More Thoughts on Football Scheduling

We are already into May of 2005, with football season a mere four months away – yet the long-running daytime soap drama that is NC State’s non-conference football scheduling continues, as we previously discussed here.

In more generally applicable news, by now you’ve all heard about the NCAA and chief pinhead Myles Brand allowing a 12th game beginning in 2006. Thus, it seems like a perfect time to discuss football scheduling, both near term and long term.

First, the 2005 NC State schedule, as previously analyzed by yours truly here. It looks more and more likely that we will lose our road game at Temple, which was a perfect fit for our schedule – an early road game against a team we should beat 8 or 9 times out of 10.

I thought that the “with Temple” schedule set us up wonderfully for early season momentum. Naturally, at this late hour, our options are quite limited, and the name we keep hearing for a replacement is Middle Tennessee State. Even worse, the Blue Raiders don’t have an open date on September 10. Of course, there is no talk of MTSU rearranging their schedule to accomodate a team from the powerful ACC – rather, the talk indicates that we will play this game in LATE NOVEMBER, when it will do NC State no good from a competitive standpoint.

But it gets even worse than that – it’s possible that the game will be played on a freaking Friday night (November 18)! Imagine the joy of watching a thoroughly noncompetitive football game (MTSU finished 119th in last year’s Sagarin rankings) in 40 degree weather at night. I’m sure season ticket holders will be glad to fork over $30+ per ticket (in an undoubtedly mandatory supplementary order form) for this treasure of a game – not to mention the out of town folks, who will have to either skip a day of work or simply eat the tickets, which will have no resale value.

But wait, you say – we have a CONTRACT with Temple! Surely we have a remedy for this unfortunate development, don’t we? Well, maybe not. It seems that a power conference team like NC State apparently has much less leverage in negotiating a home-and-home schedule (with the first game on the road, even) with plankton of the college football world like Temple. As Jeff noted in his earlier post, Temple would only owe NC State a modest $250,000 buyout (with no esacalations for short notice), and even then would not have to pay that if an “acceptable” replacement opponent can be found.

I am a corporate attorney who has drafted and negotiated my fair share of contracts – if that is indeed the extent of the contract language, it’s absurdly vague and hostile to NC State’s interests. Who determines what is “acceptable”? What is the standard by which said determination is judged? Any way you slice it, you can expect Temple to contest any assertion that a home game vs. MTSU isn’t acceptable – despite that it robs us of a September tuneup game (from a competitive standpoint, unacceptable), a pre-ACC road game (ditto), forces NC State to suffer (finacial and administrative burdens) through a second round of round of season ticket applications (from a university standpoint, unacceptable), and forces Wolfpack fans to buy tickets for a lousy game in what almost assuredly will be lousy weather (from a fan’s standpoint, unacceptable). It would be much better to make the buyout firm, or at least only subject to a “substantially similar replacement game, as determined in the sole discretion of North Carolina State University.” But alas, that’s not what we have. Bottom line – the lost game will result in a $0 buyout unless we (i) only end up playing 10 games; or (ii) sue Temple – neither of which is going to happen.

Am I overstating the negative impact? After all, we would presumably make an extra couple hundred thousand or so from the extra home game, no matter how undesirable it is. Still, I don’t think so. We would have only ONE non-conference game (a laugher against Eastern Kentucky) and ZERO road games prior to the meat of our ACC schedule. That’s not going to make NC State a better football team in 2005, which is far more important to me than a few extra bucks. Don’t forget what a crucial season this is for the NC State football program – we have underachieved significantly the last two seasons, and need to maximize the potential for success in 2005, or risk losing all momentum for the program. We also will likely lose an advantageous off-week prior to the season-ending home contest against Maryland – instead getting an off-week that we don’t need, after the Virginia Tech home opener and just before the laugher against EKU.

From a more theoretical standpoint (which will segue us into the “12th game” discussion below), it takes a marginally acceptable non-conference schedule and turns it into crap. We should play three tiers of home games – in years with 11 games, we should play one of each:

– Tier One: Challenging game.

– Tier Two: Game that should be won, but provides a decent caliber of resistance (aka “mildly challenging”).

