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Thursday, April 20, 2006

It's the offseason, so it must be time to snipe about scheduling, particularly that of the the SEC. House Rock Built and EDSBS have resurrected the slightly annoying corpse of the OMG Georgia-never-leaves-the-confederacy argument to batter it around some. SI's John Walters, no doubt STEALING FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE(!), chips in an outstanding article at on the sad state of scheduling.

The SEC isn't really an issue. You can argue about whether the SEC's nonconference schedules are or are not more reprehensible than the those of the nation at large, but let's be serious: we're talking about a matter of degree. Everyone who can get away with scheduling fluff in front of a sold-out stadium does. Teams will often schedule a token decent opponent and match them with twin creamypuffs -- and with the twelve game schedule it might be more like three. The accusation that SEC teams stay close to home is pointless and a transparent attempt to leave aside the niggling fact that Florida plays Florida State every year, Georgia plays Georgia Tech, etc, etc, etc. Intersectional is meaningless. Interconference is the issue.

(Almost) Everyone hates this. The athletic directors cited in Walters' article sound annoyed and resigned:

"Are you sitting down?" asked the Aggies' official. "I've got some bad news for you. We're not coming."

"I thought, You've got to be kidding me," recalls Brand.

"But the way it is now, contracts can be simply negotiated out of or simply not honored."
The Wolf Pack have a home-and-home with Northwestern beginning in 2007. And Hickok has learned. "They're coming to our place first," Hickok says, "and believe me, there will be a penalty clause in that contract."
Fans hate seeing the words "Eastern Michigan" and "50 dollars" on the same ticket. Players are forced to roll out onto the field and risk injury for a glorified scrimmage. ESPN gets Timbersports ratings. The only people who seem to enjoy the situation are coaches, who get a stress-free week, a guaranteed win, and a better chance of pointing to an impressive record as a reason he should not be placed in stocks and run out of town at season's end. The only people who seemed anything other than giddy about the Texas-Ohio State game? Jim Tressel and Mack Brown.

Axiom going forward: this state of affairs is dismal and must change. No one is against a season-opener against Designated Patsy A, especially with twelve games: the excitement of the new season and the end of the cruel eight month football fast is enough for one ritual pounding to be just lovely, thank you. But once Designated Patsies B, C, and -- if you're Minnesota or Kansas State -- D start limping into the stadium we have issues.

Money is a red herring. The athletic director's lament of "we need more money" is mind-boggling. For what? Have player salaries spiraled out of control in recent years? You can only create so many "academic centers" with solid gold toilets. The economic troubles of big athletic departments are an entirely self-created problem. Faced with a strict salary cap (generally zero [TRESSEL BASHING REDACTED]), college teams desperate for John Q. Recruit to show up and molest the field hockey team win championships have taken the Mark Cuban approach: Playstations everywhere; Friday and Sunday and Tuesday are lobster night and so is Wednesday and maybe Thursday; teams of sepoys haul the quarterback around in a marble palanquin. All for whatever incremental benefit accrues to your program.

In any case, scheduling a real opponent isn't that costly. Two scenarios, assuming $50 bucks a pop in a 100,000 seat stadium (generous for most what with 80k stadiums and student seating, etc., but add in parking and concessions):
  • Two home games against teams of legless goats: $10 million in tickets - approximately $1 million in goat-support payments.
  • Home and home with pulse-bearing opponent: $5 million in tickets plus whatever the difference is in TV rights fees.
I have no idea what the latter is but I know damn well that Texas-OSU brought in more than Michigan-Ball State will. Add those to the latter and we're talking something on the order of under a million dollars per year.

The ultimate test here is what teams eventually do with the twelfth game, since it's pure profit. The women's crew team is already provided for. The toilets, as mentioned, are golden and come with robotic servants that wipe for you. ADs should get a free pass for this year, as the 12th game was thrust upon them somewhat suddenly and the constricted schedule means that teams with championship games and the Big Ten have to find someone, anyone, to plug into the hole on their schedule. Going forward, however, there's another chance to test your mettle -- assuming you have some.

It's getting worse. Even oft-cited scheduling titans Michigan (go figure, but people removed from the situation have a vague impression of Michigan losing on the West Coast a lot and don't pay much attention to the MAC snackycakes) and Notre Dame have started scaling back the voluntary challenges they've lined up. Michigan is playing at least two MAC teams a year from now until the sun expands. You'll see them playing a road game on Pacific time sometime after World War III. Notre Dame is trying to line something up with the Coast Guard Academy now that they have Army, Navy, and Air Force on the schedule.

This is probably a futile discussion. I'll propose solutions ("make Pat Hill the coach of all D-I programs") tomorrow but the chances of anything actually changing are very bad. This is acknowledged ahead of time in order to save the comments about this being futile.

Tomorrow: what can be done?