I’m tired of the beatdowns that simply follow protocol. I’ve had enough of the familiar cupcake slaughters that should come with a giant check and photo-op moments before University of Unlimited Resources and Cash Flow destroys Overmatched and Underfunded State for the umpteenth time.
In college football, these matchups have become routine. They have purpose certainly, but not for any of us.
The schedule in the early part of the season is unsurprisingly dreadful, and powerhouse programs pay schools—typically weaker FCS programs—large sums of money in exchange for a check mark in the win column.
And while I’d like to think that the college football playoff on the horizon will force teams into dramatic, philosophical scheduling changes, it remains to be seen if that will be the case. If not, we’ll be left with more Week 4s, which is difficult to process.
In an actual football game last weekend, both head coaches agreed to shorten the fourth quarter by three minutes. They did this because the game was out of hand long before the scoreboard confirmed it.
Miami and Savannah State had played only three quarters to the score of 77-7, and that proved to be 40 minutes too much. The Hurricanes then took to Twitter to announce that the game would end early, like a “first to 10 wins” declaration in the backyard during a rousing game of two-hand touch.
Officials announce that both coaches have agreed to a 12 minute fourth quarter.— Hurricanes Football (@MiamiHurricanes) September 22, 2013
For Savannah State’s efforts (or perhaps “travail” feels more appropriate), the school received $375,000. Last season, the Tigers took on Oklahoma State and Florida State in back-to-back weeks to start the season, and they were outscored 139-0 in those games. They were also awarded $860,000—or nearly 20 percent of the school’s athletic budget—for getting plastered on consecutive Saturdays.
Miami was not alone in its pay-for-win measures. Ohio State dished out a cool $900,000 for Florida A&M to take a trip to Columbus. The result was a 76-0 win for the Buckeyes in a game that was the football-watching equivalent of a trip to the dentist’s office.
This was my Twitter synopsis of the game, which I apparently posted. The entire thing was pretty much a blur, really. Pass the Novocain, please.
This Ohio State-Florida A&M game is just stupid. Like, what are we doing here?— Adam Kramer (@KegsnEggs) September 21, 2013
UCLA paid New Mexico State $550,000 to travel out west, and the Bruins handed over a check and a 59-13 victory. Fellow conference mate Washington paid Idaho State $450,000 to come to its renovated stadium, and the result was a 56-0 win.
Four games, $2,275,000 and a combined score of 268-20—this is your Week 4 recap in a nutshell.
In a lot of ways, this sample size simply mirrors what early season scheduling has become. What’s more discouraging is that this is no longer a problem in the first two weekends, a time where blowouts were almost assumed. The first quarter of the season is now rich with bad football—easy wins in exchange for budget boosts.
And therein lies one of the issues at hand, or at the very least, the one thing keeping us from demanding an immediate end to this mockery of the sport. The Savannah States of the world rely heavily on these games for what they provide financially. This afternoon of non-competition can help fund a school’s events for an entire year.
Of course, whose responsibility should this be? And are these sham matchups—which are more or less painful three-hour fundraisers—really the best way to go about subsidizing a program?
For the other schools, the ones handing over a pile of money taken from a much larger pile of money to play one game, we’re approaching a boiling point when it comes to scheduling.
Attendance is approaching all-time lows, something The Wall Street Journal outlined while focusing in on the SEC.
Costs have gone up, the home-viewing experience is constantly improving and the game-day experience has been de-incentivized. The incentive for fans to dump large sums of money into these contests lessens when the suspense of the game itself is lost.
This comes at a time where the shiny new college football playoff will be put in motion, and a selection committee (still to be determined) will put more focus on rewarding teams for strength of schedule. Or so we’re told.
It sounds great and it reads well in a press release, but until a team (or conference) makes this a priority—or until the system backs up its claims with actual decisions that force teams to alter their ways—change will likely be talked about rather than acted upon.
Do teams need to revisit the way they schedule?
This doesn’t mean that Ohio State has to schedule Oregon and Clemson in Weeks 1 and 2—although it would be absolutely fabulous if it did—but there are creative ways to improve the non-conference weekly product and also sprinkle in the occasional blockbuster game.
Conferences such as the MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt have greatly improved their product in recent years. And while the FCS label may apply to the majority of teams, programs like North Dakota State, South Dakota State and Eastern Washington have proved their worth. Scheduling FCS teams isn’t necessarily the issue—it’s making sure the right ones are being scheduled.
More importantly, however, scheduling improvements will likely come slowly as the new playoff system forces them to do so. Teams figured out a way to game the BCS, the ideal method and just enough scheduling to impress a formula. A similar blueprint will likely be determined over the next few seasons.
2013 isn’t the last we’ve seen up the cash-for-beatdown exchange, but there’s reason to believe that change is coming, albeit at a tortoise pace. The copycat nature of the sport should (eventually) force teams into scheduling more meaningful games, assuming the playoff can deliver as advertised.