Most of the time, I poke fun at idealists … but when it comes to the FCS, I am a bit of an idealist. So I'll just poke fun at myself after I finish this column.
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I'm a sucker for the Big Sky-Missouri Valley Challenge we saw last month. It finished up 5-3 in favor of the MVFC, and before it cranked up, I was certain it was going to wrap up around the 4-4 mark. I really thought there were some awesome matchups, games that will come into the discussion come November when we're trying to sort out the bowl of spaghetti the FCS Playoff bracket always seems to be.
So here's my proposal: I think the rest of the FCS should copy the Big Sky-Missouri Valley.
This has been brought up before on radio shows — I grew up in ACC (basketball) country. And in those days the ACC and the Big East would play the ACC-Big East basketball challenge. Last year's 4th place team in the ACC would match up against last year's 4th place team in the Big East and whichever conference won the most games would be proclaimed that year's challenge winner. It was a fun event where everybody alternated who hosted the home game. If I remember correctly, it would all be played on the same weekend in December, prior to conference play opening up.
I'd like to propose this, based mostly on geography:
Big Sky-MVFC Challenge (already happening)
Ohio Valley-Southland Challenge
Later pivoting to …
CAA-Ivy Challenge (eventually – played opening day for Ivys)
Big South-SoCon (once Big South is full strength)
Now, the HBCUs already do a great job of scheduling each other, and they have a national championship game — the Celebration Bowl. They've always done things that way. And up in the Northeast, the Ivy League, Patriot League and NEC all do it too and have played each other since way before the FCS existed. I'm not exactly sure where to fit in the Pioneer League (which is non-scholarship) and the current 6-team Big South just yet. Maybe as the Big South continues to grow and strengthen with newcomers like North Alabama and Hampton, it would make sense to have them play the SoCon, and maybe the CAA's Top 8 plays the Ivy League? And maybe the NEC-Patriot would be a good fit, regionally.
I'm trying to keep in mind geography. I know the FCS isn't built on a foundation of stacks of gold. I get that. But think about about the following matchups this year (based on 2017 final league standings):
|Jax. State vs Cent. Ark.
|Austin Peay vs. Sam Houston
|EIU vs. Nicholls
|West. Carolina-New Hamp.
|UT Martin vs. McNeese
|EKU vs. SE Louisiana
|SEMO vs. NW State
|Tenn. St. vs. SFA
|Murray St. vs. Abilene
|Tenn. Tech vs. UIW
Or, maybe in 2019 or 2020 when the Big South expands and Campbell, North Alabama and Hampton are up to full strength in the league …
First of all, what you're seeing here are a boatload of great matchups. Also, it fosters a greater awareness of the FCS as a collective entity. It will fire up curiosity about other areas of the country and increase talking points, I think. And look at some of the matchups above: Stony Brook-Columbia? Um, yeah that one would probably work well. How about Campbell-Western Carolina? North Alabama-Mercer? These are all games that would be strong matchups, somewhat geographically based, and don't appear on paper to be massive blowouts in the making. From top to bottom, we're putting comparable teams together. Most could end up being 50/50 type matchups.
And how about this (hold your breath and comments for a second) … to offset the costs, what if the programs split the revenue? What if the even and odd finishers rotate home and away so both conferences get an equal amount of home games in the challenge, but both teams benefit financially? Then the next year the odd teams (1st place finishers, 3rd place finishers, etc) host in the other conference? There are some kinks to work out here, but you get the big picture.
Lastly … how about we play all of these games the same weekend? We call it FCS Challenge weekend across the country. Let's make it the weekend the Ivy League starts play (usually Week Three of the master schedule). This is usually around Sept.15. We have trophies for it, national recognition, great matchups and a ton of media publicity surrounding the buildup of it, and the end results. It also gives us a big "measuring stick" game for the playoff picture.
I think this would be awesome. We already got a dose of it with the Big Sky-MVFC Challenge. The only thing I'd change about that one is not having NDSU play a Cal Poly. I'd rather see NDSU play one of the top recent finishers in the Big Sky — how about a Weber State from last year, or an Eastern Washington (which has been played before)? Let's see Cal Poly match up with Indiana State — it would be a great game. That's all I'd tweak with this existing challenge — let's use last year's standings to set the game matchups.
Yes, I think this would be a splendid thing, I sure do.
But then again … I'm an FCS Idealist. Can we trademark that? (hmmmm, another column idea)[divider]
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