Eight-game schedule offers more balance
The Southland Conference is about a week or two away from having its hand forced.
Because the SLC has 11 football teams and plays a nine-game conference schedule, two things happen: one conference team a year plays eight league games. And 10 teams will miss out on one conference opponent a season with one opponent missing out on two.
While it hasn’t yet had any controversial effect on the conference, it very well could soon. Incarnate Word is tied for first-place with McNeese and Nicholls State with a 5-2 record. But UIW is the team this season that plays eight conference games. Because of that, the Cardinals don’t have the extra opportunity to create a tiebreaker. They either win the conference outright — beat Central Arkansas and hope both McNeese and Nicholls lose out — or they don’t win any share.
Honestly, that‘s just not fair to UIW. The Cardinals were picked in the preseason SLC poll to finish ninth, so they’ve already greatly overachieved. But I’m sure that they aren’t viewing it that way. UIW wants the chance to go to the playoffs and prove it can win a national championship, just like every other school in the Football Championship Subdivision.
The solution to this is simple: go to an eight-game conference schedule for the entire SLC. You’ll miss out on playing two schools a year but keep the rival on your schedule every year. So McNeese always plays Lamar, Nicholls always plays Southeastern Louisiana, Stephen F. Austin always plays Northwestern State, and so on.
McNeese head coach Lance Guidry has said the coaches within the conference advocate for the eight-game conference schedule. In his mind it allows for more freedom in nonconference scheduling. Play one "money" game against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent, play one lesser FCS or lower-level school and play one competitive FCS game.
I’m here for it. Just imagine that the SLC passed the eight-game schedule for the 2019 season. McNeese’s two nonconference games as of now are home against Southern University and at Oklahoma State. They drop one SLC opponent and that opens up a chance to play just about whoever you want.
Another FBS team? Go right ahead.
A chance to schedule a home-and-home series with James Madison?
Want to play Delta State to give the team a tune-up game?
I mean, sure. An extra nonconference game can either give the team another guaranteed win, boost the playoff résumé, or add 6-7 figures to the football team’s budget.
The other thing it does is gives every team in the conference a more fair way to determine the league champion. I admit, it won’t be the most fair way; that would be everyone playing each other. But a 10-game conference schedule with only 11 FCS games just isn’t feasible.
So is it possible that one season, with the eight-game schedule, McNeese could wind up going undefeated in SLC play while not having played the other top two teams in the conference? It certainly is. A good tiebreaker could be opponents’ combined winning percentage.
A nine-game schedule would work under the old system that had FCS teams playing a 12-game schedule. But because that isn’t the case anymore. A team should not be punished simply because of the number of teams in its conference.
Imagine how UIW could feel in two weeks: McNeese wins out and makes the playoffs. The Cardinals beat UCA and finish with a 6-2 SLC record and they handily beat the Cowboys. The two SLC teams that UIW will not see this year are last-place Houston Baptist and second-to-last place Northwestern State, two games the Cardinals would be favored to win. But we’ll never know.
If UIW doesn’t make the playoffs in that situation, I could see coaches and athletic directors going to the SLC looking to make a change.
One that would be worth it and much needed.
David Berry covers McNeese State
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