FCS opponents should be thing of the past
May, 27, 2014
By Edward Aschoff | ESPN.com
DESTIN, Fla. -- In a week that could be light when it comes to real news, a few coaches made their feelings known on the future of SEC schedules, and for once it had nothing to do with the number of conference games.
Now that the eight-game conference schedule format will live on for the foreseeable future, coaches were asked about the possibility of ending play with Football Championship Subdivision schools. This year, all 14 SEC teams play at least one FCS opponent.
If Florida coach Will Muschamp had it his way, the Gators would no longer play FCS teams.
“We’re probably going to move forward without playing FCS opponents,” Muschamp said.
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports Nick Saban says the issue sometimes comes down to a matter of choice.
The irony is that Florida lost to FCS opponent Georgia Southern (at home no less) 26-20 last season, but Muschamp understands that with strength of schedule now playing a factor in the selection process for the College Football Playoff, getting rid of FCS opponents will help his team’s chances in the future. It’s also something that greatly improves the product on the field for the people in the stands. You know, the people who don’t show up to watch the cupcakes.
“I think our fan base as much as anything wants to see better opponents,” Muschamp said. “So that’s kind of where we are with it.”
Make all the jokes you want about Georgia Southern’s win. Snicker about Michigan getting upset by Appalachian State a few years ago. Giggle about Virginia Tech getting shocked by James Madison.
Those games were great for the Cinderellas of the world, but they are nothing more than blips on the radar when it comes to the annual poundings those schools take from power five programs. They lessen the excitement for games and keep people out of seats.
“The first people that need to be taken into consideration here, who get no consideration, are the fans and the people who support the programs -- the quality of games for them -- so they want to come to the stadium and come to the games and support the programs and make it exciting for the players,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said Tuesday. “No, we do not want to play those types of teams. Sometimes we don’t have a choice.”
Earlier this month, Saban talked about the idea of the teams in the power five conferences (SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12) playing only one another. His idea was spot on, and it's one that could help the SEC lose its FCS partners.
But eliminating FCS play isn’t going to be easy. There are still some coaches who want to continue to play FCS opponents. It also isn’t easy to schedule 12 teams every year.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze wants his Rebels to play FCS opponents because he understands firsthand how beneficial it is for those schools on and off the field.
“I think me coming up through the route of smaller-school ball to this point, I know the value that it adds to those programs also,” Freeze said. “I kind of always try to look at that aspect of it also. I just find it hard to believe that one game like that, out of the schedule that we play in this league and agreeing to play another BCS conference opponent, that that one game over the totality of the season would really hinder you if you perform well in those other games.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt, who works with FCS representatives as one of the board of trustees members with the American Football Coaches Association, agrees with Freeze when it comes to helping FCS schools out financially.
“I think college football is too important at all levels to hurt them by setting criteria that would not allow you to play them,” Richt said. “I’m for doing it.”
I understand that. These schools get paid thousands upon thousands of dollars to suit up and usually get pummeled. But with the power five looking to make its own rules without pushback from schools outside of the five major conferences, why should they care about FCS opponents? Why should FCS schools' well-being be a concern for SEC or Big Ten schools?
Honestly, it sounds like schools continue to play these smaller institutions because they have to fill space when scheduling ideas fall through. As Saban said, it’s not like organizing a golf game. You can’t just call up a school, ask it to play and expect the game to happen.
“I understand what Will's saying: In a perfect world, you play all D1 schools,” Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said. “But also you have to have 12 opponents.
“I understand Will's point of view, and when I hear from the fans, I understand their point of view. Some years, you've got to have 12 games."
SEC commissioner Mike Slive said that discussions of FCS opponents didn't come up in Tuesday's meetings and that the decision to play them would be institutional.
“I’m in favor of our strength of schedule being as good as it can be," Slive said.
“We have not told our schools that they can’t play FCS schools and we don’t have any plans to tell them that.”
With the creation of the power five and the bigger role strength of schedule will play going forward, the SEC could be moving away from FCS opponents. It would be a good move, but it will likely start small and branch out. The good news is that coaches are speaking out about it.