– Tier Three: Cupcake game.

Although Southern Miss barely qualifies as Tier One (you could make an argument it’s more of a Tier Two), and Temple is a stretch for Tier Two (although the road visit is an easier sell), there is no doubt that a schedule with three home games including games against MTSU and EKU is vastly underchallenging and contains two pure Tier Three cupackes. This kind of scheduling is bad for the game of college football (especially given the seed of temptation it plants in athletic directors’ minds to completely sell out for home game revenue), boring for the fans, and does not usually adequately prepare the players for conference competition. In the rare situation when you run the table, such a schedule can keep you out of the title game (see Auburn, 2004).

So, how does everything change when we move to 12 games, other than to provide even more ammunition for pinhead university presidents to resist a playoff because the season is “too long”? Yes, I know that’s hypocritical given that the presidents didn’t throw themselves under the truck to stop adding a 12th game, but hypocrisy never stopped them before. Unfortunately (but not unsurprisingly), the NCAA failed to take reasonable steps to ensure a better college football product. Instead, it simply opened the floodgates for a slew of uncompetitive “cash cow” games to be added to everyone’s schedule. The one tweak in the rules actively added incentive to water down the product – starting in 2006, D-1A teams can count a victory over a D-1AA opponent towards bowl eligibility every year, instead of only once every four years. Great.

These would have been my simple recommendations, to balance financial incentive, bowl aspirations, and the overall quallity of football product:

1) A school is only eligible for a 12th game if the schedule will contain no more than seven home contests (facially “neutral” games within a certain number of miles would count as a home game, absent an express waiver from the NCAA).

I understand that schools will hold out for 7 home games in almost all circumstances – I don’t like it, but can accept it. But without my rule, tyhe temptation will be very strong to go for an EIGHT GAME home slate (at least every other year), with no road games whatsover. The financial lure would be hard to resist, and once the first team tries it, the “race to the bottom” could be fast and furious. Obviously, such a trend would be awful for college football overall. With 12 games, there is really no rational reason to have fewer than 2 “home and home” non-conference series in place, year in and year out.

2) Remove all restrictions from bowl eligibility for 6-6 teams. A 6-5 team under the old rules is not restricted in any way. Without treating 6-6 teams the same way, you will see more teams “schedule scared” and only add cupcake games. This also ties in as a counterbalance to rule #3…

3) Eliminate ALL D-1AA victories from counting towards bowl eligibility. If you can’t get to 6-6 playing all D-1A games, then you don’t belong in a bowl. Period. Want to play a D-1AA school for extra home game revenue? Fine – but you’ll still need 6 1-A wins to bowl. I like the concept of forcing schools to choose between revenue and maximizing bowl chances. At least some schools will forego the purest of pure cupcake route, which will add to the number of decent, entertaining non-conference games.

My view of the 12-game schedule is definitely on the cynical side, but you could see it used for good instead of evil. The extra game could give financial incentive to interesting neutral site contests – such as, say, NC State vs. South Carolina in Charlotte. An enterprising athletic director could line up one traditional home-and-home series with a marquee opponent, and three “2 for 1” series against lesser teams one traditionally plays home-and-home against (Temple, Army, etc.), and better “mid-major” types that usually get no return visit (like the MAC schools). Or a mix of various options.

That said, I expect we’ll see more of your basic 2 home and home series (1 Tier One, 1 Tier Two), and 2 cupcake games (1 D-1A, 1 D-1AA). If that is the case, I think our criteria for Tier One and Tier Two games need to get more stringent. In such a 4-game set, Southern Miss isn’t enough as the toughest game. I will also want to see at least one of the “no return trip” games be against a decent school (like a MAC opponent). Maybe we will need to split the last classification into Tier Three-A and Tier Three-B.

Anyway, thanks for reading, and I apologize if this read too much like a Dennis Miller-style rant (with smaller words). I do not apologize if you are offended by the notion that I’m not excited “just to see NC State play an extra home game, regardless of the date, time, weather and caliber of opponent.” If you think such rah-rah notions are essential to being a “real fan”, then you aren’t going to like this site.

