John E. Hoover: Mismatches like OU-FAMU a blight on college football
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Sunday, September 09, 2012
9/09/12 at 4:27 AM
Go to John E. Hoover's blog.Original Print Headline: Mismatches a blight on college ball
NORMAN - Oklahoma had a lot of question marks coming out of its season opener last week at Texas-El Paso.
But a week later, those questions remain largely unanswered because the Sooners on Saturday played a vastly overmatched opponent.
Did all those red flags raised against UTEP come down? Were the necessary improvements made? Is No. 5-ranked OU the nation's fifth-best team? Who knows? There's no way to be sure after this fiasco.
OU slogged through a mistake-filled first half and still led by 25 points at halftime.
Florida A&M was both the victim and the beneficiary, bringing just 58 players to Memorial Stadium for a 69-13 final slaughter, but leaving with a $650,000 paycheck.
The Rattlers play in the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA). FCS schools get to award only 63 scholarships, though many hand out far fewer than that.
The Sooners play in the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly I-A). FBS schools may give 85 scholarships.
"We're very aware we're gonna see stiffer competition coming," OU coach Bob Stoops said.
These games are clearly not a fair fight - witness Oklahoma State's 84-0 victory over Savannah State last week - and shouldn't be played.
Yet, circumstances in college football continue to encourage the practice.
Last week, there were 23 games pitting I-A teams against I-AA opponents. This week, 36. Next week it'll happen 21 times, and the following week 15. That's 95 times in September alone a I-A program had the opportunity to do the right thing but chose instead to do the easy thing.
But it's not that simple, said Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione.
"It's too hard to explain in a sound bite because there are so many moving parts," Castiglione told the Tulsa World. "Sometimes they line up perfectly, and sometimes they're like a Rubik's cube."
Conference realignment is a major culprit, though it gets too much blame.
Other factors include the expansion of the college football calendar to 12 games in 2005, which came with relaxing the restriction on playing I-AA opponents for bowl eligibility.
Then there's bowl eligibility itself, which was watered down - for the sake of all that's mediocre - to a measly 6-6 record. Add to that the continuing proliferation of bowl games, and it's easy to see why coaches interested in job security are so eager to pile up the points on teams that simply can't compete.
Also, home games have become too profitable for I-A teams to play on the road. Everyone wants home games, so I-AA teams find themselves making the road trips.
Then there's the recent habit of mid-major FBS teams to gouge their big-money counterparts looking for home games. Last year, the Sooners paid $900,000 to Ball State, which wasn't any more competitive in a 52-6 loss than FAMU was on Saturday.
That's a quarter-million dollar bargain for the Sooners.
The Rattlers represent just the fourth I-AA opponent in the Bob Stoops era. But Saturday's game was just a cherry on a very unpalatable schedule.
Castiglione had to scramble to pick up both FAMU and UTEP, and he's appreciative to both schools for their patience through the realignment drama.
But this year's schedule also includes two open dates in September, a September conference game (Kansas State in two weeks) and an October nonconference game (Notre Dame). The Sooners had a trip to TCU lined up, but the Horned Frogs' entrance into the Big 12 Conference forced Castiglione to audible.
"When you have that happen," Castiglione said, "your options are minimal."
Oklahoma did ask for the TCU game to remain on Sept. 15, but the Big 12 said no. The Big 12 then sent OU a possible schedule that included back-to-back open dates in September, but Castiglione said no way in Hades.
This wasn't OSU-Savannah State, by a long stretch. The Cowboys last week ran 23 plays and had 35 points. The Tigers, who gave out less than 50 scholarships this season, rank 244th out of 246 teams in the Sagarin power ratings. Savannah State lost 55-0 in a shortened game at Florida State on Saturday and now has been outscored 139-0 this season. But hey, SSU got a cool $860,000 for the trouble.
FAMU and Savannah State are members in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, but the teams are in a different league.
The Rattlers are now 0-14 against I-A teams, losing by an average of 51-9, but they do have good players. Savannah State is 4-72 - against teams from its own division.
There are no definitive answers, but one solution is to restrict how many times a I-A team can play a I-AA opponent in a two- or three-year span and be allowed to count that game toward bowl eligibility. Another is to discount that game statistically.
Some expect the mismatches may abate when a four-team playoff is instituted for the 2014 season because a team's strength-of-schedule ranking will be emphasized more. Perhaps. Time will tell.
"We don't have anything against playing I-AA opponents," Castiglione said, "but we don't intentionally schedule them unless it's the only option available for us to have a game on a date where we need a game. So we work hard to try and schedule only I-A opponents.
"But sometimes there really isn't a choice."