Unfair Competition in College Football

Oklahoma State famously defeated Savannah State 84-0 last season, though the  Tigers made over $400,000 for their loss.

Oklahoma State famously defeated Savannah State 84-0 last season, though the Tigers made over $400,000 for their loss.

As I write this post, my beloved Elon University football team is losing to Georgia Tech 28-0. The first quarter just ended. It’s the fifth straight year Elon has opened up against a big-name Division I program (Elon is Division I-AA, now called FCS), and the closest the Phoenix came to victory was in 2010 when they lost to Duke 41-27. Last season, the Phoenix looked helpless against the North Carolina Tar Heels in a 62-0 blowout.

It’s just one example of small schools taking on their Division I counterparts in the early stages of the college football season. Much like the NFL has its preseason, many top teams schedule lesser opponents to act as a “preseason” of sorts, warming up before the toughest games of their schedules. But is it worth it to play a school you know you will beat easily? And consequently, is it worth Elon’s time to play a school like Georgia Tech in football?

Well, for the smaller schools, a date with a Division I football program is a big payday. Last season, Savannah State University opened up with #18 Oklahoma State and #5 Florida State. They received more than $850,000 to play these two schools, which greatly benefitted Savannah State’s athletics budget. But the Tigers lost 84-0 to Oklahoma State, and 55-0 to Florida State (the latter being called in the third quarter due to rain). Savannah State coach Steve Davenport said, “You get paid for certain things, but I don’t know if at the end of the day, some things are worth the payments you get.”

And on the flip side, what’s the real benefit for the Division I powerhouses? Let’s look at the 2007 Michigan Wolverines. Coming off an 11-2 season, Michigan was ranked fifth and had nigh national championship expectations. They scheduled a small school for their first week of the season, thinking that it would give their players a great chance to warm up. Of course, that small school was Appalachian State, and they famously upset the #5 Michigan Wolverines.

Michigan (and every other large school in a similar circumstance) was in a lose-lose situation. If you win, you just meet the expectations of the college football world and usually don’t look incredibly impressive in the process. If you lose, you become the butt of jokes for weeks and drop significantly in the polls. In Michigan’s case, the loss to Appalachian State completely dropped them out of the top 25, and the Wolverines would go on to lose the next week as well, essentially ending their national championship hopes.

Michigan isn’t alone, however. James Madison defeated #13 Virginia Tech in 2010, and North Dakota State has defeated Division I teams in each of the last four seasons, including an upset of Kansas State last night. Big schools have to dish out profits to these small schools in exchange for a beatdown, and they risk losing not just a game, but a chance at national championship glory. Perhaps it’s time to end the cross-divisional scheduling in college football, giving teams a fair chance to win. After all, there are 125 Division I FBS teams to choose from.

And just in case you were wondering, it’s 42-0 Georgia Tech at halftime. Thanks for your thoughts and sympathies.

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Maryland, Rutgers to join Big Ten Conference

Two more Division I schools have joined the NCAA conference realignment hodgepodge. Today, the Board of Regents at the University of Maryland voted unanimously to leave the Atlantic Coast Conference for the Big Ten Conference. The move comes after Maryland voted against raising the ACC’s exit fee to $50 million, a fee the university will likely have to pay to join the Big Ten.

Maryland and Rutgers are the latest universities to join the complicated game of NCAA Musical Chairs.

Rutgers University is also expected to join the Big Ten Conference this week. Its Board of Governors will discuss the issue at its regularly scheduled meeting Monday. Rutgers marks the fifth Big East school to announce its departure since 2011. West Virginia left for the Big 12 this summer, Pittsburgh and Syracuse will join the ACC in 2013, and Notre Dame will join the ACC as a non-football member in 2015.

The Big Ten is highly anticipating these moves, and is likely to use the addition of Maryland and Rutgers as a bargaining chip during television right negotiations. The Big Ten’s national and regional television rights expire in 2017, and the addition of two major-market universities should help the Big Ten secure a more lucrative contract extension.

Both Rutgers and Maryland are expected to remain in their current conferences until 2014. The University of Connecticut is rumored to replace Maryland in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but no official reports have confirmed not denied this matter. And for those who are keeping score at home:

The Big Ten Conference would have 12 teams in 2013 and 14 in 2014.

The Atlantic Coast Conference would have 14 teams in 2013, 13 in 2014, and 14* in 2015 (*Notre Dame will not compete in the ACC for football).

Now all we need is Hawaii to join the Big East, Florida to join the Pac-12, and Oregon to join the SEC, and we’ll have a real game of college musical chairs.