Published April 16, 2013
1. My story in Sunday's newspaper focused on the shaky future of the FCS. (You can read that here.) I wanted to share a few more thoughts that didn't fit into the story.
One of the things that stuck out to me in my interviews was how worried people are about the Big Ten dropping FCS games, especially if other conferences follow suit.
"Obviously those money games are good for a lot of sports in our athletic department," said YSU coach Eric Wolford. "I enjoy playing in them and I think it's a great opportunity for our kids to play in places they would never have the chance to play. Our kids might forget playing a Southern Illinois or a Western Illinois or a St. Francis, but they're never going to forget playing a Penn State or a Michigan State. Those are unique experiences.
"I hate the thought of it going away."
Wolford didn't mention Pitt, but he didn't have to. YSU didn't do enough to capitalize on that win last year, but it's still a huge boost to the program. And every time an FCS team beats a BCS team, whether it's Appalachian State over Michigan or YSU over Pitt, it gives the FCS a lot of good publicity and keeps it relevant.
Without those games, FCS risks becoming nothing more than Division II-A.
2. Northern Iowa's athletic director, Troy Dannen, brought up a very good reason why conferences like the Big Ten won't necessarily drop FCS schools.
"They all have to have seven home games to make their budgets," he said. "If you take away half the pool of available opponents, what do they think is going to happen with the guarantees from the other half? If you're a MAC [Mid-American Conference] school and you'r emaking $700,000 to a million playing a Big Ten school, you're going to ask for double."
With strength of scheduling a factor in which teams make the four-team playoff, Dannen believes teams will simply schedule smarter, without necessarily eliminating FCS teams. He said the same things happen in basketball with RPI.
"Those of us mid-majors have mastered, to a degree, scheduling for RPI," he said. "FBS schools will master how to schedule for playoff standing. The answer is never for any of us to drop anybody in one of the bad leagues. The answer is to be selective in who we pick out of all the leagues."
3. Wolford coached in the Sun Belt conference with North Texas, and he believes that level of football is very similar to what you'll find in the Missouri Valley when it comes to stadium size, travel, game day experience, etc.
The difference is, you can win a title in the FCS. And even though Wolford believes the FBS playoffs will eventually expand to 16 or 20 teams, he thinks the major conferences will shut out the Sun Belts of the world.
"How many SEC teams are gonna get in? They're going to take five or six," Wolford said. "How many Big Ten teams will get in? How many from the Big 12 or the ACC? And one of them is going to be Notre Dame. So what are you really playing for?"
4. Although I talked to three athletic directors for that story, the voting power lies with the college presidents. And YSU's athletic director Ron Strollo believes the presidents in the MVFC are committed to this level of football.
"As a conference, I feel really strong about where we're at," said Strollo. "Now, obviously, all it takes is a couple presidential changes or things like that for it to change, and it can change pretty quickly on different campuses, but for the most part the presidents in the Missouri Valley are really committed to this level of football."
5. YSU, obviously, is about to hire a new president, so it'll be interesting to see what he or she does with the Penguins' athletic department.
I can tell you this -- YSU's baseball program was in danger of elimination as recently as last season. And there are still some in the university who believe the baseball money could be better spent on other sports (read: basketball). When you consider the cost of travel, renting out Eastwood Field, equipment and everything else that goes along with baseball, then compare it with what you get in return, it's a fair argument.
I'm not saying I agree. Just that it's fair.
6. I asked Strollo whether he regrets pouring so much money into YSU's football program three years ago, rather than, say, the basketball program, especially when you look at the boost Florida Gulf Coast got from its Sweet Sixteen run compared to, say, North Dakota State's two FCS titles.
Here's what he said: "I think we've invested in football because we were able to generate the revenue there and there was a sense that there would be a quicker return on that investment. I don't know if we're ever going to spend the money other schools spend, so we've got to try to find creative ways to fund our programs so they can stay competitive."
7. One of the creative ways they've done that is eliminating office phones for the football assistants, who only have cell phones. Wolford is the only coach with an actual office line. YSU figures even if it only saves a couple bucks, it's a couple bucks that could be spent on something better.
8. One of the things that has boosted North Dakota State's program recently is the state's energy boom, which has generated a lot of money for the school.
Wolford is hoping the same thing happens here.
"If things locally go the way they're supposed to with shale [drilling], you could see those types of things happening here," he said.
9. For the record, I have absolutely no idea what -- if anything -- will happen with FCS football. Maybe nothing changes. But I can't shake the feeling something big is going to happen in the next few years.