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View from the Stands: Do Teams Really Belong in the FBS?

Serious discussion time, not just to troll the 23 fans in Las Cruces last week.

Playing in the FCS can be just fine.  So why don't more teams do it?
Playing in the FCS can be just fine. So why don't more teams do it?
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

So at the beginning of the football season, I did some dirty work and completely got under the skin of the UMass football fan base by pointing out how they fouled up the move to the FBS. I looked at it from a numbers standpoint, looked at it from a public relations standpoint, coming to an overall conclusion that things could be done that were done totally incorrectly.

Even though New Mexico State hung tough with BC, there was never really a full doubt of who would eventually win the game. That type of foregone conclusion led me to revisit the question of if the FBS is for everyone. There's a substantial amount of terrible programs in the FBS, ones that could probably have some time of success at the FCS level, with no need to play at the top level. It's the old adage that it's not for everyone; not all schools are created equal and not all of them are cut out for the top level of college football.

Now, look, this is not being written to sound elitist, nor is it meant to slam the UMass Minutemen; their play on the field is helping out with that. It's to incite an honest and open discussion about the FBS versus the FCS.

New Mexico State is a terrible FBS program. In an era when virtually everyone has a chance to go to a bowl game, the Aggies haven't been since 1960, the longest drought in the Division I-A/FBS era. Since the turn of the century, they've had multiple conference affiliations; originally in the Sun Belt Conference, they left for the WAC, which disbanded this past year. They're playing out this season as an independent, then rejoining the SBC in a football-only status in 2014. A "good year" for the Aggies is considered a 4-win season. They haven't finished .500 in forever. In essence, they're a wasteland of a program just waiting to get beaten year-in and year-out. There's a good argument to be made that New Mexico State would be better served to drop down to the FCS. They'd make a great fit for the Southland Conference, where they could compete with Oral Roberts, Houston Baptist, and others.

That leads us back to UMass. Max Page, an economics professor at the school and co-chair of an ad hoc faulty senate committee on FBS football, is the most vocal and staunch opponent of the move to the MAC. He uses talking points about how the institution used poor judgment in the move up to the higher level. "The games are being played far off campus, which means less alumni and less business coming to Amherst," he said. "Additionally, when Charley Molnar stood at his press conference and talked about filling Gillette Stadium, we're only now getting back to attendance that the school once had at McGuirk Stadium (in Amherst). But at the same time, the university is in an agreement with the Kraft Group to play games at Gillette (including at least four each year through 2016), whereas in the past it was all owned and operated at UMass. One of the misconceptions is that I'm anti-football, and I'm not. I just don't think the university properly thought through the move and made a hasty jump without properly considering alternatives."

What Page refers to is Minutemen head coach Charley Molnar's promise at his introductory press conference. "We're going public, we're a stock, and it's new," said Molnar. "Buy it today because prices are going to skyrocket. We are going to go right to the top, and I'm asking all of you to join me."

It's obvious that Molnar needed to just weather the storm with a team that wasn't equipped for the FBS. In his second year, he still only has one full FBS year of recruiting, but his 2014 recruiting class is ranked #105th by And now he finds himself embroiled in controversy as UMass football alumni petition him for better treatment of his players after video surfaced of his players wrestling and boxing, among other things. All of this comes with the question of if it was worth it for UMass to join the FBS, where lower end teams are at an increased risk of sustaining injuries.

In the next couple of years, schools like UMass will accept outlandish payments from schools like Wisconsin and Florida to provide tuneup games. These games are the necessary evil for these schools, who can sometimes make an entire operating budget off a couple payouts despite putting themselves at higher risk for injuries, something. But in the process, it waters down the competition, especially as they get embarrassed on national television. Meanwhile, top-ranked schools in the FCS like Villanova and Stony Brook compete alongside and defeat FBS opponents. While they're not receiving the same payouts, they're also competing on a more level playing field. While they don't have the depth or the scholarship limit, they've shown that the top-tier of FCS schools can have a first string capable of competing with some of the FBS programs. Additionally, FCS games against one another can routine draw 15,000-20,000 fans, thereby outdrawing some programs in conferences like the Sun Belt and the Mid-American, making the revenues potentially about the same. That asks the question - is it better to draw 17,000 fans and be in the FCS tournament or is it better to draw 17,000 and be one of about 30-40 teams that are walkthroughs for the BCS/AQ big boys?

In that, we turn to the BC angle. Boston College struggled to find an appropriate FCS opponent this season. Originally scheduled against Stony Brook, the ACC's rescheduling of Pittsburgh gave the Eagles a game against Villanova. While SBU is out on Long Island and Philadelphia and Boston share some type of fraternal northeast bond, the lack of New England school with the resume to play BC is stark.

Adding UMass back to the FCS would give BC the perfect rotation of programs to come into Alumni Stadium once every few years. BC was supposed to play URI next year, but rumors are constantly swirling that the Rams are bound for the football chopping block, and now that game is one with Maine. Holy Cross is increasingly looking like an option now that the Patriot League is becoming eligible to count for FBS teamsn. Combining UMass into the fold would give BC a staunch rotation so that all of these schools will play a recruiting class once. If a school like URI dropped football (like Northeastern did a few years back), it wouldn't hurt the future schedules as much.

It would also make it a New England thing; UMass will host BC next year, which will boost ticket sales. But UMass fans had a fine showing when the Minutemen visited Chestnut Hill in 2011, ranked as the #19 team. Yes, they got pasted, but is it any different than the expected result from next year? The 2011 Minutemen 5-6 in their last year in the FCS. The CAA routinely finished with multiple top 10 teams in the polls, and the competition would be fierce among UNH, Delaware, Towson, and the Minutemen. Once every couple of years, UMass could step up and have a rivalry game with BC. Playing in the CAA, where they produced multiple starters on Super Bowl champions (James Ihedigbo and Victor Cruz come to mind), they probably could have competed well against a down season for BC.

For Boston College, any of these teams moving helps because that rotation is the one throwaway game you're allowed to have. It helps because regionally it would completely make sense. Instead of playing a team with no recognizable link (Weber State/anyone from the MAC), it would actually help sell tickets. What the low-end FBS schools sometimes don't realize is that they could actually be more profitable or more substantive if they stayed in the lower end. And, unfortunately, as long as more schools like Texas-San Antonio or Old Dominion or Georgia State keep taking heady paydays from Michigan and Alabama and LSU, the chasm between the higher-end and lower-end of the FBS will actually grow in comparison to the chasm of the FBS and FCS.