All the talk about scheduling in college football recently reminds me of a story from back when I was in high school.
During my senior year, my family went on one of those trips to visit the schools that I was considering. Every campus visit went the same way: Tour the school grounds, have a Q-and-A with someone from the admissions department and then lower the boom on how much everything was going to cost.
At one stop at what is considered a pretty prestigious school, a parent asked the admissions rep a question that I’m sure weighs heavily on the minds of overbearing moms and dads everywhere: Is it better for my son’s chances of getting into this school if he takes a regular English/math/science class and gets an A or takes an AP class and gets a B?
When it comes to picking a course load in college football, I get the sense that fans generally buy into the helicopter athletic director’s dilemma. This line of thinking holds that teams can test themselves and worry about coming up short, or lighten up and improve their chances of reaching some greater goal–a bowl, a conference title, a national championship. Fans are supposed to accept that, well, it’s how the game is played.
That all works great for coaches and ADs. They tend to get paid by the Ws on the schedule, not the names. Hence, you get bitching from a school such as LSU about the injustice of being forced to play Florida every year, denying the Tigers a chance to kick Kentucky’s teeth in more often.
My feelings on this, however, are pretty much in lockstep with our friend the Senator over at Get the Picture:
I’m a fan. College football is entertainment for me. That I should buy in to the idea that I’m supposed to spend my money in a way that benefits the program first, local businesses second and me third is just bizarre. If I go to a concert, I don’t appreciate the performance more knowing that the venue or the promoter is making a bigger profit. So why should I accept scheduling Charleston Southern on a Saturday in late November as something that’s good for me to spend my entertainment dollars on?
(I bet that players also prefer taking on the Gainesville Floridas and not the Atlantic ones.)
I’ve spent a lot of time on here lately walking through the strategy behind scheduling, conference championship games and the like. Sadly, I do that because it’s interesting to me. Yet, if you asked me what I really want as a fan of both Oklahoma and the sport at large, I’d say to hell with all that.
One of the great things about college football is that the season really is about every week, not where it ends. In between August and January, there are rivalries and feuds and upsets and true “event” games. They mean something to fans beyond “how does this position us for the playoff?”, and because of that, no other sport can deliver the same level of intensity and drama with the regularity of college football. Watering that down in the name of competitive equity and getting more home games is tantamount to Krispy Kreme making its donuts healthier.
I get that athletic departments are juggling a lot of competing concerns when it comes to scheduling. (Frankly, I think OU does about as good as any school in that regard.) However, setting up as many compelling games as possible appears to keep falling down the list of priorities. Maybe enough fans will continue to accept that as some kind of compromise in the hopes of improving their teams’ chances at a national championship or even just a bowl game.
However, declining attendance numbers across the country suggest that even if fans say they're cool with turning down the degree of difficulty, their wallets are voting otherwise. They might find out that more good games every year beats trying to game the system.