Appalachian State has been signed to fill the open September 1 slot on Michigan’s schedule, and I’m none too happy about it. Yes, the Mountaineers have won the 1-AA national championship the last two years and would give your average MAC team fits, but they're still a 1-AA team. As of now Michigan is still part of the tiny group of programs never to play a 1-AA (AKA “Football Championship Subdivision”) opponent. The other members of this club are USC, UCLA, Notre Dame, and Ohio State, and the Buckeyes will also be leaving the fraternity when they play Youngstown State this season. I’m disappointed that Michigan would ever settle for this. There’s no way to get the distinction of "never" back, and it's one I'm proud of, even if the distinction between a bad MAC team and a good 1-AA one is marginal. I hate this.
Bill Martin spoke to the Free Press about it, saying “"It wasn't because of the money, I can tell you that," a statement I’d call disingenuous at best. Of course it’s because of the money. It might not be about squeezing your cupcake opponent for a bigger percentage of the gate, but it is about getting that eighth home game on the schedule without having to pencil in a reciprocal visit in the future. That open date provides for a future home game, allowing the athletic department to fill its coffers in the future. And you know it’ll be filled with whoever will agree to the same terms, since Martin has also said "We need eight home games in order to pay the bills." When you have that kind of debt looming, you tend to take the cash whenever you can.
These issues of scheduling 1-AA opponents and ridiculous numbers of home games deserve to be kicked upstairs to the NCAA, or would if the NCAA weren’t so toothless and gun-shy. Member institutions’ athletic directors have a vested interest in maximizing revenue at their institutions. At big schools, it means scheduling every home game possible. For what it’s worth, Michigan clears a good $4 million from every home game. Appalachian State will also walk away with a guaranteed $400K, demonstrating that it’s also in the best financial interests of a small school to take the paycheck and the pounding. It’s a win-win from an AD’s perspective, but the loser is college football. The NFL long ago recognized that selling the league as a whole was more important than any one team. Obviously, there are many ways in which the NFL model is incompatible with the college game, but the NCAA needs to recognize that real competition is integral to growing the brand. That isn’t helped by 8-home-game seasons and 1-AA opponents. Simply capping the number of home games at seven would be a good start. In a better world, 1-A teams would be banned from putting 1-AA cannon fodder on the schedule, but – barring that – wins over 1-AA opponents shouldn’t count for the BCS or towards bowl eligibility.
I also want a pony.
Despite my complaining, I’ll almost certainly still go to the game. My season ticket doesn’t allow for leaving games off, so I can’t make any principled stand on that front. I guess I’ll just have to refuse to buy any concessions. That’ll show them…or at least Domino’s.