College Sports

January 22, 2014

Despite advent of playoff, weaklings still on tap for Texas football teams

A survey of Texas’ Big 12 schools indicates that the institutions are in no hurry to jump on an emerging national trend to quit scheduling games against overmatched FCS programs.

A survey of Texas’ Big 12 schools indicates that the institutions are in no hurry to jump on an emerging national trend to quit scheduling games against overmatched FCS programs.

The issue has been further heightened in the dawn of college football’s new playoff format when strength of schedule is expected to take on increased emphasis.

The schools that responded each said their positions could change as the new format unfolds.

“We will pay close attention to the selection process and specifically the strength of schedule component,” said Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw, whose football program likely would have been in the running for a spot among the four selected to the playoff had the system been in place last season. “The Big 12 is well-positioned entering the [college football playoff] with nine conference games against the highest-quality competition already built into our 12-game schedule.”

Texas A&M athletic director Eric Hyman said the same about his program, which plays in the Southeastern Conference.

The good news about the SEC, in his estimation, is it’s the best league in the country. The bad news?

“It’s the best league in the country,” he said.

TCU, which said it foresees no problem with scheduling an FCS opponent in nonconference — especially as it continues to transition into the Big 12 — and Baylor each have scheduled home games against FCS schools the past five years, with TCU playing Samford and Baylor meeting Northwestern State in 2014.

Central Arkansas will visit Texas Tech this year in Lubbock, which has hosted FCS games in three of the past four seasons.

Only Texas, which did not respond to the survey, has not played an FCS team in the last five years. That’s not to say the Longhorns’ schedule has always been beefy. Texas typically schedules a game with a lower-rung member of a mid-major conference.

But that’s not atypical of any school in one of the major conferences.

This coming season, Texas hosts Conference USA member North Texas, coming off its best season in years with a victory in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

The issue took on a new twist last year when Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez said Big Ten programs had agreed to no longer schedule games against FCS opponents starting in 2016.

It was a decision made in part because two of the league’s biggest players, Michigan and Penn State, suffered setbacks in recent years, hurting teams’ strength of schedule within conference play.

Most schools’ nonconference scheduling includes games outside their geographical footprint, which gives them exposure to different parts of the country.

Most also “buy” games, mostly against the FCS schools, which generally take a beating but leave with a big paycheck.

“I don’t think we’re going to change an awful lot based on the facts I know right now,” said Hyman, who added that that’s not to say it couldn’t change. “In this league, you play a 12-round boxing match every Saturday.”

The Aggies have hosted three FCS teams in the past four years. Lamar will visit College Station this year.

A change in scheduling trends could be terminal for FCS programs living on the margins of NCAA finances.

Many rely on the big paydays of games against teams in major conferences simply to keep the lights on.

The New York Times examined Savannah State’s program and found that the $860,000 earned in blowout losses to Oklahoma State (84-0) and Florida State (55-0) amounted to 17 percent of its athletic budget in 2012.

UNT has scheduled payday games against SEC teams each of the past four years. All ended in defeat on the field, though the Mean Green played Georgia well last season while bringing almost $1 million back to Denton.

It’s not all about the money, said UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal, who has overseen a significant increase to his athletic budget in the last four years.

He said the Mean Green are not dependent on those games “though it does help.”

“We want to build a program where we face a Texas once a year,” Villarreal said. “We want to play Georgia. We want to go compete at that level and prove to the rest of the country that we can do that on a regular basis.”

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