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Just Say No to Non-Conference FCS Opponents

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Do the advantages of playing an FCS opponent in the non-conference outweigh the disadvantages?

Savannah State's Edward Beaty and Vaughn Cornelia are pushed off on their tackle attempt Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle in the first quarter of their season opening game against in Stillwater, OK, Sept. 1, 2012.
MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World

As Oklahoma State prepares to take on Southeastern Louisiana this weekend, so many thoughts are running through my mind. From “Yes!! Cowboy football is back!” to “Who is going to get the most carries?”, it’s all I’ve been able to think about this week.

But, as I’ve ran through every question about the offensive line, and worried myself sick about our depth in the secondary, a question popped into my head… Why do FBS teams schedule these FCS non-conference opponents?

Now, I know there is a huge benefit for the FCS schools. Southeastern Louisiana will make $385,000 for traveling to Stillwater this Saturday, and that amounts to approximately 14% of the program’s athletic budget.

Additionally, FCS schools normally cost less to play in the non-conference than FBS schools. For instance, compared to the $385,000 paid to FCS school SLU; OSU will pay Central Michigan $550,000 for a 2018 home game and Rice will get $500,000 for a 2021 game in Stillwater. So, you can see it can actually be economical for both the FBS and FCS schools.

Aside from the financial aspect, it can also help build team confidence to get a “guaranteed” victory, and it doesn’t hurt to not have to play a physically equal opponent early in the season. Head Coach Mike Gundy shares this opinion. Gundy explained to Mark Cooper of the Tulsa World:

“I think there’s a place for everything,” Gundy said. “This debate could go on forever, but it just depends. I don’t want to play three to start the season that are going to beat me up and make me practice harder than I want to.”

And you know, I see Gundy’s point. HOWEVER, to qualify for a bowl game, a Football Bowl Subdivision team must have at least six wins over other FBS opponents. So, if you’re a team like OSU or even a weaker Big 12 football program like Iowa State, why would you not just schedule a small FBS school? For example, South Alabama. This would still seem like a mostly “guaranteed” win, and although it may cost slightly more, the increased change of making it to a bowl game and gaining additional conference bowl revenue will likely outweigh this slight increase in cost at the end of the season.

Also, when you play a team that has never beaten an FBS opponent in 20 tries and only won 4 games last year like Southeastern, what does that really do for you team? They are far inferior to any of the Big 12 opponents, and although it may be a “tune-up” game, is it really tuning up if you are going to completely dominate a team like this? Like the 84-0 beating the Cowboys put on Savannah State in 2012.

In 2014, when TCU and Baylor both were left out of the College Football Playoff, they both had scheduled FCS opponents. Yes, I know, there are teams that make the College Football Playoff and play FCS schools. But, knowing that and not having a conference championship game, why would any Big 12 teams schedule these types of opponents?

I even think these FBS vs FCS games are slightly hurting the total product of college football. Most of these games aren’t nationally televised because no one wants to watch them, and even with the excitement of the first game of the season; a lot of fans will pass on these matchups and just read the game recaps on Monday.

However, I do see Gundy’s point and I understand that the bigger schools are supporting these smaller schools by taking these games and providing them with their payouts. But, honestly, I wish we could just cut a check to one FCS school a year and not actually have to play them, and substitute that game for a Group of Five FBS school.

I know, I know, that’s a little overboard, but I really don’t want Oklahoma State to keep scheduling these games. Luckily, I will get my wish, as Oklahoma State does not have any FCS opponents scheduled for the foreseeable future. There’s only one opening in the non-conference schedule where the Cowboys could schedule a non-conference game, and this is in 2019.

On this subject, Mike Holder told the Tulsa World that the Big 12 schools agreed that they would play at least one Power 5 or high-profile opponent in going forward. He stated:

“We’ve made a concerted effort to upgrade the schedule,” Holder said.

In conclusion, I’m not saying that Oklahoma State needs to schedule Florida State in Jerry World or Mississippi State in Houston, but I would like to see some better competition in the non-conference, and I like the way things are headed in the near future. With the Big 12 being left out of the College Football Playoff in the past, teams have to make a statement in every game they play, and you can’t do this by scheduling FCS opponents who do nothing for your football resume.