Maryland and Virginia Tech may have cruised past their FCS opponents Saturday, but other teams were not as fortunate.
Over forty of Week 1’s games featured a matchup between FBS and FCS opponents and several of them were very close. North Dakota State managed to extend its FBS winning streak to five games with a 20-point win over Iowa State and Bethune-Cookman eked out a 14-12 victory against Florida International.
Despite how well the FCS played in Week 1, with the College Football Playoff placing an emphasis on strength of schedule, these kind of matchups could be on their way out.
As the power conferences decide how to schedule in the new playoff system, will we see an end to FBS schools scheduling FCS opponents?
Daniel Martin: I don’t think we’ll see a decrease in these types of matchups and it comes down to two major reasons:
Money on one side and strategy on the other.
FCS schools are willing to (save a team like North Dakota State, who might take the money and then win) get trounced in these openers for the hundreds of thousands of dollars and exposure that come along with it.
Towson played LSU competitively a few years back and look where the program is now. It's free visibility that otherwise would have cost hundreds of thousands of marketing dollars. At the same time, small schools reel in what amounts to a significant portion of the overall athletic budget in these types of games.
Get paid through football to advertise your school's brand on regional or national television? There will never be a shortage of supply.
As for the FBS schools, which really hold the power in these situations, they will always favor having a Week 1 opponent where they can feel confident enough about getting a win that they can experiment and work the kinks out before continuing with the bulk of their schedule.
Yes, there are marquee FBS openers like Florida State-Oklahoma State, Texas A&M-South Carolina, or LSU-Wisconsin. But take at look at the Week 2 opponents for those six schools:
Florida State vs. Citadel
Oklahoma State vs. Missouri State
Texas A&M vs. Lamar
South Carolina vs. East Carolina
LSU vs. Sam Houston State
Wisconsin vs. Western Illinois
Not exactly any backbreakers in that bunch.
It’s the free market of college football at work. The reason it won’t change comes down to looking at scheduling FCS schools in the context of a cost-benefit analysis and marginal utility.
Any worries about how it might hurt you with the selection committee (cost) are ultimately overcome by the fact many coaches are able to all but guarantee a win and expose any blemishes that need a quick touch-up early on (benefit).
The value of scheduling FCS schools goes down if you were to schedule two, or three, or four, or hypothetically your entire slate any one season. Why? Because your team could be 12-0 with 12 wins over FCS schools, but you would be hurting yourself with the committee when it comes to strength of schedule.
One game is right in that sweet spot. Just enough experimentation, not enough to hurt your playoff chances.
If one school doesn’t feel compelled to blaze the trail and stop scheduling those schools, it won’t happen and as of now there is no real incentive to change.
J.J. Regan: FCS schools have every reason to pursue these types of games, but the benefits for FBS schools are rapidly decreasing to the point that I believe we will start to see less of these matchups in the near future.
As Dan correctly points out, the FCS has no reason to walk away. The athletic departments of some FCS schools rely on the payouts just to stay afloat. In 2012, Savannah State played both Oklahoma State and Florida State in the same season. While fans cried foul over Savannah State losing these two games by a collective score of 139-0, the team walked away with a cool $860,000. That money boosted the team’s revenue by more than 60%.
The FCS isn’t going to walk away from those kinds of payouts, but the FBS might.
Yes, with no preseason, these games make sense so that glaring weaknesses in a team’s roster can be exposed early on without subjecting that team to a loss that could potentially ruin the season, but FCS teams aren’t the pushovers they used to be.
Not only did two FCS teams win their FBS games in the opening weekend, but several more kept their games far too close for comfort.
No one is paying these FCS teams to come and actually win. Do you think Scott Shafer feels better or worse about his team after Syracuse beat Villanova by one point in overtime? Do you think Iowa State thinks paying North Dakota State to come in and whoop their butts by 20 points was a good investment? Probably not.
This is already having an affect ton NDSU's scheduling. According to the team page on the NDSU athletics website, the Bison have only one future FBS matchup scheduled, a 2016 game against Iowa. Teams just don’t want to schedule an FCS team that could win because there is no benefit to playing them.
For the moment these games are not affecting most team’s strength of schedule since everyone else is doing it, but I see this being a big point of contention in the near future.
With all the talk about power conferences scheduling only other power conference teams, FCS teams may find themselves on the chopping block. In fact, I’m surprised the option of cutting out FCS opponents as a compromise for keeping teams like Boise State and BYU in the mix hasn’t been suggested already. Seems like an obvious compromise to me.
Dan mentioned that he believes the current system is unlikely to change because their is no incentive to do so, but that's not true.
One of the major storylines in college football is declining attendance. FCS matchups are not the sole reason for that, but they certainly play a role. It’s no a coincidence that Virginia Tech’s sellout streak of 93-straight games, the third-longest active streak at the time, came to an end in a game against Western Carolina. People just aren’t interested in watching these games.
You know what might help with attendance? Better games.
As if that weren’t reason enough, the College Football Playoff is going to eventually force FBS teams’ hands. Only four teams make the playoffs in this new system, meaning a lot of good teams will be excluded including at least one power conference champion.
If, for example, MIchigan State wins the Big Ten but does not make the playoffs, they’re going to look back at this season and try to figure out how they can prevent that from happening again. How big will their opening game against Jacksonville State loom in their minds? Perhaps if they had played a team like Virginia or California instead it would have increased the strength of schedule just enough to get them in.
With declining attendance at games and the importance of strength of schedule, it just does not make sense for FBS teams to continue paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to play FCS teams in games that fans don’t want to see and that have the potential to ruin their season. Soon, I don’t think it will make much sense to the FBS either.
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