When the Big Ten in February decided to gradually eliminate all FCS games from future schedules, I labeled it a victory for the league's fans.
Fans get only 6-8 chances per season to see their team play at home, and it's unfortunate when one of those games comes against a vastly overmatched foe from a lower division with fewer scholarship players. The elimination of FCS teams, part of a larger Big Ten initiative to beef up non-league schedules, benefits players, fans, television partners and the league's national perception.
But not everyone is thrilled about the Big Ten's FCS ban. Iowa athletic director Gary Barta and Minnesota AD Norwood Teague are somewhat reluctant about the league's new policy. And they have understandable reasons to be a bit resistant. They're called Northern Iowa and North Dakota State.
One problem with league-wide scheduling policies is that they can be countered with specific examples. Most FCS teams can't compete with Big Ten opponents, and the recent results back this up. But a handful of FCS teams, many located in or near the Big Ten's footprint, can hold their own. They provide early season challenges equal to or better than those from lower-level FBS opponents.
North Dakota State certainly qualifies. The Bison have won the past two FCS national championships. They have beaten an FBS team in each of the past three seasons, including Minnesota in 2011. They're 6-3 against the FBS since 2006.
Northern Iowa hasn't had as much FBS success -- just one win since 2001 -- but the Panthers gave Wisconsin all it could handle in the 2012 opener and nearly knocked off Iowa, the eventual Orange Bowl champion, in the 2009 opener. UNI has won 10 or more games in seven of the past eight seasons.
There are other examples like North Dakota State and Northern Iowa, including many in the Midwest. North Dakota State is No. 1 in Lindy's magazine's preseason FCS poll, while South Dakota State (No. 4), Northern Iowa (No. 13), Eastern Illinois (No. 18), Youngstown State (No. 19) and Illinois State (No. 22) also made the Top 25. These are good teams despite their FCS designation. Michigan fans still shudder when FCS Appalachian State is mentioned, but the Appy State team that upset Michigan in 2007 was much, much better than the FBS Toledo squad Michigan inexplicably lost to in 2008.
Minnesota's Teague recently told Chris Murphy of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead that he would like to keep playing North Dakota State, but he has to be a good Big Ten soldier.
"It is primarily television pressuring and wanting the Big Ten to provide games that are [Football Bowl Subdivision] versus FBS teams," Teague said earlier this week in Moorhead, Minn. "That’s understandable. They pay us a lot of money, and it’s just the desire of television that they want us to do that. That was their message to the Big Ten."
"We operate in a world now in college athletics where we have to balance a budget. [Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany] needs to go out and redo our television contracts with ABC, ESPN, Big Ten Network, and we've got to be a very good partner with them or we aren't going to get the revenue we need to compete."
And here's more.
"I know it sounds money-oriented, but it is what it is," Teague said. "Balancing our budget is tough. We generate 95 percent of what we balance. We get very little from the university. We have to really fight and claw to do that. We are competing in a league that is very tough with competitors that are way ahead of us with facilities and things like that."
Yes, it's all about the money, and Teague's candor here is refreshing. I understand the FCS-TV argument from a macro level: more attractive matchups get better ratings, and most Big Ten-FCS matchups aren't very attractive. But when you look at specifics, is Minnesota-North Dakota State less appealing to TV than Minnesota-New Mexico State, an FBS vs. FBS game that takes place Sept. 7 at TCF Bank Stadium? Is Iowa-Northern Iowa less appealing to TV than Iowa-North Texas, a game scheduled to take place in 2015 at Kinnick Stadium? That's a hard argument to make.
I'd rather see a fun regional matchup, even if it's against an FCS team, than a snoozer like Minnesota-New Mexico State or Iowa-North Texas. And while Big Ten teams are adding more major-conference foes to their future schedules, which is great to see and long overdue, the guarantee games against lower-level FBS teams aren't going away. Couldn't a good FCS team be substituted for a really bad FBS one?
If there was a way to ensure Big Ten teams would only schedule top-level FCS opponents, I'd be in favor of lifting the ban. But there's no way to effectively regulate it, and as we know with future scheduling, seemingly good matchups can turn lousy by the time they actually take place. Big Ten teams would still find tomato cans, and we'd still see too many blowouts that don't benefit anyone.
It's unfortunate for the good FCS programs, especially from a financial standpoint, as they make great coin for visiting Big Ten stadiums. But if the FCS ban is necessary for the Big Ten's larger push to beef up scheduling, I'm for it.