Hickey Column: Big Ten’s move away from FCS schools doesn’t spell doom

By By Alex Hickey / American Press

When Wisconsin athletic director Barry

Alvarez announced last week that the Big Ten’s movers and shakers — not

to be confused

with its leaders and legends — were no longer going to schedule

Football Championship Subdivision opponents, it sent a minor

ripple of concern through the lower subdivision’s ranks.

The six-figure paydays earned by FCS teams playing up against their bigger brethren have become a major part of every smaller

school’s football budget, and losing that money could put the health of several programs into question.

However, McNeese athletic director Tommy McClelland said there are a number of reasons he isn’t hitting the panic switch just

yet.

“I am concerned, but I’m not losing sleep over it,” McClelland said.

For starters, the Big Ten is the only

league that has declared any intention to stop scheduling FCS teams, and

to this point

it has only done so through the voice of Barry Alvarez. Even by

that measurement, all Big Ten vs. FCS games still figure to

be on up until 2016, which includes McNeese’s trip to Nebraska in

‘14.

According to Alvarez, the move is primarily being made for reasons of enhancing competition as well as the resume of Big Ten

teams for the new four-team playoff that will begin in 2014.

Though that reasoning seems sound, it is not entirely true.

In the last five years, Alvarez’s own

Badgers have beaten two FCS programs, Cal Poly and Northern Iowa, by

less than a touchdown.

In the same timeframe, Big Ten foe Indiana has only come within a

touchdown of Wisconsin once. In 2011 the Badgers even hung

83 points on the Hoosiers, a level of embarrassment that hasn’t

befallen many FCS teams.

By the numbers, several FCS teams are better to schedule than weak FBS teams — even within the Big Ten.

Jeff Sagarin runs one of the six computer rankings used in the formula to calculate the soon-to-be deceased BCS. The Sagarin

ratings measure every team in Division I, regardless of subdivision.

By Sagarin’s metrics, there were 21 teams in the FCS that rated higher in 2012 than the worst team in the Big Ten, Illinois,

which came in at No. 126.

North Dakota State was the top FCS team

at No. 35, while McNeese checked in ahead of the Illini at No. 115. In

fact, Illinois ranked

lower than three in-state FCS programs — Southern Illinois (103),

Illinois State (105) and Eastern Illinois (119).

Granted, much of the general public has

“girlfriends,” “spouses” or “hobbies” that detract from the ability to

spend much

time dwelling on these kinds of numbers, so to them Michigan’s

loss to Appalachian State in 2007 appears far more humiliating

than one to Indiana. Probably.

Where the Big Ten unquestionably stands to gain by dropping FCS opponents for a ninth conference game is in TV ratings.

No matter what anyone tells you, the

Big Ten Network’s access to east-coast homes was the sole motivator

behind the league’s

addition of Rutgers and Maryland for 2014. The league office is

clearly hoping more conference games drive up greater interest

than guarantee games.

McClelland’s impression is that the Big Ten’s anti-FCS stance will not trickle down to the rest of the FBS. After all, the

SEC has managed to win six straight national championships despite still having FCS games on its schedule every year.

“Last week I was with an SEC AD when that news broke. He said he didn’t like it in his personal opinion,” McClelland said.

“I think the Big Ten is trying to do something to help them catch up with the SEC. In their mind eliminating with FCS can

help their image. For me, I can tell you the AD I talked to did not anticipate that happening any time soon in the SEC.”

Even if it should eventually happen in the SEC, McClelland anticipates slightly lesser-paying guarantee games against Conference

USA and Sun Belt-level opponents still being a reality.

“Even in worst-case it totally flips, I can prepare for that,” McClelland said. “It’s not going to be this earth-shattering

deal. I personally don’t think every conference will follow suit.”