A Football Scheduling Manifesto
By Will Stewart, HokieCentral.com, 7/19/00
Amazingly enough, the summer time dead-horse message board topic of football scheduling has not been kicked yet this year. Until now.
I typically don't comment on football scheduling, because it's a frustrating topic. The quality of the out of conference (OOC) opposition that Tech signs up to play is rarely inspiring and often disgusting, and the truth is, there isn't much you can do about it.
As you'll soon see, finances, in particular the need for six home games a year, drive football scheduling far more than the BCS formula, competitiveness, or the never-ending search for respect. It is simple economics, and not any of those other factors, that ultimately lead the Hokies to play a steady diet of uninspiring, often subpar opponents.
First, a little background. Super-sleuth and link-master HokiefromWV posted the following information the other day in VT Hokie News:
Oh, boy, another MAC team. The Bobcats join Western Michigan, Kent, and Marshall as MAC teams that will show up on the Hokies' schedule in the near future. After the year 2000 (which includes a game against Akron of the MAC), the Hokies will play 7 games against MAC teams, including a staggering 3 in the year 2002 alone.
Whoop-de-doo. With all the great teams in the country to suit up against, I can't wait to see those matchups. I'm sure you will all share my excitement level when those games arrive on the schedule.
(In all fairness, I am looking forward to the 2002 and 2005 games with Marshall. It's the others I'm not keen on.)
Tech got a two-for-none with Marshall (two home games and no road games), a 2-for-1 with Western Michigan, and (apparently) a 2-for-1 with Ohio. That works out to 6 home games and 2 road games.
Why the Steady Diet of MAC Teams?
Hokie fans always wonder, rightfully so, why Tech's out of conference schedule isn't more interesting. Year after year, teams like Arkansas State, Bowling Green, Akron, JMU, and a host of other yawners venture into Lane Stadium. Most of the time, these games are boring stat-padders for the Hokies, but occasionally, they're downright embarrassing, a la Miami of Ohio in 1997.
In any event, they're rarely as much fun as the games against Clemson were the last two years.
The simple reason why MAC teams are showing up on Tech's schedule is that the MAC conference is basically the highest-rated conference whose teams will actually agree to 2-for-1 deals where they go on the road for two games in return for just one at home. These 2-for-1 deals enable the Hokies to play 6 home games per year, ensuring that the big money continues to flow into Tech's coffers.
In today's intercollegiate athletic world, where football is the cash cow that funds athletic departments around the country, a home game is a serious revenue generator. This fall, the Hokies will fill 55,000 seat Lane Stadium for six home games (let's leave the seventh game, the BCA game against Georgia Tech, out of the discussion for now) at an average of about $30 per ticket.
That's $1.65 million in ticket sales per game (sure, some of those 55,000 tickets are corporate giveaways, and the athletic department doesn't actually get revenue from them, but humor me). And that doesn't even count parking fees or concession revenue. Typically, maybe $200,000 of that gets paid to the visiting team, but even then, an athletic department clears well over a million dollars from a home game.
By contrast, a road game might, at best, get you the $200,000 guarantee and another $200,000 in TV money. That's a measly $400,000, and once you deduct traveling expenses from that, there's barely anything left over.
So you can see why most athletic directors will give up their first born children before they'll give up that sixth home game. It simply pays for too many scholarships and coaches' salaries to give that game up and go on the road to play a tougher team so every armchair quarterback around the country will "respect" your program. Respect doesn’t pay the bills.
Fine, 6 Home Games. So What's the Problem?
The problem is, when you start breaking down the Hokies' football schedule, scheduling six home games a year gets really hard.
The Hokies have 8 "fixed" games per year: 7 Big East games and Virginia. And those games are staggered in groups of 5 and 3. In even years, the Hokies play 5 of those eight teams at home and 3 on the road, and in odd years, they play 3 at home, 5 on the road. Here's how it breaks down:
So, every two years, the Hokies have to fill 4 open home games, and 2 open road games.
Hmm, sounds like a pair of 2-for-1's to me. That's hard to do with quality teams, since no self-respecting team from any major conference will sign a 2-for-1. Start at the highest levels of college football, and by the time you find teams willing to sign 2-for-1's, guess what? You've drilled down into the MAC conference, because you can only schedule so many 2-for-1's with ECU, and then you've got to look for other options. Hello, Western Michigan, hello, Ohio.
