Berry Tramel

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Should mid-majors drop down in football?

by Berry Tramel Published: August 20, 2014
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Jason Dunigan is the West Virginia fan who emails me from time to time and almost always has something interesting to say. This week was no different.

Jason addressed the changing nature of major college sports, and he makes some very interesting points. I thought I would share:

“Here in West Virginia, we have WVU and Marshall University as the only two FBS programs.

“Marshall, at one point, was a I-AA national power playing for about five, six national titles and winning two, I believe.

“With the power five separating themselves from the teams that the majority of which only moved up in the last 20 years from I-AA, and when you consider schools like Hawaii are considering dropping football as a result of a lack of financial means to compete, at what point do some of these schools like Marshall, Boise, etc … that had great success at the next level down start dropping back and begin competing for national titles again?

“I actually think that is appealing, from a fan perspective, and I once supported Marshall as a casual fan and resident of West Virginia, until they moved up and started playing WVU.

“Think about it; if all schools not in power five leagues dropped back to I-AA/FCS, I-AA/FCS would become one heck of a league. It would be cheaper with fewer scholarships. The arms race would be more manageable where Marshall and schools like Marshall that dropped back would be upper tier immediately.  These conferences that are stretched out across the country could restructure and schools could go back to more regional, fan friendly road trip, types of games.

“I don’t know how many teams make the FCS playoffs now (16 is the answer), but a 16-team playoff format, where every conference champion gets an automatic bid into the playoffs, would be a welcome change, post-BCS era, to these schools, I would imagine.

“As far as TV deals go, they could have a consolidated TV deal where all I-AA schools band together to broker one unified deal that covers all schools in I-AA, including maybe a I-AA TV network for live, sports hungry, cable companies. They could offer a lot of content with football, basketball and other sports. With the drop down of some of the schools like Boise, the FCS branding would improve, and thus a solid TV deal should ensue.

Plus, they still would compete at the D-1 level in everything but football.

I know this has no shot of happening, mainly due to pride and the inability of that many schools to work together to get on the same page, but to me it makes a ton of sense.”

It does make a ton of sense. And I don’t think it’s impossible. Unlikely, but not impossible.

Most mid-majors want to be in I-A because of profile. The chance to play a Texas or an Oklahoma or a Michigan or a Southern Cal gives a school the same jolt of publicity that playing in the NCAA Tournament gives. The difference is, the mid-majors rarely are anything but fresh meat for the heavyweights.

But mid-majors also get some jolt from bowl games, although the proliferation of bowls is making that less and less a factor.

As for television, a division-wide package is not a good idea. Conference packages, though, could work on the I-AA, if there were only the five power conferences above. Something has to go on ESPNU and CBS Sports Network and NBC Sports Network.

The truth is, some schools will be like Hawaii and consider dropping football. Others will consider dropping down in division, to a I-AA. Others will fight to stay in the highest classification, dreaming of a call from the big boys that isn’t likely to come but could.

 

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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