Between ideas proposed by the Big Ten and the NCAA for football, Southern Conference schools like The Citadel — and the rest of FCS — are starting to feel the squeeze.
The Big Ten is reportedly on the verge of voting to cease scheduling games against smaller Football Championship Subdivision teams like those in the SoCon. That has sparked concern that major conferences such as the SEC and ACC would follow suit, denying vital paydays to schools like The Citadel, Wofford and Furman.
Meanwhile, the NCAA and its president, Mark Emmert, have adopted deregulation proposals that threaten to increase spending in athletic departments and widen the gap between the haves and have-nots.
“If you look at everything that’s going on, the rules of the game are slanted to help power conferences do what they want to do,” said SoCon commissioner John Iamarino. “If it continues, the rest of us have to ask ourselves how much we are willing to invest to chase the big boys in some sports.
“No question, it’s getting harder and harder to do that.”
No more paydays?
The Big Ten scheduling proposal is not yet set in stone, but between the looming four-team FBS playoff and new TV contracts, there is increased pressure for major-college teams to step up their schedules, Iamarino said. Strength of schedule is likely to be a component of selection to the FBS playoff.
Appalachian State’s epic victory over No. 5 Michigan in 2007 stands as one of college football’s great upsets, and the Mountaineers will earn $850,000 for a rematch in 2014.
Not being able to schedule Big Ten teams would not hurt SoCon schools too much. The SEC and ACC are a different story. Over the last three years, SoCon squads have played one game against current Big Ten teams, and 22 against ACC and SEC squads.
“If it’s isolated to the Big Ten or the Midwest, it’s not as much of an impact,” Iamarino said. “If it includes the ACC or the SEC, it will have a definite impact on our finances.”
What kind of impact? Iamarino said guarantees for ACC and SEC games can run from $300,000 to $700,000. For a school like The Citadel, a payday of $450,000 would amount to about 11.5 percent of its $3.9 million budget for football (as reported for 2011-12).
According to Forbes, a $650,000 check from Michigan State accounted for 22 percent of FCS member Montana State’s football revenue in 2009. South Dakota State earned $400,000 from a game at Nebraska that year, making up 19 percent of its football revenue.
Or consider South Carolina State. Last year, the Bulldogs earned a cool $1 million to play games at Arizona State and Texas A&M. That’s a full 34 percent of the $2,9 million football budget S.C. State reported in 2011-12.
Obviously, a cut of 10 to 35 percent in revenue would be tough for FCS schools to absorb.
“That would be difficult to make up with other revenue,” said Citadel athletic director Larry Leckonby, who has FBS games locked up for the Bulldogs in 2013 (Clemson), 2014 (Florida State), 2015 (South Carolina) and 2017 (Clemson again).
“I don’t know if we would have to drop programs, but based on a budget of $10 to $11 million, that’s a lot of money to make up,” he said. “You’d have to get creative with other sources of revenue, ticket sales, marketing and fund-raising.”
Iamarino said that if FBS games dry up completely, the FCS’s 63-scholarship requirement might be reconsidered.
“The only reason to have 63 scholarships is to be eligible to play FBS teams and count toward their bowl eligibility,” he said. “If those games go away, the entire subdivision would have to look at if 63 is the right number. Could we save expenses by reducing the number of scholarships? It would seem to me that’s one thing that would have to be looked at.”
New arms race
In an effort to simplify the NCAA rule book, the governing body has adopted deregulation proposals that many think could create a new arms race in college football.
One change will allow football programs to hire additional staff for recruiting. Another would allow coaches to send recruits unlimited text messages and mailings.
Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney said “this doesn’t make sense,” and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer called it “bad stuff.” The SoCon’s Iamarino and The Citadel’s Leckonby agree.
“There is a need to get rid of silly rules,” Iamarino said. “But I think they over-corrected, and our schools are very concerned that it will be ‘anything goes’ in recruiting. We will not be able to compete in any way with the resources of the bigger schools.
“If Clemson is having to ask if it is a have or a have-not, I don’t know how optimistic the rest of us can be about the future.”
Leckonby said he hopes the NCAA membership will veto deregulation, just as it did a previous proposal to pay college athletes a $2,000 per-year stipend.
“What you have to understand is that membership is not asking for this,” Leckonby said. “This is a mandate from the NCAA office. NCAA staff tried to mandate paying players last year, and membership vetoed it. Membership will have to do the same thing this year.
“I would agree with Coach Meyer and Coach Swinney, that it’s crazy to deregulate the way the NCAA wants to.”
Follow Jeff Hartsell on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC