Power Five coaches prefer to schedule Power Five non-conference opponents
In a recent poll, the majority of Power Five conference coaches told ESPN they favor a schedule consisting of only Power Five schools.
According to ESPN college football reporter Brett McMurphy, of the 65 Power Five conference coaches from the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Notre Dame, 46 percent (30 coaches) favored playing Power Five opponents exclusively while 35 percent (23 coaches) were against it. Eighteen and a half percent, or 12 coaches, were undecided at the time of the poll.
Under the hypothetical scenario, in which all Power Five schools would play their respective conference schedules then schedule all non-conference games against Power Five opponents. Due to greater strength of schedule, teams would not be required to reach six wins to be bowl-eligible. In addition, one loss would not necessarily eliminate a team from College Football Playoff contention.
Coaches from the Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC all favored this new model. ACC coaches opposed it. Big Ten coaches were split.
Alabama coach Nick Saban told McMurphy that fans want Power Five teams to play Power Five opponents exclusively. “We need to be more concerned about the people who support the programs and the university and come and see the games.”
Scheduling was one of this offseason’s hot topics, with many coaches saying publicly that all conferences should play nine conference games to even the playing field. The Big Ten will go to nine conference games in 2016, and the Pac-12 and Big 12 currently play nine conference games.
Some coaches favored the suggested model, determining scheduling similar to the way the NFL does. Future non-conference opponents would be determined based upon the team’s finish in its conference standings the previous year.
Some coaches, such as Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez, aren’t sold on the seemingly increased strength of schedule.
“Some of those [Group of Five teams] are better are better than the so-called ‘haves’ [Power Five teams],” Rodriguez told ESPN.
The group of five FBS conferences are the American (formerly the Big East), Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt.
In the current model, when all conferences play different opponents such as Power Five, group of five or FCS teams, one loss can eliminate a team from its championship hopes. By playing Power Five teams exclusively, one regular season loss would not derail a program’s goal to make the College Football Playoff. Under the suggested model, theoretically, it would be more difficult for teams to go undefeated and losses would not carry as much weight. Therefore, teams’ postseason hopes would not be penalized for losing one game.
The elephant in the room that would need to be dealt with before scheduling Power Five opponents only is annual matchups that schools may have, or the so-called “cupcake” games. Some schools have traditions of playing smaller in-state schools annually, while for others scheduling that way is their likelihood.
Some schools receive as much as $1 million to play Power Five teams. Samford, my alma mater, for example, receives compensation and can off-set other non-revenue sports by scheduling opponents like Auburn, Arkansas and Kentucky, each of whom they’ve played in the last three seasons.
Other coaches, though, said that scheduling Power Five non-conference opponents exclusively would ease the selection process for the College Football Playoff committee.
“If teams don’t play similar opponents, it gets skewed,” Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio told ESPN.
A tougher schedule would likely mean changes to roster rules, more scholarships and expanded eligibility, according to Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen.
This is clearly a debate that is not going away, and with yesterday’s landmark autonomy decision, the conversation will heat up. Some conferences have already decided to phase out Group of Five and FCS opponents in coming years. But with the Power Five schools have historic legislative autonomy moving forward, I would expect this suggested model to become reality in a matter of years.