Time Out with Joe Sobchuk

Photo by Austin Foote

FBS teams should not schedule games against FCS opponents because they have nothing to gain and so much to lose. Every one of these games is either a boring lopsided affair or a real blast to the confidence and success of the team and it puts the players at a greater risk of injury.

The Jackets are fresh off of a 70-0 blowout against the Elon Phoenix, an FCS team that went 3-8 and was blanked by UNC, 62-0 a year ago. The Phoenix had no business even being on the same field as the Jackets and the score could have been much worse if Coach Paul Johnson didn’t agree to let the clock run continuously in the fourth quarter at Elon’s request. Had they wanted to, Tech probably could have passed the 100-point mark had they kept their starters in and played under regular timing rules.

When the season is already only 12 games long, it seems like a waste of a game for both the teams and the fans. This isn’t Tech’s only FCS opponent this year—they play Alabama A&M in the penultimate game of the season. At least A&M had a winning record last year, though they were blown out by a mediocre Auburn team.

How does playing in games like this help the team at all? The most common answer is that they serve as “preseason” games that allow the teams to warm up against an inferior opponent before their real season starts. They are also used as a “bye week” during a tough stretch of the season. And since the games still count towards bowl eligibility, it makes sense to schedule an opponent that nearly guarantees a win. In the last ten years, FBS schools have won anywhere from 86% to 98% of games against FCS teams in a given season.

“It seems like a waste of a game for both the team and the fans.”

When an FBS team blows out an FCS school, it has no gauge of how well it actually played because of the difference in talent between the two teams. The results are essentially meaningless for predicting future success. But when the FCS team pulls out the victory, it is easy to predict more failures ahead for the FBS team and that can really diminish their confidence. For example, in 2007 No. 5 Michigan lost to Appalachian State at home in the first game of the year, then proceeded to lose badly at home to unranked Oregon. These losses dropped Michigan out of the rankings entirely, though the team would eventually rebound and win their bowl game.

FCS players also seem to have an increased likelihood of getting injured when playing FBS teams. FCS schools are not allowed to give as many athletic scholarships as FBS schools, so they generally do not attract the biggest and best players (this is why there is such a gap in team performance in the first place). However, when these two very different teams meet on the field, it can sometimes look like David vs. Goliath, with 6’6”, 300 pound lineman on one side of the ball plowing through guys who are much shorter and lighter on the other side. In Tech’s game versus Elon there must have been about five or six injuries for the Phoenix, while the Jackets finished the game unscathed. These games are dangerous for the players involved on the losing side of the ball.

What did we learn about the Jackets last weekend? If this game is any indication of how the season will play out, then I expect the Jackets to be hoisting the crystal football as the BCS National Champions in January. They certainly played like champions —the explosive offense scored at will and the stout defense pitched a shutout and returned two interceptions for touchdowns.

Obviously, these expectations are completely unrealistic, as it would be fairly ludicrous to assume that the team could perform similarly against any comparable opponent.

Unfortunately, the timing of this article is not exactly ideal. FCS school set a record last week by beating eight FBS teams. Perhaps the most notable game was North Dakota State’s victory over Kansas State, a team that was ranked No. 1 at times and made it to the Fiesta Bowl last year. In reality, however, it was not that big of an upset: NDSU is now 7-3 all-time versus FBS teams and have won back-to-back FCS championships. KSU lost nine of eleven starters on defense as well as their Heisman candidate quarterback from the year before, while all 22 NDSU starters had seen significant playing time during one or both of the team’s championship runs.

I also understand that the weaker teams are paid a great sum of money to act as cannon fodder for the better teams. These payments usually make up a significant part of the team’s revenue for the year, sometimes as much as 20 percent. They are certainly not numbers to be scoffed at, and eliminating these games could seriously damage the schools’ athletic budgets.

But instead, we let the schools get richer at the expense of cheapening of the college football season with mostly meaningless games.

I concede that these games are a necessary evil and have been ingrained in the sport, but I propose three solutions to curb the scheduling of FCS opponents.

First, the NCAA could institute a one-week preseason in which the games do not count in the standings or official records. This would still allow the teams to practice against a real opponent without sacrificing a spot on the schedule, and the FCS school would still receive its payment. Or, the NCAA could instead limit these games to just one per team so teams don’t pad their schedules with easy games. Finally, the NCAA could not allow these games to count towards bowl eligibility, which would swiftly curtail the  of FCS opponents on the schedule.