By Matt Markus
College Sports Journal
BETHLEHEM, PA. — When the Big Ten announced in February that they would no longer schedule FCS opponents, they made it sound like it was a move to strengthen their laughable non-conference scheduling.
Wisconsin Athletic Director and former Hall of Fame Coach Barry Alvarez told the Milwaukee Journal that “the non-conference schedule in our league is ridiculous. It’s not very appealing.” While the conference’s schedule is inarguably loaded with more cupcakes than a competition on the Food Network, perhaps they are just scared of actually losing the games.
The Big Ten, which still has previously-scheduled FCS games through 2014, did not stumble this weekend against their lesser Division I brethren but the same cannot be said for the Pac-12, Big 12, Mountain West and the recently-named American Athletic Conference. When it was all said and done, eight FCS teams took out their FBS opponents and Eastern Washington became just the third FCS team to upend a ranked FBS opponent when they took out #25 Oregon State.
To be fair, even with a single-week record of 8 victories, the FCS compiled just an 8-21 mark against the FBS in the opening weekend of the season. Major conferences such as the SEC, ACC and Big Ten combined to go 8-0 in their matchups.
But in all honesty, if you were playing 29 games of Madden with your little brother, would you accept losing a single game, let alone eight of them? Probably not.
And with some of these teams shelling out payments as high as $400,000 for their opponents to “take their beating”, some FBS teams are getting their cupcake and eating it too.
All of this leads to the continued question of where to go with the FBS-FCS scheduling issue.
Even with the 8 losses, the FBS schools still combined to win 73% of their games against the FCS this weekend.
At that rate, it is still quite likely that you will be able to “dial up a victory” by calling up schools from the Patriot League, CAA and Missouri Valley Conference.
But at what price? South Florida put up $400,000 to host McNeese State and then promptly gave up the most points ever at home, falling to the Cowboys 53-21.
Would it not make more financial sense to line up Georgia State from the Sun Belt Conference?
Georgia State is competing in its first season at the FBS level, having only started its program in 2010 and had a 10-23 record in 3 seasons of FCS before making the jump.
From a USF standpoint, you are just as likely to pick up a W, without the hefty payment.
Georgia State, who incidentally also lost to an FCS opponent (Samford) is just one example. There are plenty of lower FBS teams that would make for cupcake wins without subjecting FBS teams to a high price-tag or the stigma of losing to a “lower-level team.”
Five of the eight FBS losses were to teams ranked in the FCS Top-25, including the Kansas State loss to #1 North Dakota State.
K-State shared the Big 12 Championship a year ago. North Dakota State polished off its second straight FCS National Championship. Many might think a Big 12 team should always beat a Missouri Valley squad, but I’ll take my chances on a Bison team with back to back wins in an actual tournament.
Remember when Appalachian State shocked the world and 100,000 strong in the Big House of Ann Arbor, Michigan? They were also the two-time defending FCS champs at that time as well, on their way to a third straight title.
It shows that the gap is closing from top FCS to the middle of the FBS and in some cases, even the top of the FBS level.
Eastern Washington was #4 in the initial FCS Top 25 and they defeated Oregon State who was ranked #25 in the FBS poll.
Does this mean that Top 5 of the FCS level is comparable to spots 20-25 of the AP poll? I don’t know if it’s fair to go that far but as they say, “On any given (Saturday)”. Oregon State joined Michigagn (App State) and Virgina Tech (James Madison) as the only FBS Ranked teams to fall to an FCS program since the inception of the BCS Era.
In addition to #1 NDSU and #4 EWU; #11 Towson (UConn), #17 Northern Iowa (Iowa State) and #21 Eastern Illinois (San Diego State) joined the group of FCS-ranked teams to take out FBS opponents.
And that is where the bigger issue lies. Why would an FBS program even consider playing one of the top teams from the FCS level?
If you win, you were supposed to. If you lose, aside from the notch in the L-column, it’s an embarrassment.
And at a time of the season when most teams like to pad their records, the only thing worse than a loss is an embarrassing loss.
The NCAA has decided that only one victory per season over schools at the FCS level would count towards a team’s bowl-eligibility, provided that the FCS team meets certain scholarship criteria.
There is no point to scheduling two “FCS cupcakes” if only one of them would count anyway.
And if you can only schedule one of them, why go for one of the FCS big boys?
The top teams of the FCS will no longer be able to show their skills against the FBS teams. For some teams looking to make the jump for FCS to FBS, those showcase games against the big boys give them the courage to know they can succeed at the higher level.
Without the chance to see what you can do on the football field, would teams like UConn and UMass have taken the chance in recent years?
Appalachian State is currently in the transitional period of making the jump. If Michigan never welcomed them into the Big House to open up the 2007 season, would they have gotten to this point? Perhaps one day, but probably not right now, despite becoming the first team since Army in the 40s to win three straight Division I National Championships.
FCS teams get a nice paycheck when they play FBS teams. Sometimes these checks cover the budget for the entire athletic department. Sometimes it is the only chance to be on national television.
These games give the school a chance to see how they compete, the players a chance to see what they can do against some of the game’s best and in front of the biggest crowds they may ever see.
FBS teams usually get a win. These games give them a chance to get their starters in and out, a nice tune-up like an NFL preseason game. It oftentimes gives the third-stringers a chance to get in, to hear the crowd cheering them on for a change.
The pros and cons are endless for both sides. Is it worth playing these games? Are we better off playing better competition? What do we do if we actually lose?
This weekend a number of FBS teams are asking themselves the same question. Eight of them are wondering how they lost the game.
In countless homes across America, little boys are sitting up a little taller at the dinner table. Deep down they know they’ll probably lose the next 15 games, but today they got their big brother in Madden.
The thing is, the brother will definitely call for a rematch. I’m not sure the FBS teams who lost to their “little brothers” will be making that call for a little while.