Putting together the ideal football schedule at The Citadel

I wanted to write about this topic after some recent discourse about it, primarily in two places:

– AD Mike Capaccio’s discussion of the schedule on Lowcountry media personality Quintin Washington’s YouTube channel

– Jeff Hartsell’s column in The Post and Courier

Here are some of the relevant passages from each media piece.

Capaccio (direct quotes):

“We need to work with our schedule to be more realistic….we don’t need to be playing two ranked teams, or three ranked teams, and then an ACC team, and then go into our conference, because our conference is a monster…so, not that we [want] an easy schedule, but we need a little break…

…We want to play close to home…three to five hours [away] at the maximum…We don’t need to be taking a trip to Towson…Our philosophy is changing, and we want to play close [to home].”

Hartsell:

By the end of the 2020 season, The Citadel will have played 44 straight games against D-I teams…

…”Do you need a Division II team in there? Every couple of years, I think you do,” said [The Citadel’s head football coach, Brent] Thompson, whose 10-2 SoCon championship team in 2016 won a 38-14 game over D-II North Greenville. “But I don’t think you need one every year. I know just about everybody in our league will have one this season.

“But my emphasis is on more in-region games. Elon is a fine game, Gardner-Webb, Charleston Southern, S.C. State. Those games are a lot easier on your travel and your budget, and they mean more to the kids. I would much rather play a non-conference game in-state, or at least in-region.”

For Thompson, a guarantee game last season might have made the difference between a 5-6 season and a 6-5 season. And as any coach will tell you, that’s a big difference.

Coaches from Dabo Swinney to Nick Saban know that an occasional cupcake tastes good. The Citadel ought to try one.

Let me start off by saying that I am not overly fond of the epithet “cupcake” being thrown around when mentioning a squad from a lower classification or division. Playoff-caliber D-2 teams like Newberry and North Greenville certainly weren’t “cupcakes” when they played the Bulldogs. The term also doesn’t apply to The Citadel when it faces an FBS opponent.

Calling a team a “cupcake” is basically a way of saying it doesn’t belong on the same field with the favored opponent. I find this tiresome, as it is primarily a media creation designed to diminish programs that aren’t on national TV every week.

Now, as to The Citadel’s football schedule…

Right now, the Bulldogs play 11 regular-season games every season except in years where the calendar allows for a 12th contest. After this year, the next time FCS teams will have a chance to play a 12th game will be 2024.

I don’t believe there will be a rule change altering the current status quo in that regard, so let’s assume that The Citadel will annually play 11 regular-season games for the foreseeable future.

The Bulldogs will play eight Southern Conference games every year, four at home and four on the road. That leaves three non-conference contests to schedule.

One of those non-conference matchups has to be a “money” game against an FBS opponent. Here are the already scheduled FBS teams through 2025:

  • 2020: Clemson
  • 2021: Coastal Carolina
  • 2022: Appalachian State
  • 2023: Georgia Southern
  • 2024: Clemson
  • 2025: Mississippi

Of the two remaining out-of-league games, at least one of them almost has to be a home game; otherwise, the Bulldogs would only play four contests in a given season at Johnson Hagood Stadium. That isn’t going to work.

So far, these non-FBS games have been scheduled through the next few seasons:

  • 2020: Elon, Charleston Southern [schedule complete; six home games]
  • 2021: Charleston Southern
  • 2022: at Campbell
  • 2023: Campbell

Mike Capaccio also mentioned during the interview referenced above that Presbyterian is on a future schedule. Perhaps the Blue Hose are on more than one.

What, exactly, should be the goals of The Citadel’s non-conference football schedule? Some of them (in no particular order) might be:

  • Help the team prepare for the SoCon slate
  • Raise money for the program (and the department of athletics in general)
  • Promote the school to a wider audience
  • Give the team a better chance of making the FCS playoffs
  • Improve the win-loss record
  • Ensure there are enough home games to satisfy the season-ticket holders
  • Energize the fans by playing quality, high-profile opponents
  • Save money on travel
  • Excite the players on the team by playing quality, high-profile opponents
  • Provide an added impetus for recruiting

Random musings:

– I am okay with giving the team a better chance to make the FCS playoffs via scheduling, but only to a point.

That is because the FCS postseason, as currently constructed, is hopelessly flawed. It is structurally biased against southeastern schools (honestly, that is undeniable). Thus, it is not a true “national” tournament.

I see no reason to devalue the regular season just to participate in the playoffs. Until the tournament is fully seeded and not beholden to asinine geographical bracketing, my thoughts on that will not change.

– I’ve already mentioned that The Citadel needs to play at least five home games per season. I don’t think anyone would seriously disagree.

– While I’ve said it before, let me reiterate that limiting the distance the team travels for non-conference games is not always a good idea, at least from a larger perspective. I enjoyed the trip to Princeton in 2009, and I firmly believe the Bulldogs should occasionally make trips like that to promote the school, provide a new experience for the players, and reward our loyal fans from other parts of the country.

– I don’t want to play opponents for the sole purpose of padding the win total. That isn’t what The Citadel is all about. If it were, the school wouldn’t have joined the Southern Conference in the first place, much less stay in the league all these years.

The Citadel is about embracing challenges. That includes varsity sports.

Finally, my suggestions for non-conference games.

I am inclined to eschew D-2 and NAIA schools, because I think it is probably beneficial to the conference as a whole for its member schools to play as many D-1 teams as possible, and The Citadel should take the initiative in that respect.

I could see arguments in the other direction — and I’m not automatically opposed to teams like Newberry, North Greenville, or Benedict. I don’t believe Webber International needs to be on the schedule again, however.

– Presbyterian strikes me as almost an ideal non-conference opponent. The Citadel would not have play in Clinton (barring a hurricane, of course). The two schools have a long history on the gridiron, too.

– Charleston Southern is a reasonable choice, though I don’t think it is necessary (or particularly desirable) to play the Buccaneers on an annual basis.

Obviously, any games between CSU and The Citadel would be contested at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Playing at Buccaneer Field is a non-starter for a host of reasons, including A) the state of the facility, B) the fact that 80% (or more) of the fans at the game would be rooting for The Citadel, so forcing them to travel to another stadium would be pointless, and C) the loss of a home game would seriously affect The Citadel’s ability to schedule the rest of its non-conference slate in a given season.

That last point is one that several members of the local media have never seemed able to grasp — or are simply unwilling to accept, even knowing it is true.

A rotation of Charleston Southern and Presbyterian might not be a bad idea.

– Other teams that I think would be good opponents in the “home games only” slot: Jacksonville, Stetson, Davidson, and perhaps Gardner-Webb.

– Schools that would be appropriate “home and home” regional opponents would include South Carolina State, Elon, William & Mary, Richmond, Campbell, and possibly North Carolina A&T.

– I would advocate for an occasional home-and-home versus an out-of-region team, like an Ivy or Patriot League squad, or even one of the MVFC teams.

Yes, I know, it costs too much. I’m sure we could raise some money for a two-game series through a special campaign, though. I noticed that there are currently 38 people listed in The Citadel Development Foundation’s staff directory; perhaps one or two of them could help out.

All of the above is just my opinion. I could be wrong about just about everything!

Or maybe I could be right about a few things. Your mileage may vary.

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