June 22, 2006
By Brian Hardy
Brian is an assistant editor for CSTV.com and contributes on a regular basis.
If you've had the opportunity to take a look at the first weekend of the 2006 college football schedule, in addition to some compelling matchups, you're also going to see a bunch of games that look to be apparent mismatches, pitting larger Division I-A programs against much smaller Division I-AA opponents.
In what has become all too common in the college football landscape, I-A teams continue to schedule I-AA teams, and It looks as though all signs are pointing to this continuing for the foreseeable future. More than 70 of the 119 I-A programs in college football have at least one game with a I-AA opponent scheduled for the 2006 season.
Western Kentucky at Georgia, Northern Arizona at Arizona State, Montana State at Colorado, and Northeastern at Virginia Tech are just a few of the games on the first weekend on this upcoming season's schedule featuring I-A and I-AA schools going up against each one another.
One obvious reason for these games is the fact that with there being no preseason in college football, teams want to have an opportunity to work on things and be able to get a game under their belts before going up against top-tier teams and getting into the bulk of their conference schedule. This way, teams avoid the risk of suffering an early season loss which could spoil their chances of landing a BCS bowl bid or a bowl bid all together.
When you take a look at the full 2006 season schedule; however, you'll notice that this reasoning only goes so far. While most of these games scheduled with I-AA opponents take place early in the season, there are some games as well which are set to take place later in the year, meshed in between either their conference schedule or games with I-A opponents. Such examples include
So, you have to ask yourself, is this good for the game? What benefit can scheduling these games possibly have for college football, and why do so many teams schedule I-AA opponents?
"Our position on scheduling has always been to leave the non-conference games up to the individual schools," Mark Womack, Executive Associate Commissioner of the SEC, said.
Another factor that may attribute to the scheduling of I-AA opponents is the addition of a permanent 12-game schedule for all teams starting this season.
In order to alleviate the burden on teams trying to schedule non-conference games, the Pac-10 has added a ninth conference game to its schedule.
"In our case, we decided to expand our conference schedule," Jim Muldoon, an Assistant Commissioner from the Pac-10, said. Muldoon added that schools have different scheduling philosophies, which may explain why some schools schedule easier opponents early on in their schedule and others don't.
The other factor to look at is last year's rule change allowing one win over a I-AA opponent per year to count towards a team's bowl eligibility, as a team must win six games in order to be eligible for a bowl invite. So, if a school thinks they're on the brink of making a bowl game, scheduling a I-AA opponent might be a smart thing to do, especially if they're in a competitive conference.
""Above all, we strive to have our team be in a position to compete for a BCS national title and BCS bowl opportunities," Conference USA Associate Commissioner for Administration Alfred White said, adding that it depends on the program as to how they schedule.
"Accordingly, when a program thinks it can schedule aggressively, then we encourage them to schedule the most competitive games," White said. "But at the same time, our institutions know where they're at and what works best for them."
Besides teams scheduling I-AA opponents as ways to either have a game to work on things and work out all their kinks, or to help with its chances of becoming bowl eligible, another reason we see this is that it's just simply hard for a lot of schools to put together a schedule without scheduling at least one game against a I-AA opponent.
"Challenges are mounting for the schools as it relates to scheduling," White said. "I think what you'll find is that most schools' first choice would be to play challenging opponents. I think I-AA schools are looked at when I-A teams can't be scheduled."
But White was also quick to add that he feels allowing a win over a I-AA opponent count towards your bowl
eligibility is a good thing for college football.
"I think it's good. It's good for everybody," White said. "If you're a I-AA team, it givers you the opportunity to measure yourselves up against a I-A team to find where you are. And if you're a I-A team, not all teams are able to or willing to schedule home-and-home series, so then you've got to look at I-AA teams to fill the void. It gets into a competitive financial market"
So, whether it be for reasons of giving teams the opportunity to have a game to work on things, teams looking to get on the inside track to bowl eligibility, an issue of economics, or if it's a matter of schedule flexibility and teams just being unable to find other I-A opponents to play, you can expect to see more of these games fill out future schedules.