March 25, 2009
Tweaks we'd like to see.
The traditional question in those obviously mismatched, inter-divisional games is, "Why is Powerhouse U. playing Directional Tech?" but the Orlando Sentinel's Alan Schmadtke asks the $10,000 scheduling question: Why not put a I-AA team on the schedule? There's the obvious conclusion -- money, in the form of a cheaper win, a more flexible contract and an easier path to bowl eligibility (as "bubble" teams were still making money on trips to lower-tier bowl games) -- and plenty of evidence to back it up. By my count, 48 of 65 teams in the BCS conferences and 20 of the AP's final top 25 played at least one I-AA game last year, and a few teams -- Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Texas Tech -- got fat on two lower-division cupcakes thanks to late-breaking conflicts on their original slates. Including the mid-major leagues, Schmadtke counts 70-plus I-A teams reaching down for a gimme win this fall, with Duke, Kansas State, North Carolina, N.C. State, South Florida and (probably, unless it can fill its open date otherwise) Rutgers going for the two-fer. Michigan, the wound from Appalachian State finally scabbing over, is going back to the I-AA well next year with Delaware State, and Michigan State is joining them for the first time against Montana State.
My position on cheese scheduling has usually been that you get what you pay for, so to speak: In the last five years, Auburn (passed over for the championship game in 2004 with a non-conference slate of UL-Monroe, The Citadel and Louisiana Tech) and Kansas (snubbed in 2007 after opening the season against Central Michigan, Southeast Louisiana, Toledo and Florida International), for example, didn't have much room to complain about their year-end snubs; an impressive, high-profile non-conference win has usually been part of the resumé for teams that want to compete nationally. But last year repudiated that, to a degree, when both Florida and Oklahoma overcame the blight of grisly I-AA wins to ascend to the mythical championship game over Texas and USC, neither of which feasted on a lower-division scrub (the Longhorns' otherwise dismal September lineup is hereby noted). The "People's Champion," Utah, also had an unceremonious I-AA victim, Weber State, which didn't dampen the insurgent enthusiasm for the Utes after the Sugar Bowl. Schmadtke has a point: "If ever there were a stigma about playing games against I-AA schools ... that stigma is gone. I-AA is Double-In."
Aside from money and ease -- neither of which concerns me -- I can only think of two reasons scheduling a lower-division snack might be justified. One is what might be called the "Snyder Plan," for teams that are historically so hopelessly out of contention that loading up on the weakest possible victims in order to get some wins, build a little momentum and establish a culture of respectability seems like the only possible route to long-term success; Bill Snyder is apparently reinstituting this philosophy at Kansas State, having already this year's slate is any indication, Duke. Showing the old form even after a three-year hiatus, Snyder wriggled out of future dates with Miami last week, just to show the kids how it's done.
The second justification is for teams that are suddenly faced with an open date when a more respectable opponent backs out; the only way to combat this is for the NCAA or the conferences themselves to somehow enforce contracts or exert stiff enough penalties that reneging becomes a legitimate black mark.
Of course, this is preposterous: Coaches and suits making the schedules aren't about to push back on cheap wins any more than pollsters. As with real cupcakes, the only answer is self-discipline, for the few holdouts -- Notre Dame, Southern Cal, Washington, UCLA -- to somehow carry a torch even as the rest of the culture slides into a rapidly expanding mass of flab. It's always easier to stay on the regimen than to get back on it once you've got that taste for creampuffs in your system.
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Other humble suggestions: Two ways to fix replay.