The Big Ten is expanding its conference schedule. This we know. One of the main questions about the consequences of adding a conference game, however, was what gets subtracted from the non-conference schedules in return. Do Big Ten teams schedule for strength and premier opponents, or do they schedule for home games, wins and revenue?
There may not be one single, definitive answer to that question—it may change for some teams year-to-year, for example—but according to Barry Alvarez, the Big Ten is making a strong statement about the importance of scheduling well by phasing out the dreaded games against FCS opponents.
Here's the news from ESPN.com:
"The nonconference schedule in our league is ridiculous," Alvarez said on WIBA-AM in Madison, Wis. "It's not very appealing ...
"So we've made an agreement that our future games will all be Division I schools. It will not be FCS schools."
Alvarez didn't say when the agreement would take effect.
Maestro, if you please:
Obviously, Alvarez means FBS (or what coaches from his era would call Division I-A), because FCS schools are D-I as well. But it's easy to see what he means, especially since eight of the Big Ten's 12 teams played FCS opponents in 2012 alone.
FCS games are glorified exhibitions, ones that might only prove anything if they stay close. But whipping an FCS team signifies nothing. Purdue thumped Eastern Kentucky 48-6, and Purdue was bad in 2012. Illinois took a 44-0 laugher over Charleston Southern, then promptly lost every single game left on its schedule—all but one coming by double digits.
If a Big Ten team is truly eager for wins, it should at least schedule a MAC or Sun Belt team—someone who at least gets 85 scholarship players and can compete on a semi-level playing field. And yes, it's true that MAC teams are harder to beat than FCS teams. A Big Ten bowl team—in other words, the type of team that should be counting wins—should beat them anyway.
Let's define the lowest level of FBS football as single-digit win teams in the MAC and Sun Belt, and sub-.500 teams in the C-USA, Independent, Mountain West and WAC. The Big Ten often schedules against these types of opponents and should be expected to win every time. And sometimes those underdogs win. If they do, however, it's a good sign the Big Ten team is bad enough that it can plan to stay home come December and January.
In fact, in the last 10 seasons of play, only three times has a Big Ten team lost to one of those teams and still gone to a bowl game that year. We can also toss in Michigan's 2007 loss to FCS Appalachian State and make it four if you'd like. That's still just four.
So let's be clear: The teams that schedule FCS teams should be able to expect a win if that opponent were a low-level FBS opponent too—and if not, well, there are clearly larger problems afoot.
So with that we bid the FCS game a fond farewell, whenever it is the Big Ten will get around to putting it out of its (and our) misery.