Big Ten Bans Scheduling Small Schools


The Big Ten will no longer allow its schools to schedule football games against schools outside the NCAA’s top division.

ESPN (“Big Ten won’t be playing FCS teams“):

Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez says Big Ten officials recently agreed to stop scheduling nonconference games against FCS programs.

“The nonconference schedule in our league is ridiculous,” Alvarez said on WIBA-AM in Madison, Wis. “It’s not very appealing …

“So we’ve made an agreement that our future games will all be Division I schools. It will not be FCS schools.”

Alvarez didn’t say when the agreement would take effect.

Wisconsin has one FCS team on its schedule in 2013, a Sept. 7 meeting against Tennessee Tech.

A source told’s Adam Rittenberg the ban could start in 2016, with several FCS games already on the books for 2014 and 2015. But it could be a gradual move with some schools stopping now and some stopping later, the source said.

This is absolutely a move in the right direction, one that I’ve been advocating NCAA-wide for years. It’s also the next logical step towards four superconferences in college football. Eventually, the true big-time programs will form a de facto professional league in which only they will be eligible to compete.

FILED UNDER: Sports, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave says:

    Agreed, Wisconsin has been scheduling non-conference games against teams like Tennessee Tech or Cal Poly for too long. And then complaining that they aren’t ranked in the top 5 on years they’re actually good. Not that I believe they’ll ever be a nation championship contender, but this should bring more balance to conferences and give a good preview for bowl games.

  2. MBunge says:

    This is a terrible idea for those FCS schools, however, and for football generally in those states. When Iowa plays the University of Northern Iowa, UNI gets a big check and a lot it’s kids get a chance to play the game of their lives against the team many of them grew up rooting for. It also gives UNI fans a chance to see their team take on the big boys. Now, since UNI still needs that big check, they’ll have to go outside the state for a game that will mean a whole lot less to both its players and fans.

    And I sincerely doubt that scheduling games against the dregs of Division 1 rather than good FCS teams is going to do anything to improve Big 14 football.


  3. James Joyner says:

    @MBunge: But those games are mostly a joke—paying a patsy to come and get a whoopin’. And I do think the next logical step will be to limit scheduling to other BCS conference schools, followed by four superconferences that never play outside those superconferences.

  4. David K. says:

    Appalachian State would beg to differ about being a patsy 🙂

    I don’t have a problem with an FCS school on the schedule in the first game or two that is regionally logical. Having ONE FCS school on your schedule can easily be overcome by adding 2-3 quality non-conference foes on top of that. Plus as MBunge points out its immensely advantageous for the FCS school to get money to help fund its programs.

  5. Dave says:

    @James Joyner: UNI almost beat Wisconsin at home last year and they ended up winning the conference (albeit due to ineligibility for OSU and PSU). Living in Iowa now I realize how important the Iowa, Iowa State and UNI games are to football fans here. Especially to UNI alums who seem to have a chip on their shoulders when it comes to playing against the larger schools. So I would agree with Mike it is a shame that this is not a possibility under a blanket statement of no FCS, but maybe they will make an exception for instate historic rivalries.

  6. Technically FCS is part of Division I (it’s what used to be called I-AA). The term for the B1G and other major and mid-major conferences is FBS (formerly I-A). Just to be confusing, though, not every FCS conference actually participates in the Division I football championship playoff; the Ivy League, for example, not only does not participate in the FCS playoff but apparently is only in Division I for prestige reasons, since the conference bans its members from awarding athletic scholarships and properly should be in Division III as a result.

  7. PD Shaw says:

    At the same time, the Big Ten is increasing the number of conference games within the Big Ten; the exact number still to be determined. Together I think it means that the Big Ten will be in charge of the schedule, with each school getting two non-conference games to get ready. It will likely increase the Conference RPI rating within somewhat of a vacuum.

  8. PD Shaw says:

    Of course, its about the money.

  9. Gromitt Gunn says:

    So basically in about a decade, everyone who watches Division 1-A now because college ball is “real” in comparison to the NFL will be watching Division 1-AA because the Big 10 et al have become NFL Lite.

  10. Franklin says:

    @Chris Lawrence: Interesting, I didn’t actually know that about the Ivy League. And then there are the interesting rules of the schools that want to stay in Division I – I’m not sure if this is still ongoing but Eastern Michigan was buying up its own tickets so that they would still qualify.

