David to get fewer cracks at Goliath in college football
College football's Davids will get fewer chances to knock off the Goliaths in the coming years.
Part of the fallout of the sweeping changes coming to college sports will be a decrease in so-called guarantee games in football, where a power conference school pays hundreds of thousands of dollars to have a team from a lesser league play at its stadium.
The result will be far fewer opportunities for embarrassing blowouts (Oklahoma State 84, Savannah State 0) and startling upsets (Appalachian State 34, Michigan 32). Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said it would be good for college football and that he is "not very sympathetic" to the potential loss of revenue to the schools on the receiving end of the checks.
The commissioners of the lower-revenue conferences say losing the pay days won't kill their leagues, and that giving players from smaller schools a chance to compete on the big stage has value.
"Traditionally, we play the Big Ten a lot," Mid-American Conference Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said in a phone interview Friday. "We're in the neighborhood so that makes a lot of sense."
MAC teams will play 13 games against Big Ten teams this season, plus four against the SEC and two each against the Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conference, and many of them fall into the category of guarantee games.
The shift to nine-game conference schedules, along with an increased emphasis on strength of schedule for the coming College Football Playoff, all but guarantee fewer opportunities for the other five conferences (MAC, Sun Belt, Mountain West, American Athletic and Conference USA) in FBS to play the top five.
Add in the need for the power conferences to beef up their schedules to create made-for-TV matchups to justify the millions they are getting in media rights deals, plus a possible reconfiguration of Division I, and it leads to speculation that the big five will be playing exclusively among themselves at some point.
Scott shot down that idea and Steinbrecher doesn't sound overly concerned about his teams not getting more than a few shots per season to knock off marquee programs.
Steinbrecher said it's more likely for the big five to trim FCS teams — the old Division I-AA — from their schedules than the other FBS leagues. The Big Ten has said it would like eliminate all FCS games soon. And if schools from the big five are getting tired of cutting those big checks for home games, Steinbrecher has another solution.
"We'd gladly give up the guarantee game and start a home-and-home," he said.
Patty Viverito runs the FCS Missouri Valley Conference football as senior associate commissioner. MVC teams such as Northern Iowa and North Dakota State frequently play Big Ten teams. Losing that revenue will be a challenge for her schools, she said.
"But at this juncture there seems to be plenty of willing hosts," she said. "We haven't had too much difficulty in finding alternate opponents."
She added: "We think that those games have been good for the game of college football. I think I would like to have a more considerate approach to the good of the game be part of the conversation."
She noted some of the top FCS programs often have teams comparable or better to the bottom teams in FBS, and have fans that make road trips and buy tickets.
Big South Commissioner Kyle Kallander said it's hard to predict what not having FBS games and the money that comes with them would do to his members.
"There are some that rely on the revenue to improve facilities and fund their programs," he said. "But it's not like the sky would fall and wouldn't be able to play anymore."
Viverito wondered whether the big five conferences could stomach the consequences of playing only games against each other.
"That's a zero-sum game where 50 percent of the teams loss," she said. "None of those teams want to be 6-6. They all want to be 9-3 or 10-2."
Southern Mississippi coach Todd Monken at Conference USA media days said he'd like to see how coaches in the big five would handle playing schedules with only five or six home games in some seasons and nothing but opponents with relatively equal resources.
"Just have a nice NFL crossover where you play each other," Monken told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. "Then when you fire up a nice 7-5, and you're at a pretty good place and they fire you, they won't be real excited about it, because you won't have those games that they've been able to win. Plain and simple."
"Some of those teams that get bowl eligible when they go 2-6 in their league and they go 6-6. Well, you'll be 2-10, or 3-9, and it won't feel so damn salty."