The problem gets even worse in the years when the NCAA has allowed a 12th regular season game, as detailed on the Future Football Schedules Page. Suddenly, in those years, there's an extra home game, and over a two-year stretch, the Hokies have to fill 5 open home slots and 2 open road slots.
And don't kid yourself, very few athletic directors at major football schools like Tech are going to view that 12th game as anything other than another opportunity for a home game and the revenue it generates.
You can see that scheduling a 1-for-1 like the Tech-Clemson series of the last two years really puts Jim Weaver behind the 8-ball when it's time to pencil in the rest of the schedule. That means that he has 3 home slots and 1 road slot to fill in those two years. He was able to do it with the Clemson deal because he scheduled JMU at the same time to a 1-for-none. The two deals together balanced out to that coveted 2-for-1 average.
Hmmm, That Schedule Tech's Got is Actually Starting to Make Sense
So, the available games have to average out to 2-for-1's. There are three ways to do this:
A good look at Tech's 2000 schedule and future schedules through 2009 reveals that Mr. Weaver (and Dave Braine, to whatever extent Dave's deals still show on Tech's schedule) have taken approach #3. Take a look (disclaimer: HC's future schedules page may or may not be accurate -- it is pieced together from various sources and not verified by the VT Athletic Department. Also, the following logic only looks forward, and ignores the fact that future games may be part of some deals that are already in progress, i.e., East Carolina and Akron):
2-for-1's (Total: 6 home games, 3 road games)
1-for-1's (Total: 5 home games, 5 road games)
1-for-none's (Total: 7 home games, 0 road games)
That all adds up to 18 home games and 8 road games, nearly the exact 2-for-1 average that Tech needs.
So What Would You Do Differently?
I hate playing MAC teams, although I'll admit that it gets you coverage in the state of Ohio, which is rich with AP voters, due to a large concentration of Division 1A schools in that state (AP voters are portioned out by state, according to the number of D-1A programs in the state, and Ohio has a bunch of minor D-1A teams).
I'll freely admit that I sat down to do this article, and my intention was to express my extreme displeasure with the proliferation of MAC teams on the Hokies' schedule. I was ready to blast away and demand that VT get these dogs off the docket.
But after reviewing the spread of teams that the Hokies will play in the coming years, there's not a whole lot I would change. I'd like to do 2-for-1's with teams other than MAC teams, but who would you pick? No decent team will take that deal, so you'll wind up with a MAC-like team, anyway.
Would you drop the 2-for-1 with Western Michigan and replace it with a 1-for-1 with a "name" team, plus a 1-for-none with, say, a 1-AA team? Go right ahead, but in 2002, you would play a tough team of your choice, plus BC, Miami, Syracuse, and Texas A&M all on the road.
Would you drop the 2-for-1 with Central Florida and do a 1-for-1 plus a 1-for-none with a cupcake? To do that, you would have to play either a cupcake or a tough team at home in 2003, and that's a year that already includes a cupcake (JMU) and a tough team (Texas A&M) at home. If you schedule another cupcake for that year, the fans will scream bloody murder, and if you schedule a tough team, you're in danger of overscheduling.
And in 2003, UCF at home actually fits in quite nicely with JMU and TA&M -- never mind that it's a great road game in 2000, this coming season.
The problem is, you can't change any one matchup on the current schedule -- you would have to shuffle a number of teams around. Also worth noting is that 2001 is the only really ugly year in Tech's future schedules, with home games against Western Michigan, Central Florida, and UConn. All the other years feature some intriguing and tough matchups, with Texas A&M, Marshall, and North Carolina all sprinkled around.
So there's only one thing left to do. Start from scratch.
What I Would Do
My scheduling philosophy would be very simple. With the 4 home games and 2 road games that must be filled every two years, I would schedule a 1-for-1 with a tough, national-name team (like PSU or Tennessee), and a 1-for-1 with a typically not-so-tough regional team (like Wake Forest or Maryland).
That takes care of 2 home games and 2 road games, meaning that an additional home game would have to be filled each year. To do that, I would schedule one dog per year at home as a 1-for-none, even if I had to go 1-AA every year to do it.
For an example of such a schedule, see Will's Dream Schedule.
Looks pretty easy on paper, doesn't it?
Will Stewart is the founder and General Manager of HokieCentral. He writes the News and Notes section, game previews, and game reports for HC, and he contributes a column when time permits.
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