FCS-FBS Matchups Mostly a Good Thing

Every year, the debate rages:  Should FBS and FCS teams play each other in college football?  The arguments for and against are plentiful.  For FCS schools, there is the money grab.  Buffalo, a MAC school, gave Albany $275,000 to play the opener at UB Stadium.  FCS schools need the money so it is tough to argue against games such as these.  And, for a school like Buffalo, they get to play an extra home game.  That means an extra gate, a week without travel expenses and a chance to pad the record before the “tough” games come.  Most say that there is nothing to gain for FBS schools when they play FCS schools, but there certainly is.  There are no preseason games in college football and while real games shouldn’t be considered as being preseason in nature, a matchup between FCS and FBS schools often gives both squads an opportunity to play much of their depth charts. 

Most FCS schools—and players—relish the opportunity to play against FBS schools.  Many FCS players have the proverbial chip on their shoulder.  Players who play for Richmond might have been overlooked by Virginia, so when they play, there is added incentive for the FCS player.  Albany and Buffalo are both SUNY (State University of New York) schools and they likely look in the same recruiting pockets for players.  There is always the case where a Buffalo might be after a player, but at the last minute another player commits and the player gets told that a scholarship is no longer available.  That player ends up at an Albany and yes, that could serve as motivation for when they play. 

We know why the games are played and as fans of FCS football, we can’t help but get excited when an FCS team beats an FBS team.  Moreover, even if the FCS team is competitive, we get excited.  South Dakota State scared Texas Christian for 3 ½ quarters Saturday before losing 59-41.  Those are the games that you check on your phone and raise your eyebrow, hoping that the little guy can shock the big guy.

Four FCS teams did beat FBS teams last weekend.  Richmond routed Virginia 37-20 and while that isn’t a shocker, it adds to the trouble that is Virginia football.  The Cavaliers fired coach Mike London and replaced him with former BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall.  We know that Virginia has a ways to go, but losing to the Spiders—a very good FCS team—is nonetheless deflating.  And, for Richmond, it serves as the ultimate recruiting tool.  The Spiders can sell to recruits that FCS is indeed an exceptional level of college football. 

Northern Iowa beat Iowa State 25-20 and while this constitutes as an upset, we all know that Northern Iowa is a perennial top 25 FCS team and Iowa State is a bottom 25 team FBS team.  These are the games you look at and say, “the FCS team has a chance.”  The Panthers are now 3-3 in their last six against the Cyclones. 

Eastern Washington beat Washington State 45-42.  This was a surprise mainly because of how successful the 2015 season was for Washington State.  The Cougars finished 9-4 last year which included a Sun Bowl win against Miami.  Mike Leach likes to use FCS teams to get his high octane offense up and running, but this is the second year that “The Palouse” has been beaten by a FCS team (Portland State). 

The other FCS team to win was the aforementioned Albany Great Danes who took down the Buffalo Bulls 22-16.  These two teams opened the 2015 season with Buffalo pounding the Danes 51-14 and similar results were expected this year.  After all, the Danes were picked to finish 11th in the 12 team Colonial Athletic Association this season, ahead of lowly Rhode Island who was beaten by Kansas last Saturday.  A win and $275,000 made the 600 mile round-trip down Interstate 90 a pleasant one for Albany.  And, the loss for Buffalo once again had critics in Western New York wondering if FBS football can really succeed there. 

There is some talk of eliminating FCS-FBS games.  In fact, the Big Ten has told its members to stop scheduling FCS teams.  West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen has suggested that FBS teams should stop scheduling FCS teams, but when pressed, he did change his stance by suggesting that there should be better scheduling parity.  When a Power 5 team plays an FCS team and two Group of 5 schools and another plays two Power 5 schools and a Group of 5 school, that’s what Holgorsen is referring to.  And, we saw after the 2014 season how Baylor was treated when it was time to select the four schools for the College Football Playoff.  When you play Northwestern State, Buffalo and SMU, you’re not going to get the benefit-of-the-doubt and the Bears were left out despite their 11-1 record and Big 12 title.    

The games should continue and by the looks of it, they will.  For FCS teams, the money received can pay the salaries of the coaches as well as help fund other sports.  Bucknell’s trip to Army could save the men’s golf team or the women’s water polo team.  That’s a good thing isn’t it? 

Often overlooked is the fact that many FCS teams schedule down.  There are plenty of FCS teams that play Division II schools and NAIA schools.  I’m sure those schools get a guarantee to play FCS teams and while it is more likely to be in the $10,000 to $50,000 range, it serves the same purpose as when FBS teams play FCS teams.  Jacksonville State played and beat Division II North Alabama, but that doesn’t get the attention of a Jacksonville State-Auburn matchup. 

Another reason for FCS/FBS matchups is cost.  Bowling Green received $975,000 to play Ohio State.  The Buckeyes could have scheduled Youngstown State for perhaps $500,000.  Ditto for Alabama choosing Chattanooga over Louisiana Tech.  Sometimes, it makes sense and cents for FBS teams to play FCS teams.

Nobody likes to see an FBS team beat an FCS team 63-3, but as an FCS fan, you live for the Albanys, Richmonds, Eastern Washingtons and Northern Iowas.  When they win, we win.