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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