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

Last Modified: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 10:30 AM

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.”

Posted By: Tom On: 2/20/2013

Title: SEC will pay for late season FCS games

College Football purists insist that the regular season serves as a type of playoff in and of itself. No argument here, unless an FCS team is scheduled as part of a late season breather. The REAL playoff which is forthcoming will mean that strength of schedule will be scrutinized more than ever in determining which 4 teams are most deserving. In spite of Mr. Sagarin's ratings, I and most people will take Illinois against all in state FCS teams any day of the week. Lower level FBS teams will now get bigger paydays as the Big 10 teams will be knocking on the doors of MAC, Sun Belt, CUSA, and Mountain West schools in order to fill schedules. The SEC is still the best conference even if one of it's less than admirable scheduling practices is being rightfully challenged.

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