Non-conference scheduling in college football is broken.
There will be 322 non-conference games played this season. Only 7.8% of all non-conference games will be between the 62 members of the top five conferences, not counting Notre Dame (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC). By comparison, 34.4% of all non-conference games will involve FCS teams. 46 different top five conference teams have played FCS schools so far, winning by an average score of 46-12. There are 12 more such games to be played, bringing the final season total to 58. That margin of 33.8 points per game results in games that are often over by halftime. Non-conference games between top five conference teams are decided by 18.0 points per game.
The final year of the current system in college football promotes schools earning postseason births based on the number of wins with little reward for schedule strength. Coaching and program success are measured based on bowl games and hence by number of wins. As fans put more pressure on coaches and administrators to produce winning seasons year after year, the comfort level in scheduling challenging games diminishes. As a member of a power conference, the formula to get to a bowl game is simple: win six games with a minimum of five coming against FBS competition. Winning six games is considerably easier if a team is 4-0 entering an eight-game conference schedule.
The average margin of victory in non-conference games through six weeks of the 2013 college football season is 24.6 points per game. In conference games, that margin shrinks to 15.7 points per game to date. Either two-thirds or three-fourths of games (depending on an eight or nine-game conference slate) are played within one’s conference. With realignment expanding conferences to where teams are going several years between some matchups, we may not even get the top two or three teams in a conference to play except for a conference championship game in December. There have been 21 non-conference games played to date between two teams from the top five conferences. There are only four more such games remaining, all between ACC and SEC teams on the final weekend of the season (Florida State at Florida, Georgia Tech at Georgia, Clemson at South Carolina and Wake Forest at Vanderbilt). Admittedly, teams sometimes try to schedule good games, but their opponent is not as good as anticipated and the numbers (maybe your #KPI?) can be harmed unintentionally.
The National Football League predetermines 14 of their 16 scheduled games years in advance, but they leave two to be determined each year. Teams play the two extra games against teams in the same place in the standings from the two intra-conference divisions they aren’t already assigned to play. It’s how we were assured of New England-Indianapolis all those years. We benefited from annual Dallas-San Francisco matchups throughout the 1990s. Television executives and fans are rewarded with the best matchups. Competitive balance is assisted by stronger teams playing a stronger strength of schedule and weaker teams playing weaker teams. Is it perfect? No. Is it productive? Heck, yes.
The men’s basketball committee has sent a strong message in the last few years that scheduling quality non-conference opponents is important. Bubble teams have been left out of the tournament strictly based on their non-conference strength of schedule. As we move toward a football selection committee in a form yet to be determined, there is a great opportunity to send a strong message that schools can get their seven home games AND play more than 7.8% of their non-conference games against top competition.
The New York Yankees may schedule the triple-A Toledo Mud Hens, but it is in an exhibition game in spring training or just before the regular season begins. If these college football mismatches are important, play them as a 13th game that means nothing, allows for younger players to participate without burning a redshirt, and qualify as the seventh home game revenue stream for many. Heck, even my rec-league softball teams have divisions so we can play like competition.
Television revenue has surpassed gate revenue at many schools around college football. Interest continues to grow. We can reward teams for beating lesser competition by five touchdowns, or we can get more instant classics like the Georgia-Clemson matchup from Week 1. More games at the level of conference games like Alabama-Texas A&M, LSU-Georgia and Ohio State-Northwestern is a good thing.
Seems like an easy call to me.
This is the #KPI.