6 Scheduling Changes College Football Needs to Make
Though it’s often argued in college football that “you can’t control your schedule,” the statement is only half true.
While teams may not be able to regulate who and where they play their conference games, they do have a great deal of influence over non-conference scheduling.
Sure, these games are often planned years in advance, but it still takes Athletic Director A to call up Athletic Director B to get the ball rolling.
The truth is, scheduling in college football is not an apples-to-apples affair, creating an unequal playing field, especially for members of “power-five” conferences (the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC).
To illustrate, how do you compare Oregon State’s 2013 schedule with Oregon’s?
The Beavers didn’t play a non-conference game against a power-five opponent, while the Ducks had games at Virginia and versus Tennessee.
Though the Cavaliers and Volunteers aren’t, say, Clemson and Georgia, they did present a bigger challenge than Oregon State’s games versus Hawaii and San Diego State.
This makes one team’s 12-2 record a lot different than another’s 12-2 mark.
To address the inequality in scheduling, college football needs to create a set of binding regulations for power-five programs.
Eliminate Games With FCS Teams
The first step in balancing the playing field in scheduling is to outlaw games between power-five members and FCS opponents.
Though there have been a growing number of exceptions, these games represent the biggest “cream puffs” or “gimmes,” and there is no reason for them.
In 2013, only 10 of the 62 power-conference teams didn’t dip down to play an FCS opponent. That equals 84 percent of the field playing a lower-level foe.
The exceptions were: Texas, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Pitt, Maryland, Michigan, Penn State, USC, Stanford and UCLA. All 14 members of the SEC played an FCS opponent in 2013.
Of the 52 teams that did play an FCS team, only four squads came out on the losing end. This is a 93 percent success rate in a year which was way above-average for the underdog.
What it amounts to is Georgia Tech’s wins over Alabama A&M and Elon counting the same as Maryland’s wins against Connecticut and West Virginia. Both programs finished the season with a 7-6 record, but they were not earned with the same level of difficulty.
With the FBS growing by a couple of programs per year—membership was up to 125 in 2013—there are plenty of non-power programs to choose from when scheduling.
Though games pitting power-five teams versus the FCS are good for the smaller programs who choose to participate, they are bad for major college football.
Require 1 Power-5 Non-Conference Game
Of the 62 power-conference teams in 2013, 15 didn’t play a non-conference game against another power-five squad or Notre Dame.
This amounts to 24 percent of the field playing either FCS opponents or teams from the American Athletic, Mountain West, Conference USA, MAC, Sun Belt or an independent team other than Notre Dame.
To illustrate the inequality this creates, take a look at Georgia’s non-conference schedule in 2013 versus Texas A&M’s.
|Game 1||at Clemson||L||38-35||Rice||W||52-31|
|Game 2||North Texas||W||45-21||FCS Sam Houston||W||65-28|
|Game 3||FCS App. St||W||45-6||SMU||W||42-13|
|Game 4||at Georgia Tech||W||43-34 2OT||UTEP||W||57-7|
|Reg. Season Finish||8-4||8-4|
So, the Aggies schedule home games against lower-level teams from the state of Texas and go 4-0, while the Bulldogs take road trips to Clemson and Georgia Tech and post a 2-2 record in non-SEC play.
In this case, 8-4 finishes in the regular season are two very different animals.
The way to solve this is to legislate that each power-five member schedule—at minimum—one non-conference game against another power-five member.
Attention Washington State, Kansas and Indiana: Your phone is about to start ringing off the hook.
Require 1 Non-Conference Road Game
In the same way that some teams create an advantage by scheduling all lower-level non-conference foes, others like to conduct their entire pre-league slate in their home stadium.
Though this is not as well-advertised, it offers similar advantages.
In 2013, 10 of the 62 power members played every single one of their non-conference games at home. The non-conference record among these teams was 29-8.
Two of the teams, Baylor and Auburn, were perfect out of conference and used the momentum for huge runs.
Take a look.
|Game 1||Washington St||W||31-24||FCS Wofford||W||69-3|
|Game 2||Arkansas St||W||38-9||Buffalo||W||70-13|
|Game 3||FCS W. Carolina||W||62-3||Louisiana-Monroe||W||70-7|
|Game 4||Florida Atlantic||W||45-10|
|Reg. Season Finish||11-1||11-1|
It’s no coincidence that these teams both went on to win a conference championship in 2013—the SEC and Big 12—and then lost their BCS games.
