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Should the NCAA be in charge of non-conference games?

July 15, 2008

After reading a post on the Orlando Sentinel’s college football blog a while back about a study done on strength of non-conference schedules, it got me thinking about just how much discussion, debate and controversy is generated by non-conference schedules and the strength (or lack thereof) of many of college football’s best teams and how all of that might be avoided.

It seems borderline corrupt to me that powerhouse schools pay tomato cans to show up at their place in early September (and sometimes later into the season for some SEC schools) to get their brains beat out before an sold-out stadium just biding their time before the real football begins. Yes, some teams have been bold enough to schedule a marquee conference game (USC, Ohio State, Texas, Virginia Tech and LSU most readily come to mind) but by and large, the first three weeks before conference games begin are pretty mundane and uninteresting (unless you’re a Michigan fan).

Of course strength of schedule wouldn’t be an issue if it didn’t factor so heavily into the national championship equation. A team like Hawaii with a dud of a non-conference and conference schedule last year was able to skate their way into a BCS bowl and then got their teeth kicked in on national television. Schedules matter in college football because there’s only 12 games (13 in the case of conferences with conference championships). Since there is no longer a factor for strength of schedule into the BCS equation, strength of schedule has once again become a hot topic with college football’s fanbase.

So how do we lay all of this debate to bed?

By allowing the NCAA to generate non-conference schedules.

No longer are athletic departments buying games and there is no more debate about strength of schedule if the conferences allow the NCAA to act as the NFL does and schedule all of the non-conference games. The conferences would still be responsible for scheduling the majority of the season and no longer would fans have any gripe about a rival team hosting a FCS team in the middle of October. It’d be easy to convince schools to do this. More high-profile games in the non-conference means more fan and national interest which means more money and I’ve never met an athletic director or university president that didn’t like the concept of more money coming in the door.

It would work like this in my system:

The NCAA would be responsible for selecting opponents for every team in Div. 1-A football for the first three games of the season. The opponents would be randomly selected from certain pools. Each team would draw one game from each of the following pool of opponents:

  • Pool A: The AP/Coaches Poll Top 25 from the previous season. These polls are far too inconsequential and coaches don’t take them seriously enough, letting assistant coaches fill out their ballots. Maybe now they’ll start paying attention.Does not include conference opponents.
  • Pool B: All other BCS schools again not including conference opponents.
  • Pool C: Non-BCS opponents (Conference USA, Sun Belt, WAC, Mountain West, etc.)

This system also has a provision for the top schools in the FCS or what was formerly Div. I-AA. The top four teams from the previous season played their way into Pool C and could be selected.

While I fully acknowledge that this system has virtually no chance of being picked up since we all know how much college football embraces widespread change, it’d be fun to think about match-ups like Georgia/Wisconsin or USC/Virginia Tech early on in the regular season rather than Florida/FIU and Louisville/Middle Tennessee.

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