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7-game league format has pluses, minuses
The Southwestern Athletic Conference will kick off a new and somewhat controversial conference schedule on Aug. 30.
The new format calls for seven games to decide the SWAC divisional races instead of nine. The thought process is that fewer conference games opens up dates for schools to schedule a “money game” against a Division I-A opponent, a game that could pay schools upwards of $500,000.
The idea was approved by the council of presidents, SWAC commissioner Duer Sharp said.
The format has its pluses and minuses. Teams that are able to land games against better schools get a boost in revenue and a little national exposure for the league.
“With us, the first thing you look at is how is this going to affect us from a financial standpoint,” Sharp said. “Then from an exposure aspect, how does this affect us? When I first got here you always heard SWAC competition is OK, but all they do is play each other. They don’t play anybody else.
“Going to a seven-game allows us to go out and play those other conferences and possibly have the chance of beating some teams that in the past we would not have had the chance to compete against.”
Still, the new format could wind up being a case of the rich getting richer. For example, Southern University will play a guarantee game at Houston on Aug. 30. Grambling State is traveling to Nevada that opening Saturday for a money game and has another scheduled against Oklahoma State next year.
But a program like Mississippi Valley State has a difficult time finding those types of opponents.
“Only way we’ll be able to really attract a money game … is trying to get a classic game,” Valley coach Willie Totten said. “A paid game, that’s kind of tough for us. We’ve tried that in the past. Teams won’t play us.
“Sometimes it’s hard scheduling when teams just don’t want to play you. It’s the fact that playing a game is really not going to count in terms of teams that are trying to go for the playoffs and standings and things like that.”
Added first-year Alcorn State coach Ernest Jones: “Those big schools aren’t exactly excited about playing the (historically black colleges and universities), although we’d like them to be.”
Another twist: Some games involving SWAC schools will not count in the conference standings.
Valley plays Southern and Prairie View in non-conference games, and Alcorn State plays Grambling State and Arkansas Pine-Bluff in games that don’t count toward the league standings.
And Jackson State travels to Grambling in a rematch of the 2007 SWAC title game, only this one won’t count in the standings.
“It’s kind of hard to get your team up for the game if they know it doesn’t matter if you win or lose,” Jones said. “I’m not fired up about that. I’d like all conference games to count regardless.”
“I wouldn’t say it makes it strange,” Sharp said. “The concern we had was losing some of the rivalries by going to a seven-game schedule. But in the end, the presidents thought it would be better just to allow the schools to schedule those games even though they don’t count in the conference standings.
“Anytime you’re playing a rival, it doesn’t have to count. You don’t want to lose to a rival.”
Jackson State coach Rick Comegy said it might be 2012 or ‘13 before the Tigers secure another money game, but he believes the benefits of the new system outweigh the negatives.
“I know that we’re always trying to find someone that will pick us up,” Comegy said. “It’s difficult because they don’t come around often - those games that you can pick up a half-million (dollars). Some teams in the conference are able to get those games, but some teams aren’t. I’m not too sure how it will fare with everybody.
“I would like at least the opportunity to get one or two of those games every year to uplift our program because budgets are definitely tight. It surely helps the program and school because the opportunity is there.”
By Kareem Copeland