Compare this scenario to, say, USC, a team that traveled all the way to Hawaii for its opener and played Notre Dame in South Bend in October.
In this case it’s another easy fix: Require power-five teams to hit the road, at least once, for a non-conference game.
Don’t Dictate Rivalries
Moving on to in-conference scheduling, rivalries should be cultivated, rather than dictated.
What this means is eliminating the practice of “preserving” or “producing” rivalries between programs by means of a cross-division requirement.
To illustrate how this works, here’s a list of the SEC’s cross-divisional games, according to Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports: Florida-LSU, Alabama-Tennessee, Auburn-Georgia, Mississippi State-Kentucky and Ole Miss-Vanderbilt.
Coming in 2014 are new “permanent rivalries,” Texas A&M-South Carolina and Missouri-Arkansas.
Though these type of pre-arranged marriages protect long-time series like Alabama-Tennessee and create a regular hate-fest for matchups like Florida-LSU, they aren’t fair.
Think about it this way: How equitable is it for LSU to have to play Florida every year, while Mississippi State draws Kentucky? If the schedule rotated, LSU would eventually get an “off” year from the East and have an easier path to the league title.
LSU’s Les Miles said about the scheme, per Fowler, "If there’s a first criteria for a conference, it’s to schedule with an opportunity for each member institution to have the same way, the same path to the championship."
Regulate the Number of Bye Weeks
Though scheduling bye weeks is a complex task, some teams get the shaft where breaks are concerned, while others pick up a real advantage.
In 2013, four Big 12 teams (Texas, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Oklahoma) all got three bye weeks, while three Pac-12 squads (USC, Colorado and Cal) only received one week off.
Though this doesn’t have the same impact as the level of competition, it does have a real effect on the overall health and condition of a football program.
The other angle in breaks is when they are scheduled. It’s not so much about who you play after your bye week—which is near impossible to regulate—but instead the timing of the bye weeks.
The optimum situation would be for the first bye week to come after several consecutive weeks of play and the second coming nearer the end of the season when the team is banged-up.
To put this theory into practice, take a look at the averages of when bye weeks fell by a power-conference in 2013.
|Avg. First Bye Week||Avg. Second Bye Week||Span|
So, where the Pac-12 had, on average, its first bye before Week 4, the SEC and Big Ten got a break after Week 5. This means that the Pac-12 got its break before it needed it.
In fact, Stanford and Arizona were off during Week 1 in 2013, while Washington and UCLA had their first bye in Week 2.
There is no advantage to being off during the first several weeks of a season.
Another interesting bit comes from looking at the weeks between the breaks or the span. Here the SEC again had the advantage with 5.43 weeks between byes, while the Big Ten had only a four-week span.
If nothing else, programs should have an equal number of bye weeks, and they should be reasonably timed within the season.
Require Conference Championship Games
The only remaining power-conference without a conference championship game is the Big 12, which shut down its title tilt after the 2010 season.
Though this seems like a minor point, Big 12 members will have a serious advantage over members of the other power conferences until it re-initiates a conference championship.
To illustrate, think back to this past season and consider Baylor and Michigan State.
The Bears finished the regular season 11-1 and won the Big 12 title by virtue of going 8-1 in conference play. Their Dec. 7 win over Texas sealed their fate, and Baylor was free to sit home and wait for a BCS bowl bid.
The Spartans, on the other hand, finished the regular season 11-1 and after playing Minnesota to go 8-0 in Big Ten play had to prepare for No. 2 Ohio State in the conference championship.
Michigan State’s record mirrored that of Baylor’s, but the Spartans still had to beat a top-ranked opponent before being considered for a bowl.
Now ask yourself this: What if the Spartans had been blown out by the Buckeyes in the Big Ten title game? Then they finish 11-2, on a tragic note, while Baylor sits home and rests on the laurels of its shorter and easier schedule.
The problem becomes worse when you paint a picture of a 12-0 Texas team sitting out a league-title game, while 12-0 LSU plays Georgia in the SEC championship and 12-0 Ohio State faces Wisconsin for all the Big Ten marbles.
In this scenario, the Longhorns are assured the national championship nod only because they don’t have to risk a loss in a conference championship game.
The argument that the Big 12’s smaller membership somehow gets it around a title game requirement is ridiculous. The league should either expand or split into divisions with five teams each.
The bottom line is that the situation is not fair to the 52 non-Big 12 members who play in power-conferences.