About BJD95

1995 NC State graduate, sufferer of Les and MOC during my entire student tenure. An equal-opportunity objective critic and analyst of Wolfpack sports.

General NCS Football

6 Responses to More Thoughts on Football Scheduling

  1. Charles 05/03/2005 at 11:02 AM #

    Agreed with your points. I think that this is just going to be a money-making opportunity and no good football will come from it.

    ps — fix your html… 😉

  2. Jeff 05/03/2005 at 1:01 PM #

    (1) Tiered Theory of Scheduling
    I have always subscribed a theory identical to your “Tiered” theory of scheduling. In the old ACC it was a perfect fit to our 8 mandated games.

    In the NEW ACC, however, I may provide a little more fudge-factor to how I would categorize some of these tiers. For example, in a year that we have to play Virigina Tech, Miami, and Florida…then I’ve got no problem counting a school like Southern Miss as a “Tier One”. For example, having Ohio State on last year’s 11 game schedule (not further diluted by a 12th game) was ridiculous. Especially in light of how balanced the second tier of the ACC is – BC, Clemson, Maryland, Virgina, GT & Carolina.

    (2) Temple – Wisconsin – Middle Tennessee State
    I hate the current situation that we are in…and I understand that a lot of things are at play here.

    Oceanclub had suggested on PackPride that we should just play Wisconsin on September 10th. I’ve got a lot of thoughts about the idea of playing someone like Wisconsin…but, in this instance those thoughts are moot. The specifics of this current situation that is creating an open date for us on September 10th are also creating an opponent for Wisconsin on that date. So, we don’t have an option to play them if we wanted.

    As for playing MTSU in Novemeber…where does this Friday night bullshit come from? Seriously, I’ve seen this mentioned (by David Horning of State’s Athletics Department), but NOBODY has been able to share with me WHY we can’t play on the following day (a Saturday)?!?!

    It isn’t like either of us are going to be playing anyone else that Saturday?

    (3) Business
    The lunacy of the way that the legal & business affairs of our Athletics Department are run NEVER ceases to amaze me. If ANY legal mind got one red cent for reviewing that kind of contract, then they should be arrested for embezzlement, fraud, and negligence.

    This, from an AD who has never held a position outside of the incesstual world of college athletics, yet likes to cite the way a business man would run his business as he did in this February 22nd whining in the Charlotte Observer (pasted in the comments section of this entry). Oh yes, Lee. PLEASE tell us more about how businesses run!!

    (4) 12th Game
    More on this later….

  3. BJD95 05/03/2005 at 1:38 PM #

    I don’t think you ever, EVER turn down a chance to play a program like Ohio State in a home-and-home. Unless you are already playing Michigan or USC the same season. Frankly, it was the most exciting non-conference game since the days we had our historic clashes with Penn State. I agree that when you have a “Tier One” like Ohio State, you can take it easier with a “Tier Two” (i.e., Temple or ECU would be beyond criticism), and ideally, you would like a tougher Tier One game in years when the ACC schedule is more moderate. That said, I think it’s hard to anticipatorily schedule that way, so your choices boil down to (i) play the game, and hope for the best; and (ii) duck the game. I’ll opt for (i).

    Our overall SOS last year was #27 in the Sagarin – even taking into account the killer league schedule (FSU, Miami, and VT – but no Duke), which isn’t likely to be THAT tough more than once every 10 years or so. Our toughest OOC game was thus against #21 in the Sagarin rankings, not that far ahead of us at #40 (despite our putrid record). I don’t think that’s too much of a challenge at all. And in the end, I’m glad that we (for the program’s sake) finished 5-6 instead of wrapping ourselves in delusional happy talk of “five straight bowls under Amato!”

    The problem last year was not the schedule – it was the sucking. Our underperformance the past 2 seasons is directly traceable to lackluster performance against the middle-to-back end of ACC competition, not to an 0-2 record against Ohio State (in fact, the first Ohio State loss was actually great national attention for NC State football – we just didn’t build on it).

  4. Pirate Captain 05/03/2005 at 3:23 PM #

    Aye!! I say play the East Carolina Pirates with any and all opportunities!!

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