In a press conference on Wednesday, Dana Holgorson spoke out against the scheduling of FCS teams in this modern playoff-era. Coach Holgorson, the head coach of a West Virginia team that plays the Liberty Flames, an FCS team that sounds more like a semi-pro hockey team from Long Island, fired shots at those who are "scheduling an FCS school or two FCS schools and two other non-Power Five schools. You can figure out who I’m talking about." While Holgorson might look like a hypocrite since his team just played a program in Georgia Southern that was formerly an FCS team as recent as two seasons ago and he has another one coming to town this weekend, there won't be a FCS team on the schedule from 2017 going forward, so you can say his actions match his words.
This past weekend, we saw two (or three, depending on how you feel about Army) Power Five conference schools lose to FCS opponents, when both Kansas and Washington State lost to South Dakota State and Portland, respectively, in dramatic but competitive fashion. Other than that, there were very few noteworthy FCS vs. P5 match-ups all weekend, as most ended how you'd expect them to. Saturday, our beloved Huskies take on Sacramento State, an FCS school representing the Big Sky Conference, who will probably receive a payout that is enough to pay for their coaching staff's salaries for the entire year. It's the home opener and I'm sure attendance figures won't dip super low, but this game lacks a certain buzz, which is ironic considering the opponent's mascot is a giant, juiced up hornet. (I'm not saying that Herky the Hornet is on steroids, but the hornets that built a nest above my garage a few years back didn't look anywhere near that muscular)
This leads us to this week's debate question: Should Power 5 Teams (Most specifically UW) Continue Scheduling FCS Opponents?
The Case to Keep Them:
The nine conference games are both more important and enough quality opponents:
For conferences where teams are playing nine conference games, you don't get to control 75% of your schedule every season. That leaves you with 25%, or three games, remaining that you have full control over. Whether your reasoning is to have a tune-up game, or an easier game to get back-ups reps (or for some Power Five coaches, an opportunity to get a win that could make your record look a little better come your yearly performance review) you can justify it because of how daunting your conference schedule will be. In the Pac-12 for example, you see five divisional opponents every year, and historically it's virtually guaranteed that two of them are going to be top 35-40 teams, at least. Then you factor in most years you don't get to dodge another high quality team from the other division, if you don't see at least two of them. If you want a heavyweight fight, you don't have to go far to find one in this conference, and the same can be said about other power conferences.
The Paydays are crucial for the FCS teams' livelihood:
You could turn this into a political ideology debate and talk about how it's the duty of major teams to help fund those who can't without assistance, but I won't go there. Instead, I'll argue that it's best for the sake of football that these games happen, and this money flows down to keep more financially strapped programs from making cuts to their budget or the program all together. FCS teams provide 63 scholarships towards their team, and because it's not a headcount sport you typically see more than 63 athletes receiving some of their education paid for, if I am interpreting the equivalency rules correctly. If the millions of dollars from payout games didn't exist, I'm assuming we'd see some teams close up shop and fold their program, leaving 63 kids per program who had dreams of playing college football out of experiences that they would have cherished forever. Not to mention, some of those FCS players go on to coach football at the younger levels, giving those youth players a stronger grasp on fundamentals, and hopefully creating lifelong fans of the sport. Sometimes, you just don't know how big of an effect something has until you look at how many people it will indirectly benefit.
The opportunity cost of scheduling another Power Five team is not worth it for a potential play-off contender:
It's not all sunshine and rainbows out there. Last season, Ohio State almost didn't make the inaugural play-off because of an out of conference loss against a team that was good at the time, but ended up a laughing stock. For Baylor and TCU, who got dragged through the mud for playing a weak out of conference schedule, a fluke loss to a fringe-quality opponent would have derailed their hopes completely, and a win probably doesn't tip the scales. For a team like Alabama, what would they have gained by going to Morgantown, West Virginia and playing the Mountaineers? They obviously didn't need that win to make it in, and Oregon wasn't left out because they played South Dakota week one. If the numbers say one thing, but the people on the other side only have anecdotes, trust the numbers every single time. Those hypothetical horror stories of missing out because of a weak schedule are much worse than having your title dreams destroyed because of a home-and-home with Miami where it pours down rain and you turn the ball over four times.
FCS teams are given the opportunity to play against the best:
There's one benefit of these games that have a huge impact on a select few players, and that's a stage to show that you belong on the same field as a major program. Maybe as a team you can't compete, but your 6'4" defensive tackle that hasn't missed a single workout in his five years on campus has an opportunity to prove to NFL scouts that he isn't just productive because he's beating up on lesser competition, but instead he could be successful no matter who is lined up across from him. That could be the difference between getting getting invited to a postseason all-star game and the NFL combine compared to just working out preparing for a pro day, or the difference between a rookie mini-camp invitation or going up to Canada to play in the CFL. Even though they don't schedule these games because of these players, they benefit your best more than any other game on the schedule.
The Case to End Them:
MEGA-SHOWDOWNS EVERY WEEKEND!
With that many match-ups being made between Power Five schools, chances are at least two more great match-ups would be on the schedule every week, with the potential for some Earth-shattering early season games that would be very exciting. While this is a great best case scenario, the most probable result would be . . .
More "meaningful" games on the schedule:
That's more like it. Much less Michael Bay-esque. Instead of games between Power Five teams and FCS teams, you'd more likely see the schedule filled with nearby Group of Five opponents to help with recruiting or lessen costs or whatever. As we saw last week, and we've seen many times in the past, these games can be competitive and memorable. I think back to Reggie Bush's explosion against Fresno State that the NCAA doesn't want you to believe ever happened. Would people still have cared if it was against Weber State as opposed to on the road, in the fog, against Fresno State team that was no slouch? Odds are, it wouldn't have been seen and it would have just been statistics. How about the UW vs. Hawaii game that happened in 2007 where we saw Colt Brennan and Jake Locker both lead exciting offenses to a competitive game where Washington just fell short in the last seconds? I still remember trying to stay awake, since it was a road game in Hawaii, and UW coming up short right at the end. When that game was scheduled, Hawaii wasn't the #10 team in the country, but when the game finally came, they ones who had everything to lose and UW was playing only for pride at that point. I apologize if that triggered any bad memories (I mean, you had to think a 21 point lead wasn't safe against Hawaii considering how the season had gone up to that point) however, great football is great football and those are the games that stick with you, win or lose.
The money will trickle down through the Group of Five schools, who now will now be the ones paying the FCS teams:
Ah yes, time to avoid another political issue when discussing trickle down economics. Here's what I mean. Instead of paying an FCS team to come get knocked around, a Power Five team either pays a Group of Five team or agrees to a home-and-home with a Group of Five team because hey, let's be realistic, nobody is going to schedule three Power Five opponents to home and homes and if they do, that still won't be every team's philosophy. So, every two seasons, a Group of Five team probably sells out their entire stadium when a Power Five team comes to town, and that increase in revenue boosts the program to a point to where they end up paying the FCS team to come to town, or they agree to a home-and-home. Everyone gets paid and everyone gets good football! (Alright, I know this one is pretty weak, but don't look at is a reason to do it, but more of a positive side effect. Or maybe a consolation that those teams that rely on paycheck games won't lose them entirely.)
You don't gain much by winning, but losing...
Let's just say the losses aren't forgotten very quickly.