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ELLIOTT: NCAA Getting an Argument Against FBS vs. FCS Games

September 12, 2012
The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

These are the types of games that try college football fans' patience.

Why does West Virginia - and nearly ever other major college - play a team from the Football Championship Subdivision nearly every season? What is there to gain from some of these bloodbaths? What chance do teams that normally play in front of 15,000 fans, if they're lucky, have in front of 80,000?

The generic answer is that everyone wins. The higher-level school gets an easy fill-in while scrambling to plug a non-conference hole on the schedule, and, most importantly, a rather easy victory. The lower-level school gets a nice payday, as we saw the last two weeks with mighty - mitey? - Savannah State.

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AP File photo

The last time West Virginia and James Madison played — in 2004 — linebacker Adam Lehnortt (10) scored a defensive touchdown with and escort from Mike Lorello (23).

An apparently overrated Oklahoma State team beat the Tigers 84-0 in the opening week (the largest margin of victory a FBS school has on a FCS school in history), then Savannah State turned around and was blanked 55-0 by Florida State. (That game, by the way, was an 11th-hour replacement for what was supposed to be FSU's game against WVU before the Mountaineers moved to the Big 12 and bought it out). The Tigers were bludgeoned in both cases, but they were able to line their athletic department coffers with a reported $860,000 - 17 percent of their athletic budget - and had people talking about the school for a few weeks. Some of that talk was about Savannah State selling itself out, some was about point spreads in the 70s, but it was attention nonetheless.

(They'll get back to anonymity this week against North Carolina Central).

The Division I coaches will tell you another reason they do it is because they don't want to abandon fertile recruiting grounds so playing a James Madison, Coastal Carolina, or a Savannah State keeps your name on the tip of the tongue in states like North Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia. (Yes, so does playing Virginia, North Carolina, and UGA but this just proves some ways of skinning a cat are easier than others).

West Virginia is doubling its recruiting pleasure this week by playing a school from Virginia in the state of Maryland.

The natural thought in games like this is the Mountaineers, ranked No. 8 in Division I, can name the score. Their history against I-AA teams is impeccable, even if its plate might be too full for some taste buds. West Virginia is 12-0 against FCS foes.

The then 19th-ranked Mountaineers, who trailed 13-10 to Norfolk State at halftime last season only to rattle off 45 in the second half to win going away, have played FCS foes in eight of the nine seasons. The average score of those games is 43-7. West Virginia is 1-0 all-time against JMU, having won a 45-10 game in 2004.

Coming into this season, Division I schools had a record of 1,838-396-18 (.820) vs. 1-AA schools since 1978, when the NCAA split Division I football into two levels.

Last year, the big schools posted 91 victories against the small ones. The record for victories by the big boys against the little ones was 1982, when they won 96 games.

That's what happens when the higher-level team has 23 more scholarships and, in most cases, all of the players on those scholarships had either better credentials or better potential than those on the lower level at the time of their recruitment.

But already this season, there have been seven FCS victories against FBS teams, though none of them have involved ranked teams.

That's happened three times - in 1983, temporary I-AA (FCS) member Cincinnati defeated No. 20 Penn St. In 2007, Appalachian St. defeated No. 5 Michigan. And in 2010, James Madison defeated No. 13 Virginia Tech.

''We're going to have to do everything we can to make sure it doesn't happen to us,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said Monday.

It's true. The little guys have put up a pretty good fight on occasion, just ask Temple and Buffalo.

Buffalo actually has a losing record against 1-AA schools (3-4). Temple has nine losses to FCS schools. In 1981, Pennsylvania lost to Lehigh 58-0, the largest margin of defeat for a big school against a small one. Division I-AA schools actually have 22 shutouts against Division I counterparts.

In 1978, I-A schools lost 29 times to I-AA opponents, which remains the best year for the underdogs.

Most of the positive history for the small school schools is at least 30 years old. Times are changing. There are a lot more Savannah States out there than there are early-80s Lehigh teams.

Some have called for the practice to be banned. They already say it's immoral; they'd like to see it become illegal.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: elliott@theintelligencer.net