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Facing FCS teams not worth it for Badgers
Barry Alvarez could quiet some of his loudest critics with one seemingly benign promise, but the University of Wisconsin athletic director won’t go there.
That’s too bad.
For seven years and counting, the UW football team has included a Football Championship Subdivision school on its non-conference schedule. For the first time, that exercise will play out in the season opener as Northern Iowa comes to Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.
Nothing against the Panthers or their non-Football Bowl Subdivision predecessors to appear in Madison — Western Illinois in 2006, the Citadel in ‘07, Cal Poly in ‘08, Wofford in ‘09, Austin Peay in ‘10 and South Dakota a year ago — but that’s not how it should be.
Nothing against Tennessee Tech, which is scheduled to visit Camp Randall in the second week of the 2013 season, but UW can and should aspire to do better than this.
It’s the right thing to do by Badgers fans — their loudest, most consistent complaint in recent years has to do with the quality of non-Big Ten Conference opponents — and it’s the right time to commit to a more inspired approach.
When the Bowl Championship Series thankfully evaporates and a four-team playoff format debuts in 2014, a selection committee will use a variety of criteria to determine the participants. Strength of schedule will be one of the biggies.
Alvarez acknowledged recently that “if you want to be a player (for the national title) and strength of schedule is going to be a part of it, then you really have to consider” upgrading your approach to the process.
But when asked in a subsequent conversation if he could guarantee Badgers fans that FCS entries would be off the menu in 2014 and beyond, Alvarez said he couldn’t do it. He said he didn’t want to paint UW coach Bret Bielema into a corner if a future non-conference opponent backs out of an agreement and no viable FBS options are available.
OK, fine. I’d be willing to buy that — quality scheduling is not an exact or easy science these days — as long as Alvarez would assure that an FCS opponent would appear at Camp Randall only as a last resort and not as the scheduling staple they have been during Bielema’s tenure.
In order to make the books balance, UW needs to have at least three non-conference home games every season. FCS opponents don’t usually command as much of a guarantee as some FBS schools — for example, Northern Iowa is getting $450,000 compared to $900,000 for Texas-El Paso and $925,000 for Utah State — and it’s understandable Alvarez wants to hang on to as much revenue as possible.
It’s also understandable why Alvarez is reluctant to take the FCS card out of the scheduling deck. The majority of schools from the six BCS leagues play FCS teams, including every team in the Southeastern Conference, which has produced the past six national champions.
“I look at their non-conference schedule and it’s no different than ours,” Alvarez said.
But what about two years down the road? Are you willing to risk losing a national semifinal berth because you chose to play Stony Brook or Presbyterian instead of a genuine FBS opponent? How would you explain that to the fan base?
It would be better to try and live up to a lofty scheduling promise than have to live down such a mistake.
By ANDY BAGGOT, Wisconsin State Journal