YOUNGSTOWN -- Ron Strollo, Youngstown State University's athletic director, made a lot of fans happy when he signed McNeese State to the Penguins' 2002 football schedule.
Strollo has been under pressure from many YSU fans and the media to replace the Division II opponents on the schedule with I-AA or I-A opponents.
Well, that's a lot easier said than done as Strollo has found out in his first year as A.D.
Strollo received a signed contract from McNeese State on Monday that will bring the Cowboys to the Ice Castle next season. The Penguins will make the return trip, to Lake Charles, La., in 2004.
The deal was complicated because Youngstown State's 2003 schedule was already filled, but Strollo convinced McNeese State officials to the second game the following year.
Also, the Penguins were originally scheduled to play Clarion on Sept. 7 next season, but Strollo was able to move that game to Aug. 29, a Thursday.
The games: Strollo has 10 games contracted for next season, which includes the seven Gateway Conference contests (four away and three home). There's also a game at Florida Atlantic, the program Howard Schnellenberger started in Boca Raton, Fla. That makes five home game and five away. Strollo isn't sure from where the 11th game (and he hopes sixth home game) is going to appear.
This season, the NCAA allowed a 12-game schedule for divisions I-A and I-AA. Strollo hasn't even had time to think about that game.
"We want to get 11 right now and then worry about a 12th one," Strollo said.
"You can't imagine the hours that we've spent on the phone calling these schools," he continued. "We've called every I-AA school that we don't play and the only one we got lucky with was McNeese."
Options: Strollo's options for next year are reduced to finding a I-A "money" game on the road, which means a large dollar guarantee and an almost certain defeat (even that option is fading fast) or a I-AA non-scholarship school, like those in the Pioneer League, which includes Dayton, Butler and Valparaiso.
"We might have a little inside help with the Pioneer League since our commissioner, Patty Viverito, is also the commissioner of the Pioneer League," Strollo said.
The 2002 schedule first became an issue when Kent State backed out of its contract to play in Youngstown. Then, Strollo thought he had Liberty University signed, but that fell through.
"We had scheduled Liberty for 2003 and 2004 to fill the odd date in our league schedule," Strollo said. "Then later we talked about playing in 2002 and 2005 and we sent them another contract, but they sent that one back saying, they were looking in other directions."
Youngstown State will travel to Kent State as part of the completed 2003 schedule, which features six home games and just one Div. II team, Slippery Rock, in the opener.
YSU will also be permitted to add a 12th game in 2003, but Strollo said he's "leaning away from that unless we can find a money game."
Expansion: One reason Strollo is having such a difficult time scheduling I-AA schools is because conferences are expanding.
The Atlantic 10 schools already play nine league games, the Ohio Valley Conference is expanding to 11 schools in 2003 with the addition of Samford and Jacksonville (Ala.) State, and the Big South Conference will sponsor football for the first time in 2002, with Liberty, Charleston (S.C.) Southern and Elon (N.C.). Coastal Carolina (S.C.) will field a team in 2003.
"Conferences keep growing and games keep getting tougher to get," Strollo said. "It's amazing how many athletic directors I first talk with about a game and they seem interested, but after talking with their head coach they kind of lose interest fast. "We'll find a game, I'm sure of that. But I never want to put myself into this situation again, that's for sure," Strollo said.
XPete Mollica covers YSU athletics for The Vindicator. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.