John Feinstein’s misguided column about FBS-FCS matchups

Normally, I don’t post on this blog about specific articles, but I felt compelled to write something after reading John Feinstein’s recent column in The Washington Post.

Let’s start at the beginning, with the column heading:

College football: FBS vs. FCS games need to be limited

Feinstein then lists the scores of four one-sided games played last Saturday:  Florida A&M-Ohio State, Florida International-Louisville, Idaho State-Washington, and Savannah State-Miami (FL). Immediately it is apparent that there is a conflict between his theme and the column heading — namely that one of these matchups is not an FBS-FCS affair (FIU-Louisville). That doesn’t stop Feinstein:

Games like this have to stop. They have to stop because they are unfair — first and foremost — to the overmatched players who are publicly humiliated and beaten up playing against opponents who are much bigger, much stronger and much faster at every position. Florida A&M and Florida International combined for 100 yards of offense on Saturday against teams that totaled 148 points.

This is competition?

Later, he writes:

Some routs occur because reasonably good programs are having down seasons: Maryland-West Virginia is clearly a game worth playing even if it wasn’t worth seeing Saturday….Even Baylor’s 70-7 embarrassment of Louisiana-Monroe wasn’t a game that should not have been played. Monroe was coming off a big win (for it) over Wake Forest and got down quickly, and the game got way out of hand.

So it’s okay that ULM lost 70-7 to Baylor, but FIU’s 72-0 loss to Louisville led to its players being “publicly humiliated”. Got it. Never mind that ULM is in an FBS league (the Sun Belt) that FIU just left in a move “up” the ladder.

An unaware reader wouldn’t have known that FIU was actually an FBS squad until three-quarters of the way through the article:

Of course, Florida International is an FBS school. Schools like Old Dominion, Georgia Southern and Charlotte have all made the decision to transition into the FBS. Massachusetts, which won what was then the Division I-AA national title in 1998 and played in the championship game in 2006, is in its second season as an FBS team. The Minutemen are 1-15 so far and, to meet FBS stadium requirements, moved their home games 91 miles from campus to Gillette Stadium. On Saturday, an announced crowd of a little more than 16,000 watched U-Mass. lose 24-7 to Vanderbilt in the 68,000-seat stadium.

Clearly, there need to be stricter limits on who is allowed to move into the FBS….

…How’s it working out at U-Mass. so far? Old Dominion, also a very good FCS program, opened its season by giving up 99 points to East Carolina and Maryland.

Feinstein makes a decent point about a school possibly overreaching (UMass playing in Gillette), but ruins it with comparisons to ODU and Charlotte. The comment about Charlotte, in particular, is off the mark. The 49ers are only transitioning to FBS in the sense that the school needed a couple of years to get its brand-new program up to the necessary scholarship levels.

Old Dominion was a “very good FCS program”, to be sure, but one that only re-started its program four years ago. It has little history as an FCS school.

Also, I’m not sure giving up 99 points to ECU and Maryland says much about ODU’s future prospects in FBS. For one thing, the Monarchs only lost to ECU by 14 points.

ODU did lose to Maryland by 37 points.  Two weeks later, that same Maryland squad beat West Virginia by…37 points. For some reason, though, Feinstein thought that Maryland-WVU was “clearly a game worth playing”.

Feinstein also proposed this idea:

The question then becomes how do you tell North Dakota State or other quality FCS programs they can schedule FBS teams but tell Savannah State, Florida A&M and Eastern Kentucky they cannot schedule them…

…Pass a rule that allows any FCS school that qualifies for the 20-team NCAA tournament to schedule one future game against an FBS school. Each time you make the tournament, you get the right to schedule another game…

If you aren’t good enough to make the FCS tournament, you aren’t good enough to schedule an FBS school…

What’s more, any FBS school that schedules an FCS team is automatically ineligible for that season’s four-team national championship playoff…

There will still be plenty of FBS schools that will play FCS schools…

This is so bad, I hardly know where to start…

I guess I’ll begin by correcting an error in the column. This year, the FCS tournament will include 24 teams, not 20.

Feinstein’s idea that only FCS playoff participants should be allowed to schedule FBS schools falls apart for numerous reasons. Just to mention some of them:

- The 24-team playoff field includes automatic qualifiers from leagues with schools that don’t offer the full 63-scholarship allotment. One of those conferences, the Pioneer League, consists of institutions that don’t offer any scholarships at all.

So in that scenario, Northern Iowa (which did not make the FCS playoffs last year) can’t schedule an FBS opponent unless it returns to the postseason; UNI is a member of the very competitive Missouri Valley Football Conference. However, a school like Drake could schedule the likes of Iowa or Iowa State if it won the Pioneer League.

I am using the Iowa schools as examples because this season, Northern Iowa played an FBS school, Iowa State — and defeated the Cyclones in Ames, 28-20. As it happens, UNI played Drake the following week, and won that game 45-14.

- Another problem with this suggestion is it eliminates the SWAC schools from being able to schedule FBS teams, because that conference doesn’t participate in the FCS playoffs. (Neither does the Ivy League.)

- Feinstein believes there “will still be plenty of FBS schools” that would schedule FCS squads even if doing so made those FBS schools ineligible for the postseason playoff. I suspect otherwise.

He names a number of FBS schools, mostly well-regarded academic institutions like Vanderbilt and Duke. I don’t think there is a chance that any of the BCS member schools would schedule an FCS team in that situation; I seriously doubt their conferences would permit it.

Imagine if Vanderbilt won the SEC but couldn’t compete in the national playoffs because it had played Tennessee State during the season. Do you think Mike Slive would allow even that slim possibility to happen?

Feinstein mentioned certain schools that aren’t considered by most people to be serious contenders for their respective league titles, now or in the future. Notice a couple of similar schools that he doesn’t mention, though — Stanford and Northwestern. Ten years ago, Stanford would have been in that same sentence with Vandy and Duke.

I don’t think most of the non-BCS schools would schedule FCS schools under those circumstances, either. Maybe a few would, but not many.

- He does add that exceptions can be made for traditional matchups, mentioning Villanova-Temple. This would obviously lead to issues with fairness, and also what constitutes a “traditional” game. Besides, what is really different from that and (for example) Clemson or South Carolina annually playing an FCS school from the Palmetto State? Not much.

There may be a legitimate case to be made that the number of FBS-FCS matchups in college football should be reduced. I don’t really believe that, to be honest, but I’m willing to acknowledge a decent argument.

John Feinstein’s column is not such an argument.

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One Response

  1. Hope you sent this clown a link to this blog post.

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