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Playing FBS opponents does not fit Ivy League’s profile
The Ivy League has been wise to avoid participating in usually lop-sided early-season contests against FBS opponents.
This weekend, those willing to take the trip up to the Bronx will witness the tenth installment of the Liberty Cup between Columbia and Fordham. Before you do, know this: Fordham has already taken the field this season, two weeks ago against reigning Big East champ UConn. Even though you could argue this gives the Rams an advantage in real game experience going into the weekend, I’m here to argue that it’s not worth the price they paid—a humiliating 35-3 undressing at the hands of the Huskies—and that the Lions have been wise to avoid these types of games.
A little background. Among many others, Fordham, Northwestern State, William & Mary, UAB, North Carolina Central, and Western Kentucky all faced off in similarly one-sided contests in the past two weeks. Like Columbia, these schools all play in the Football Championship Series, formerly Division I-AA. Their opponents were all Football Bowl Series participants, formerly Division I-A (think USC, Notre Dame, and Alabama). The result: the big boys went to town, and the little guys got shellacked.
Not one of these FCS schools scored a touchdown. Between the six games, they scored a grand total of 12 points, while their FBS brethren lit up the scoreboard for a staggering 172 points.
Charleston Southern, another FCS entry who went up against a big-time FBS powerhouse, did its division proud by putting up double digits against Florida State. Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, the Seminoles still came away with a 62-10 win.
The point here is not to bash FCS schools. I picked my games selectively—FCS teams like Maine nearly beat Big East power Pittsburgh in a 35-29 nail biter. Some FCS schools have had success playing against the big boys, the best example being Appalachian State’s 34-32 shocker in 2007 in the Big House against Michigan, one of the true blue bloods of the college gridiron.
In fact, since 1978 a Division I-AA or FCS team has come out the victor 338 times in inter-divisional matchups. The problem is FBS teams have taken home the ‘W’ 1,740 times, or nearly 82 per cent of the time. It’s obvious these games are mismatches, and they’re meant to be.
Oftentimes the William & Marys and the Charleston Southerns of the world literally get paid by FBS schools for paying them an early-season visit. These early games act as tune-ups for SEC and Big Ten schools preparing for conference matchups later in the year, and serve as one more home game to bring in revenue from tickets, merchandise, parking, and everything else (a quick aside: as a UVA football fan, I have dreaded these FCS-FBS matchups ever since William & Mary handed the ‘Hoos an opening season loss at their own place two years ago).
And so while there are exceptions to the rule, the key here is that these games are not intended to be competitive matchups. No one in the LSU locker room was circling the Northwestern St. game on the calendar, and for good reason—the Bayou Bengals won 49-3.
A brief skim through Columbia’s past schedule shows the Lions have avoided these types of contests for years, if not decades. Other Ivy League schools seems to be on the same page—if memory serves, no Ancient Eight institution has faced a FBS squad in at least 10 years.
While the athletics department confirmed there is no official Ivy League rule prohibiting these kinds of games, it seems common sense has reigned supreme.
I have no doubt many of our football players would disagree. They want to play the best, and for good reason. They’re competitive. As a men’s soccer player who relishes going to play Big East and ACC schools, I’m being a little bit of a hypocrite here. But there’s an important difference. While fully funded Division I men’s soccer teams get 9.9 scholarships to spread over a roster of 25-plus guys, FBS football teams receive 85 full scholarships. FCS schools have 63 scholarships to offer recruits. As part of one of its founding rules, the Ivy League does not allow teams any scholarships—in any sport—to lure talented high schoolers.
That’s 85 scholarships that UConn has that Columbia doesn’t. The playing field is just much more uneven when it comes to football. Add in television contracts for FBS football teams—members of the newly expanded Pac-12 have been reported to receive $24 million annually from the conference’s TV deal—making things even more lopsided.
Far from being a bad thing, though, this is just one more reason Columbia, Penn, and Princeton are wise to stay away from Notre Dame, Penn State, and Ohio State. It may be fun to play against the big names, but if our athletic teams are representing the world-class institution that Columbia is, why subject ourselves to those kinds of odds?
Go on YouTube and look up Oregon’s football locker room. It’s palatial. It’s futuristic. And it has very little to do with the idea of a well-rounded student-athlete that collegiate sports were founded on. The Ivy League has fought hard to hold onto that balance between competitive athletics and vigorous academics, and as my colleague Benjamin Spener wrote earlier this week, largely succeeded in doing so. Ivy League schools have refused to be consumed by their football programs the way places like Texas and Oklahoma are.
That doesn’t mean our boys can’t play—if you don’t believe me, check out Sean Brackett and Co. this Saturday. I’m just happy they’re playing a fellow FCS competitor.
By Zach Glubiak, Columbia Spectator