through a coaching change with prior coach Bob Nielson left for USD but talent-wise it might be even better this year. The starting lineup is mostly intact, there are two proven quarterbacks (Sean McGuire and Trenton Norvell).  Also, new head coach Charlie Fisher was the architect of a very strong Richmond offense—a team that went to the FCS playoff semi-finals.

Overall, WIU returns 17 starters including a tremendous duo at wide receiver in seniors Lance Lenoir and Joey Borsellino.  The Leathernecks also have a great offensive line to help protect whichever quarterback plays.

The Western defense will be headed by junior linebacker Brett Taylor.  He was one of the top defensive players in the MVFC as a sophomore (third in the ‘Defensive Player of the Year’ voting).

EIU finished as the runner-up in the Ohio Valley Conference a year ago.  Third-year head coach Kim Dameron (12-12 record at EIU) returns 13 starters 2015 including running back Devin Church (743 rush yards, 9 TD) and offensive lineman Evan Kanz (in 2014) earned Second Team All-OVC honors to head the offense.

The wide receiver duo of Anthony Taylor and Isaiah Nelson combined for 45 receptions, 657 yards and 2 scores give whichever quarterback plays two venerable targets.  Eastern Illinois had a quarterback battle through fall camp for the starting position with both Austin Green and Mitch Kimble slated to take snaps in this game.

The Panther defense will be headed by linebacker Seth McDonald, who led EIU with 109 tackles and safety Bradley Dewberry, who intercepted four passes and broke up five.

With this game being at home for the Panthers, I think this will be a closer game than last year’s game in Macomb.

However, I think WIU just has too much talent to overcome for EIU to pull this one out.  I like the Leathernecks by ten.

Western Illinois 31 Eastern Illinois 21

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One comment on “Big Ten Conference: Bring Back FCS Opponents
  1. Great article and breakdown of the WIU @ EIU game. As a WIU fan, I’m planning on heading down to watch it. Just a quick “fix” though, you wrote the following “This line will also be blocking for a seasoned running back in senior Lance Lenoir.” Lenoir is the WR (as mentioned earlier in the paragraph). There’s no far-and-away top RB for us at this point, but we’ve got some talent and we’ll see if someone steps up, plus it looks like we’ll probably use the TEs more for short passes as well.

    Also, it’s not mentioned in the article, but at this point, WIU is on the schedule for U of Illinois for 2018 also: http://www.fightingillini.com/sports/2015/6/24/football_futureschedules.aspx

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