NCAA Football: Non-conference scheduling do’s and don’ts

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Jul 14, 2014; Irving, TX, USA; College football playoff executive director Bill Hancock with the new championship trophy during a press conference at the college football playoff headquarters. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Jul 14, 2014; Irving, TX, USA; College football playoff executive director Bill Hancock with the new championship trophy during a press conference at the college football playoff headquarters. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

We have entered a new era in college football.

At this time a year ago the denizens of the college football world were still beholden to the Bowl Championship Series. People were getting excited over the release of the newest entry in EA Sports’ NCAA Football series, and the NCAA’s stranglehold over college sports looked as strong as ever.

A lot has changed since then.

The BCS is gone. The NCAA Football videogames are gone (or at least on indefinite hiatus). And as recently as last week the senate was excoriating NCAA president Mark Emmert with questions like, “if the NCAA is just a monetary go-between, why do you exist?

With the landscape of college football changing (admittedly, this is more in regard to that first point), so too does the conventional wisdom when it comes to scheduling.

In the BCS era, when strength of schedule factored in at varying degrees (the formula was tweaked several times over the course of its existence) and the margin of error was incredibly slim, schools had to approach scheduling more or less based on their conference affiliations.

Teams in top conferences (namely the SEC) were content to rest upon their laurels. With such a great degree of difficulty present in their regularly-scheduled slate of conference games, many schools made no apologies for scheduling cupcake opponents for their three or four non-conference dates. Schools in lesser-regarded conferences, by comparison, often had to schedule one or two fairly challenging non-conference games, lest they be accused of playing a weak schedule.

This was actually a lot less of an issue early in BCS history despite the fact strength of schedule was a much larger factor in the formula. The reason being, schedule strength was based on a computer metric that measured on objective criterion. It wasn’t until after they adjusted the formula so that S.O.S. was only factored into the computer polls (which accounted for just one third of the equation), that we saw a major shift.

Suddenly it was the poll voters that were left making subjective arguments about schedule strength and who did and didn’t play a challenging enough slate of games. Truth be told, the Coaches’ poll is done by other college coaches (using the help of their sports information directors). There is no way a college coach can watch enough games each weekend to have a truly educated opinion. Much of the voting is done on the backs of box scores and conventional wisdom.

Essentially, as an objective metric for strength of schedule was phased out of the BCS, it allowed for a much more subjective outlook on schedule strength to replace it. That in turn created the current climate for college scheduling.

But with the BCS gone, that all changes too. Now a committee of college football “experts” will convene and select the four teams that will have the opportunity to play for the championship. It’s a format that is no less subjective than the human elements of the past system, but it will be a different kind of subjectivity. The old tropes about conference superiority are about to be replaced with new, yet-to-be formed ones.

In the BCS era there were six power conferences. Now there are five. In many ways it was apropos that Florida State ended the SEC’s streak of superiority in the final BCS Championship game because now, more than ever, college football’s power dynamics are shifting. And the committee has already started to dictate how. Supposedly, it will now be the four best teams, not just the four best records. It will be the teams that challenge themselves, not just the ones who cruise through. Now those non-conference games are more important than ever.

With that in mind, let’s look at some of the new Do’s and Don’ts for college football scheduling…

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