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Delany, Big Ten ADs should show FCS more respect
Unsolicited advice to Shawn Eichorst for how he can curry favor among the masses:
Using his best tough-guy voice, the Nebraska athletic director could proclaim that the Huskers intend to beef up their nonconference football schedules. In other words, goodbye to Football Championship Subdivision programs.
Of course, such a proclamation would be in line with an apparent internal agreement among Big Ten athletic directors to cease scheduling FCS opponents starting in 2016, when the nine-game conference schedule comes into play.
The internal agreement, in theory, may be the right course to take. After all, since 1978, Football Bowl Subdivision programs have beaten FCS teams at an .800 clip and by an average margin of three touchdowns. Few events will induce a Saturday afternoon nap as quickly as watching a Big Ten squad dismantle an FCS foe.
That said, this discussion is somewhat amusing on a few fronts. For the Big Ten, it comes off sounding a bit arrogant and perhaps misguided – especially considering that, as of now, it’s the only power conference gearing toward shutting out the FCS.
Like a lot of things in life, it’s all about the angle from which you’re coming.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany’s angle is obvious: Essentially his entire being is tied to getting the Big Ten the best television deal possible. In this country, it’s all about the boob tube. He’ll begin negotiating for a new league deal in 2016-17.
Fans and media also have an obvious angle: They desire the most entertaining schedule possible, preferably one that sets up their favorite program for a spot in the four-team national playoff that begins in 2014. Trouble is, those desires don’t necessarily jibe.
Use Nebraska as an example. The best way for the Huskers to assure themselves a place in the playoff is to finish 13-0 or 12-1.
So, let’s get this straight. NU likely would have to win at least eight and possibly all nine of its regular-season Big Ten games, and also capture the conference title game. Sure, no problem, beef up that nonconference schedule.
Oh, by the way, the Big Ten in 2016 will adopt parity-based scheduling, which means matching the blue bloods (Nebraska, Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State) as much as possible. Maybe Nebraska could add a cherry to the top by bringing in, oh, let’s say Notre Dame. Win ‘em all, coach. Or else.
And always remember: The best way to get better is to enhance your competition – although I’m not sure Bill Callahan would agree. His 2007 Nebraska team, ranked No. 14 in mid-September, was waylaid by top-ranked USC. The Huskers didn’t get better at all that night. In fact, they never fully recovered en route to a 5-7 season.
So, careful with the tough talk.
Sometimes I feel guilty about my (somewhat pathetic) role in all this. As a media guy, I sit in my nice little office drinking my nice little soda and demand, by God, that Big Ten teams bolster their nonconference schedules for the good of society. Of course, if the Big Ten teams stumble badly, as Nebraska did in 2007, I merely take a sip of my soda and call for the head coach’s noggin on a platter.
Wonderful. Just wonderful.
When it comes to scheduling, it’s very easy to play the role of macho man as long as you have absolutely nothing on the line, as opposed to having your livelihood at stake.
In that regard, you can imagine what Big Ten coaches would think if their league is ultimately the only one to cease scheduling FCS teams.
North Dakota State coach Craig Bohl serves on the American Football Coaches Association board of trustees, which includes a head coach from each FBS conference as well as two FCS coaches (Bohl and Southeast Missouri State’s Tony Samuel, who, like Bohl, is a former Nebraska player and assistant coach).
Bohl told me this week he was heartened that the board last spring was unanimously opposed to FBS conferences shutting out FCS teams. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald was among the voters.
Bohl has discussed the issue with athletic directors from the Big 12 and Pac-12. Best he can tell, Big Ten ADs are alone in their stance.
Even Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez, once a tough talker on the subject, appears to have softened, perhaps recalling Wisconsin barely hung on to defeat Northern Iowa last season. In 2008, the Badgers needed overtime to finally overtake Cal Poly.
Bohl has guided North Dakota State (which has won back-to-back FCS titles) to two wins in three tries against Minnesota. NDSU, in recent seasons, has beaten Kansas and Colorado State, as well as Central Michigan 44-14 in 2007 when the Chippewas won the Mid-American Conference.
North Dakota State opens this season at Kansas State, a Friday night game that will be televised on Fox’s new platform, Fox Sports 1. How does NDSU feel about its chances? Well, consider that Bohl and his athletic director agreed long ago they wouldn’t schedule games against teams they had no chance to beat.
Of course, North Dakota State is the strongest FCS program. All of its home games for 2013 are sold-out, meaning it’s not as reliant as most other FCS schools on the big paycheck that comes with playing powerful FBS programs. Even so, Bohl will continue to stand up for his FCS brethren. His is a powerful voice for the “little guys,” if you will.
Powerful, but not arrogant.