College football sharks often feast on early foes

Sports Commentary

There’s nothing better than the return of college football.

One of America’s most popular sports was back in full force this weekend. That’s great. Strike up the band, start tailgating, enjoy the pregame festivities and then leave about halftime to beat the traffic.

The buildup is great, until the actual games start.

The start of college football means it’s time for the big boys to load up on the cream puffs.

What a wonderful first weekend it would be if we could see several top 25 teams duke it out on the field. Instead, fans are left with just a few solid matchups to whet their appetite before conference season kicks into full gear in early October.

There were just two games between Top 25 teams Saturday (Georgia vs. Clemson and LSU vs. TCU).

The real problem resides when teams from the Football Bowl Subdivision play games against teams from the Football Championship Subdivision (see Missouri vs. Murray State).

The big boys pay big money to a lower division team to come in for what most of the time is a glorified scrimmage.

There is the anomaly, such as Kansas State’s 24-21 loss to North Dakota State on Friday night. Although, you could call the Bison an outlier. They have won the FCS title two years in a row and own wins against Colorado State, Kansas and Minnesota in the last three seasons.

But more times than not, the games turn out to be major blowouts fans pay full price to watch. In Missouri’s case, some shelled out $39.95 to watch on pay-per-view.

There are three top 25 teams playing games against Football Championship Subdivision teams this week. Nine out the top 10 teams in the preseason Associated Press poll play FCS teams sometime this season. The only top 10 team not playing one is Stanford.

Missouri is certainly guilty of a weak nonconference schedule. The Tigers’ philosophy (except for last year, when the switch in conferences caused problems finding games) has been one FCS team, one team from a BCS conference and two games against non-BCS conference schools. That equates to Murray State, Toledo, Indiana and Arkansas State this year. That’s hardly murderers’ row.

Throw in the fact Missouri has beaten FCS teams under head coach Gary Pinkel by an average score of nearly 50-7, and that’s all the more reasons not to play these games.

If FCS teams are willing to take the beating, the reward can be great for them. According to Fox Sports, Florida State paid Murray State $450,000 to play a game last year. That money can go a long way for schools with smaller athletic budgets. But why should big schools be responsible for subsidizing the athletic budgets at smaller schools?

It comes at the expense of fans. Wouldn’t fans rather watch two Top 25 teams play than what is almost always nothing more than a pickup game?

Most schools are hesitant to schedule a big nonconference game each year because an early loss can derail a team’s season. There is a reason Missouri and Illinois don’t play anymore after the Tigers won four in a row from 2007-10.

The Big Ten is trying to change this. The conference said earlier this year it is going to stop scheduling games against FCS schools after the currently contracted games. That’s good news. Indiana, hardly a powerhouse in the Big Ten, beat Indiana State 73-35 on Thursday night.

One thing that could help get rid of games against FCS schools would be if more conferences went to nine-game conference schedules. The Big 12 now has a nine-game conference schedule and Oklahoma and Texas are not playing games against FCS teams this year. It’s possible down the road the SEC could go to a nine-game conference schedule, which could make playing FCS teams less desirable.

But for now, fans will have to live with shelling out premium money for not-so premium competition.

Welcome to college football everyone.

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