It’s Time For FBS to Stop Playing FCS

I write this what feels like every single season, but there's just nothing like the structure of the early college football season in all of popular North American sports. There are no preseason games, and everything matters immediately on Labor Day weekend to the national championship picture.

There's no time to mesh with new teammates like in the NHL or NBA, and there's not a month of preseason games and out of town practices like in MLB or the NFL. Even in college basketball, you get exhibitions against lower division teams.

It's also indisputable that the College Football Playoff has helped the early season immensely. Yes, in the past you'd get some marquee scheduled matchups in September, but you usually didn't get a steady stream of power-conference battles unless they were historical rivalries.

During Week 2, it was interesting for me to see Kansas State, a program that was panned in the Bowl Alliance and BCS eras for playing loads of cupcakes outside of conference play, welcome Mississippi State to town. In the time before the selection committee did the rankings and picked the biggest bowls — and did so with a huge emphasis on schedule strength — those kinds of games between Power 5 teams that regularly win 7 to 9 games weren't happening as much. The incentives simply weren't there.

And yet, out-of-conference scheduling and the early season can still be so, so much better.

Take a look at the Week 1 slate over Labor Day weekend. In that smorgasbord of games, more than 40 FBS teams played FCS opposition. In Week 2, that number was almost 30.

That means a third of the entire FBS division was playing teams from a lower classification in Week 1, and almost a quarter were in Week 2. It's not until the first week of October that a full slate includes no FBS/FCS games.

And then there's the ultimate ridiculousness, when SEC and ACC teams will schedule FCS teams in November before playing their traditional rivals.

These games been a scourge on the sport for years, but it still needs to go away pronto. And with the playoff regime not going anywhere anytime soon, there's just no reason for it to continue.

My solution is this: ban any game against FCS opposition that hasn't been scheduled yet. Start this policy tomorrow. Or, perhaps institute a preseason week in the third or fourth weekend of August.

Whatever the case, it's time for these games to go. The effects would be absolutely fantastic and improve college football in a future era where elements of the player pool may disappear altogether.

Now, it's possible that huge resistance to this potential policy would actually come from FCS schools, who get big checks from FBS teams in exchange for shellackings on the field 95 times out of 100. Those checks then help fund football programs. But relying on that money to keep an FCS program afloat is an artificial subsidy and means your school probably isn't supporting football anyway.

Also, you would obviously be taking away the opportunity for FCS teams to earn famous victories against FBS schools. Just in the past two weeks, North Carolina A&T beat East Carolina, Villanova beat Temple, and Samford nearly took down Florida State. But while it sounds harsh, a football player isn't going to accept a scholarship at Samford for the chance of beating FSU — he's going there to be at a competitive team in the next division down from the top of the sport.

But enough about addressing the counterarguments. Eliminating FCS games would be a great thing for the entire FBS.

On Saturday, for example, 10th-ranked Washington beat FCS North Dakota in a predictable blowout that no one outside of Huskies fandom cared about or watched. Let's say instead that their opponent is a mid-tier Mountain West team like Nevada or Wyoming. Is the result demonstrably different? Probably not, but it's at least a better competitive test against FBS athletes before Pac-12 play.

Eventually, as cycles of competitiveness come and go, Mountain West teams, and other Group of 5 teams would win a decent amount of the time against Power 5 schools. And even if the big schools still won the vast majority of those games, Power 5 teams and playoff contenders would also get to bank good victories against a solid bowl teams from a conference with less money.

Let's not forget that playing FCS schools isn't something currently reserved for just the biggest conferences. This past week, my alma mater of two degrees, North Texas, played FCS Incarnate Word, who has only been in FCS for four years.

If North Texas gets a few breaks to go its way and finishes as a 1- or 2-loss C-USA champion, it's not impossible to think that they could be in the running for a New Year's Six spot as the best Group of 5 champ. But unnecessarily scheduling an FCS team that's won 4 games in the past two years won't help.

If that game was against a Sun Belt or MAC team, it would be better all-around. Furthermore, a school like UNT would stand to get a couple more cracks at Power 5 schools every few years if FCS scheduling was banned.

As much as I think this needs to happen, I have to be realistic and say that full, FBS-wide implementation of this may not happen any time soon. The Big Ten tried it, and then reversed the policy in certain years. Hopefully, another conference or conferences will step up to the plate and actually follow through on something that would have tangible benefits for college football.

Comments and Conversation

September 10, 2018

James Savage:

Villanova has played 24 FBS opponents since restoring football at the FCS level in 1985, beating 4. Most of the games have been competitive for at least a half, some into the 4th quarter. Opposing fans have generally applauded the Cats’ effort. So I’m strongly in favor of continuing inter-division contests.

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