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The Voice of the Black Community

Sports

Big Ten policy worries HBCUs
End of ‘cash games’ would cut potential revenue
 
Published Thursday, March 21, 2013 8:29 am
by Roscoe Nance, Diverse Issues in Education

Football programs at historically black colleges could be sacked for a huge financial hit if other major conferences adopt the Big Ten’s proposal to stop scheduling football games against schools from lower level conferences.


The Big Ten is one of 11 conferences that make up the NCAA’s Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, the top tier in college football. HBCUs that are members of the SWAC and MEAC, along with Tennessee State and other schools that play at the next level – the Football Championship Subdivision – can earn guarantees well over $500,000 for playing teams from the top level. More often than not the games are blowouts – many of epic proportions – in favor of the FBS schools, which schedule the contests because they give them an additional home game and a sold-out stadium.


Savannah State’s 84-0 loss to Oklahoma State in 2012 is the largest margin of victory for an FBS school against an FCS foe since these matchups began in 1978, the year that the NCAA split Division I into two levels. It eclipsed Arkansas State’s 83-10 victory over Texas Southern in 2008.


FBS schools were 1,838-396-18 for an all-time winning percentage of .820 in games against FCS schools entering the 2012 season, according to FootballGeography.com.


“While the Big Ten may say that (it won’t schedule FCS opponents), others will do what’s best for their conference,” Bethune-Cookman Athletics Director Lynn Thompson said, sounding a note of optimism that other FBS conferences won’t become copycats.


Alabama earned $23.6 million for the SEC by winning the 2013 BCS National Championship Game, the seventh consecutive national title for the SEC and the ninth in the game’s 15-year history.


That payday prompted the Big Ten to move away from playing FCS opponents in order to improve its member schools’ strength of schedule and enhance its chances for a spot in the four-team playoff for the BCS crown that begins with the 2014 season. Last season, No. 16 Nebraska was the highest ranked Big Ten team in the final BCS standings. The result would have been that the Big Ten, long regarded as one of college football’s premiere conferences, would have been excluded if the four-team playoff system had been in place.


That’s an unsettling prospect for the Big Ten and other conferences with questionable strength of schedule.


“It would be a crippling blow not only for HBCUs but also for other FCS schools,’’ Savannah State Athletics Director Sterling Stewart said. “Those games are the lifeblood of our programs. My greatest hope and desire is that they don’t follow suit. The Big Ten is reacting trying to catch up with the SEC. FCS athletic directors and presidents have to look at how and what they’re doing. I don’t think other schools are going to follow suit. I’m really hoping they don’t.”


Alabama A&M coach Anthony Jones, whose team brought home $500,000 for its 51-7 loss to Auburn, said it’s a question of when other conferences will follow the Big Ten’s lead, not if. Regardless of the number, Jones said it would be detrimental to HBCUs for any FBS schools or conference to stop playing FCS members. That would leave a smaller pool of potential FBS opponents and in all likelihood decrease the amount of the payouts they would receive.


“Whenever (someone) sets a precedent, you’re sure to have some followers,’’ Jones said. “I don’t know how soon that will happen, but there will be someone to follow, and when you take one team or conference off the market, it has an adverse effect on everybody, not just black colleges.”


Critics of FCS versus FBS contests base their opposition in large part on the theory that FCS schools risk injury to their student-athletes by scheduling opponents that are superior physically and numerically. FCS schools have a maximum of 63 scholarship athletes, FBS 85.


“For people to say we’re prostituting kids, doing something wrong, I take offense,” Steward said. “That’s the business of football. I don’t find any flaw. They (FBS programs) are looking for a game where they can evaluate their kids. We’re looking for a game for our kids to see (football) at another level.’’


In the meantime, 106 of 125 FBS teams will play at least one FCS opponent in 2013. The matchups include Alabama State at Kentucky, South Carolina State at Clemson and Bethune-Cookman at Florida State. Only time will tell if there will be more such matchups in the future.


“It’s hard to say…,” Norfolk State Athletics Director Marty Miller said. “It’s too early to tell. We’re going to have to wait and see. We have enjoyed the relationship and it has been beneficial. I’m not concerned.”

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