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Opinion: There's Still a Place for Scheduling FBS Opponents

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Copyright 2013 Woodward Communications, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

Telegraph Herald (Dubuque, IA)
September 9, 2013 Monday
B; Pg. 1
590 words
Still a place for FBS opponents
Andy Piper TH staff writer apiper@wcinet.com

IOWA CITY - With about 10,000 empty seats, including a conspicuously sparse student section, at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday for Iowa's 28-14 victory over Missouri State, it's difficult to argue with Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany's assessment that games against FCS schools are not in the league's best interest.

I'll try anyway.

Delany recently announced a new scheduling policy that ultimately will eliminate Big Ten schools from playing smaller division schools. Standing commitments can be kept, but Iowa's 2018 matchup with Northern Iowa is in doubt.

His decision is based on several factors. The Big Ten is expanding next fall with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers, and the league will move to a nine-game conference schedule. Also, the NCAA is changing its formula for the postseason playoff system and strength of schedule is a determining factor in who gets invited to the Big Show.

But mostly, it's about TV revenue.

"When every game is televised, every game matters and the fans matter," Delany said. "Interest in those games is less."

Minnesota Athletic Director Norwood Teague nailed it in an interview with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.

"It is primarily television pressuring and wanting the Big Ten to provide games that are (Football Bowl Subdivision) versus FBS teams," Teague said. "They pay us a lot of money, and it's just the desire of television that they want us to do that. That was their message to the Big Ten."

So if Iowa can't schedule Missouri State, who then does it schedule on behalf of the Big Ten Network, or ESPN or ABC or FoxSports 1? Is Wisconsin beating the snot out of Massachussets really more TV-ratings favorable than Iowa hosting Northern Iowa or North Dakota State?

Both of those FCS schools offer a quality opponent, but they also offer a built in regional audience. That is the flaw in the TV networks' approach.

Other than Ohio State and Michigan, and to a lesser extent Nebraska, Big Ten teams do not attract a national TV audience. While Delany's goal might be to see Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota schedule opponents from big conferences, like Kansas and Kansas State from the Big 12, it is more likely the Massachussets and Connecticuts of FBS football will be in greater demand. Iowa preserves its badly needed non-conference victory to qualify for a bowl game, but the ratings bonanza doesn't materialize.

Since no other power conference has followed the Big Ten's lead, scheduling could become a problem. Kansas, for instance, has no compelling interest in scheduling a home-and-home series with Iowa, and give up a home win every year against a smaller school.

A potential outcome is Big Ten teams continue to pad their non-conference schedules against lesser opponents, TV ratings don't follow, and high-quality FCS programs like UNI and North Dakota State suffer financially.

Besides, anyone who heard the Iowa Fight Song echoing off the Hawkeyes' locker room and into the hallway has no doubt how meaningful Saturday's win is to the players. The badly-needed win could echo through the entire season, success building on success, and in the long run, Iowa could find itself in line for a bowl trip that will help supplement the Big Ten's bottom line.

On the other hand, Iowa losing to Kansas or Texas Tech might be more appealing to the average fan, but it won't attract a large TV audience. In the end, it accomplishes little toward helping the Hawkeyes, or any other middle of the pack Big Ten team, finding their way back to consistent winning.

Piper's email address: apiper@wcinent.com

September 9, 2013

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