The 2001 Youngstown State University football season is winding down with just two regular season games remaining, and the playoff picture is still unclear.
While the Penguins and coach Jon Heacock still control their own destiny for a playoff berth (win out and they're in), YSU athletic director Ron Strollo is keeping busy trying to line up future schedules for the Penguins.
Strollo, in his first year as the top man in the YSU athletic program, has been finding it difficult to fill next year's schedule.
As of right now, the Penguins have only nine games on the schedule, one of them a Division II contest at home against Clarion in the season opener.
Lost KSU game: The Penguins lost one game early this year when Kent State backed out of its contract to play in Youngstown. That loss has sent Strollo scrambling.
He is trying to avoid playing two Division II teams next year, but that possibility still exists.
Currently, the Penguins have five away games and four at home. They play four Gateway games on the road at Western Illinois, Illinois State, Western Kentucky and Southwest Missouri State. They also have an away date at Florida Atlantic next October.
Florida Atlantic is a two-year, home-and-home deal, and Strollo is trying to extend that contract for at least another two years.
The other three home games are all Gateway opponents, Northern Iowa, Indiana State and Southern Illinois.
Eyes two more: Strollo would like to get two more home games, but if a big money game came available -- he's been talking with several Division I-A schools -- he'd accept a sixth away contest.
Strollo has completely filled the 2003 schedule and guess what -- it only includes one Division II team.
In 2003, the Penguins will play six home games and five away. They will play Kent State on the road and the three Gateway teams, and have added Liberty University to the schedule, also an away game.
The home schedule includes the opener, either Clarion or Slippery Rock, four Gateway Games and Florida Atlantic.
Liberty's role: Strollo announced that Liberty will become a regular on the Penguins schedule.
"Being an independent, they have difficulty scheduling games," Strollo said. "We've made an agreement that they will fill the gap on our Gateway rotation each year."
Thus, when the Penguins play four Gateway teams at home and three on the road, such as in 2003, then Liberty will balance out that by hosting the Penguins. And then they will come to Youngstown the following year.
"We are also hoping to extend our contract with Florida Atlantic, which this season made its first appearance in the I-AA ranks," Strollo added. "We'd like to make a trip to Florida every other year if possible."
YSU owed game: Strollo said that Kent State still owes the Penguins a game for letting them out of next year's game, but after that he doesn't see much future for YSU with Mid-American Conference teams.
"When the NCAA makes its new changes in Division I-A requirements, those team are really going to be struggling to meet the requirements, and a Division I-AA school like us probably won't have much chance to get on their schedules.
"We feel that we have a lot of options and we are looking into all of them," he added. "We've made some good contacts this year and hopefully that will help us down the road."
Right now, Strollo is mainly concerned about next season and his two open dates.
"We're pretty sure we can get Slippery Rock for one of those dates, but we'll hold off as long as we can to see if we can avoid having two Division II teams on the schedule."
XPete Mollica covers Youngstown State athletics for The Vindicator. Write him at email@example.com.