    Regarding the ban, I agree with it. While there have been a few surprises in the results, the vast majority are simple win-column padders. I’m also not entirely sure why the big schools need to give out charity, it’s not like somebody’s starving here.

  11. Part of the problem is the way in which the NCAA allows this to happen. If a big-name, D-1 school can convince some no-name FCS school to come play them, at their place, it ends up being a win-win scenario for both programs. The FCS school gets millions of dollars from the D-1 school in much they will use to help develop its program (or improve the school) in the years to come, while the D-1 school gets an extra home game where they can charge full price tickets, sellout their stadium, sell tons of apparel and record an easy win early in the season.

    Unless of course, you’re Michigan and you’re facing Appalachian State.

  12. PD Shaw says:

    @Kevin Binversie: Scanning some of the BIgTen blogs, the issues about “an extra home game” appear to be predominant. The schools apparently can find easy non-FCS schools for their schedule, but it may be more difficult to find a mid major to travel without sharing a home-and-home schedule, and the more distant team may not draw as well locally anyway. I am guessing Iowa — Northern Iowa puts a lot of people in the stands in the way that Iowa — Texas San Antonio will not. And James Joyner won’t watch either anyway.

  13. @PD Shaw: Exactly, it’s a nice little racket they’ve set up for themselves.

  14. bernieyeball says:

    @PD Shaw: Of course, its about the money.

    Everything is about the money…

  15. superdestroyer says:

    @Kevin Binversie:

    The NCAA has little control over college football. The NCAA did not control the BCS system and will not control the playoff. Div I football (old term) is the only sport that the NCAA does not control the championship/playoffs.

    The issue is that most of the Big 10 (old name) want to have seven or eight home games (or seven home games and a neutral site game). However, to get those eight home games, they schedule a very weak non-conference schedule. Since the Big 10 has added two new numbers, there has been a discussion of adding a ninth conference game. However, the big time programs do not want to give up their cream puff games to play another conference game. It seems that the compromise is to upgrade the cream puff game and not add another conference game.

  16. James Joyner says:

    @PD Shaw: I don’t watch much Big Ten ball, that’s true. But I’m hoping this is a trend. Alabama, my alma mater, plays a brutal in-conference schedule in the SEC and has, for the past several years, scheduled a season opener against top tier out-of-conference schools–Virginia Tech, Clemson, Penn State, and Michigan. But they also play two games a year against FCS patsies to get more home games. They actually lost one of those, against Louisiana Monroe, a few years back; so, yes, those games sometimes turn out other than as planned. But Alabama should nonetheless be playing more Michigans and Notre Dames and no ULMs at Georgia States.

  17. PD Shaw says:

    @James Joyner: Glancing through some of the BigTen schedules; what i see is that most schools are taking three games and mixing easy, moderate and challenging difficulties; the teams vary of course on strategy. There were four Big Ten games against either Notre Dame or Alabama last year. My suspicion is that if you eliminate one out-of-conference game and ban FCS play, that the tendency will be to drift towards the middle category. The case to play and risk losing to a ND or AL and starting the season 2-1 is different than if you risk starting the season 1-1. And of course the reality is that early in the season any game is loseble, so it might be risking an 0-2 start.

  18. @PD Shaw: Comparing the Notre Dame figure is going to be a moot point in coming seasons.

    With Notre Dame jumping to the ACC in everything but football (They’ll remain their “Independence” to keep the NBC TV deal and $$$), they will likely give up one or two of their annual rivalry games against Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue because they must play five ACC schools annually.

    I believe that happens in 2014 or so.

    But yeah, there should definitely be more inter-conference contests during the non-conference portion of the schedule, especially in the age of the Super-Conferences.

  19. James Joyner says:

    @PD Shaw: I’m hoping the playoff system will fix some of this. While I think the “integrity of the regular season” is indeed a selling point of college ball over the pro game, it also encourages scheduling easy wins. I’d rather have great games every week and have 10-2 teams making the playoffs based on strength of schedule.

  20. PD Shaw says:

    @Kevin Binversie: The ND – Michigan series has already been cancelled, but I didn’t realize that five game ACC stipulation. The price of “independence.” ND is going to have a schedule made up of ACC teams, the service academies and recruiting trips to USC and Stanford.

    I’ll expand, the Big Tens recent moves appear to be about money, about the importance of TV ratings (favoring national on-paper match-ups to local interests), and about antagonism to ND.

  21. PD Shaw says:

    Probably should add that not-playing FCS teams is also no doubt a marketing gimmick aimed at the SEC, which might follow suit.