With the advent of the social media age, there are few surprises to pretty much anything. The news cycle is faster than ever, with lightning-quick stories summed up in 140 characters or less.
As a result, future news isn’t a surprise anymore. When it comes to scheduling, announcing the future is more relevant to the present, especially when it comes to marching forward towards marketing particular matchups. Where it used to be a surprise upon release, college football schedules are now constant, year-round discussions.
As a result, scheduling became a discussion in college football that simply won’t go away. In particular, the annual rite of passage in scheduling an FCS throwaway cupcake ruffles feathers. This year, every ACC team except for Louisville will play a team from the Football Championship Subdivision. Instead of playing an FCS team, the Cardinals will play a Charlotte 49ers team in their second year of sponsoring football in the bowl subdivision.
The majority of Boston College fans despise the FCS game and mock the opponent. It’s been a source of growing discontentment, reaching an apex last year when BC had to schedule a second throwaway against Howard. Whatever the reason it happened (and that’s not the discussion here), scheduling FCS teams are no-win situations. The FBS team pays the FCS team to come to their stadium, usually before smaller crowds, lay down a whupping, and send them home with a loss. Anything less than that is an unmitigated disaster (see also: Michigan-Appalachian State or any team that scheduled North Dakota State in the past seven years or so).
It’s an annual game entering its 10th year. Prior to 2006, a Division I-A/FBS team could count a win over a I-AA team towards its win total once every few years. In 2006, the schedule expanded from 11 to 12 games, but it allowed FBS teams to count an FCS game towards its win total annually. BC has played an FCS team ever since.
Leagues are doing what they can to reverse the trend of scheduling multiple cupcakes, requiring their teams to schedule power conference teams and discussing how to expand the process. But like anything else, teams need soft games to play during the season, games designed to simply get work in before moving onto bigger and better teams.
The fact remains that until there’s a major shift in college football, these games aren’t going anywhere. College conference expansion puts a premium on winning college games, and the power conferences have, by default, tougher strength of schedules. Unless the entire conference goes to hell in its nonconference games, the goal always has to primarily be winning a conference. After all, that’s what gets teams into the big money games at the end of the year.
I understand that there was a time when BC used to routinely schedule tougher nonconference games. In 2004, for example, BC played Penn State, Wake Forest, and Notre Dame - three bigger name schools.
But the Eagles only had a six-game conference schedule, just over half of their 11-game slate. Notre Dame wasn’t bound by a scheduling agreement with the ACC, meaning there was still an annual game between the two. Penn State and Wake Forest were there, but neither were particularly good (not unlike scheduling Purdue in the modern day). The other games were Ball State (MAC special) and UMass (FCS/I-AA).
When BC gained two more conference games, Penn State and Wake Forest - mediocre to poor power conference teams - became conference games in a bigger league against teams like Maryland, NC State, and, well, Wake Forest. Notre Dame eventually became a pseudo member of the ACC in football, requiring them to drop a number of annual rivalries, leaving BC to schedule from a smaller pool of teams, especially with the conference schedules increasing to eight or nine games. That smaller pool represented the same teams they were always scheduling in the first place.
As a result, they still have what amounts to the same composite of elite, good, somewhat okay, and bad teams, but the teams just don’t rotate the same way anymore. I’m not saying that’s good or bad; I’m just saying that’s the way that it is. The caliber of schedule only has so little to fluctuate thanks to the same old guaranteed games and opponents.
I checked on something else even further in the past. People love remembering when Boston College scheduled and beat Alabama in the days of Doug Flutie. In the 1983 regular season, the Eagles were an independent. They played only two teams with conference affiliations - Clemson (ACC, with a seven-game conference schedule) and Alabama (SEC, with a six-game conference schedule). It’s true they were able to schedule an impressive Alabama team, which surely was a great draw.
They also played games against Morgan State, Rutgers, Temple, Yale, Army, and Holy Cross. For what it’s worth, all of those except for Morgan State (home) and Holy Cross (neutral) were on the road. It was a completely different college football world.
Does it make it right? I don’t know. I hate that FCS teams (or weak Group of Five teams) are allowed to collect $500K or $1 million to go to some school’s stadium and get beaten to the ground. I don’t see how it serves a purpose, other than to get the power team reps against someone other than themselves.
The goal of any football team is to get into a bowl game, however, and with an eight or nine game conference schedule, non-conference wins are important for eligibility. In order to become eligible, you need some guaranteed wins. As long as they’re allowed, one of those comes from the FCS.
The conference should be good enough to get your team into the playoff conversation, and winning those games should be all it takes. Those conference are taking steps requiring teams to schedule power teams, but they don’t want to make those schedule murderers’ rows either. So as long as the NCAA allows it, these games are here to stay. Arguing otherwise? It’s simply futile.