Giglio: Play I-AA in football, just do it during the preseason

jgiglio@newsobserver.comSeptember 6, 2013 

  • ACC vs. I-AA There will be 16 ACC vs. I-AA matchups this season, including four Saturday. The ACC is 66-4 against those opponents since the start of the 2008 season. Richmond, which will play at N.C. State, is responsible for half of those wins and both were against Duke (in 2009 and ’11).

    2013: 4-0

    2012: 13-0

    2011: 12-1

    2010: 12-1

    2009: 11-2

    2008: 14-0

    NOTE: ACC losses: 2011 Richmond beat Duke 23-21; 2010 James Madison beat Virginia Tech 21-16; 2009: Richmond beat Duke 24-16; William & Mary beat Virginia 26-14.

Four ACC teams will play Division I-AA opponents Saturday and there will be 16 such matchups this season.

For economic reasons, the meetings are as much a part of the college game as the marching band and Brent Musburger.

ACC teams need home games to fund their football programs and the rest of the athletics department. It’s easier, and cheaper, to pay what the NCAA calls Football Championship Subdivision teams than Football Bowl Subdivision teams. (Note: I don’t work for the NCAA, so I use the popular vernacular of I-A and I-AA, which is how they used to be grouped by the NCAA before 2006.)

N.C. State will cut a check to Richmond for $345,000. Last week’s 40-14 win against Louisiana Tech, a Conference USA team, cost the Pack $850,000. So you can see how we got here.

It doesn’t really matter that the fans of the bigger schools are more interested in ACC games or other I-A matchups than these games. It doesn’t matter that the coaches of the bigger schools aren’t exactly crazy about them either – just ask Kansas State’s Bill Snyder, Oregon State’s Mike Riley, any of the other five Division I-A coaches who lost to a I-AA team last week or, going back further, Michigan’s Lloyd Carr.

There’s a solution here, and one the NCAA already endorses … in basketball. I think ACC teams (and other I-A teams) should play I-AA teams, I just think it should be during August in the preseason. The money still would count but the results would not.

The NCAA should follow the NFL’s lead. NFL teams play four exhibitions and they schedule practices against each other during training camp. The NCAA expects its teams to be ready to roll by the last weekend of August without a dress rehearsal.

College’s preseason doesn’t need to be more than one game and one “secret” scrimmage, which it allows in college basketball. It would help the I-A teams, it wouldn’t hurt the I-AA teams and TV would be a winner, too.

You don’t think ESPN would put Florida State-Florida A&M on during prime time in the middle of August or have you missed how ESPN has completely destroyed the integrity of the Little League World Series?

The lack of an official preseason doesn’t make sense. A preseason, with the same games against the same I-AA teams does, though. The rub, and reason it won’t get much traction outside of the Big Ten, is you would be taking away what usually is a guaranteed win (the ACC is 66-4 against I-AA teams since the start of the 2008 season, and 114-108 against all other opponents, including bowls).

With the impending four-team, College Football Playoff, the Big Ten is going to make a collective effort to avoid I-AA matchups, Commissioner Jim Delany said recently. Strength of schedule, which will be a factor in the selection of the playoff teams, is the main reason, Delany said, but not the only one.

“Interest in those games is less,” Delany said, a reference to the fans and television executives. “They’re from another division. They have 20 less scholarships. It’s like a junior-college team playing against a high school team or a high school team playing against a JV team.”

Appalachian State, which beat Michigan of the Big Ten during 2007, begs to differ with Delany’s last line of logic, but he has a point. During Georgia Tech’s 70-0 win against Elon last Saturday, both teams agreed to use a running clock.

As for the I-AA teams, they still win. They’ll get paid for the preseason gate, and likely would get on TV to boot. As memorable as Appalachian State’s win was, or North Dakota State’s last week at Kansas State or Towson’s over Connecticut, we need to stop acting like I-AA teams need to be validated.

They don’t. They already have a superior postseason system – a 20-team playoff! – not to mention most conferences actually get to play every team in conference play every year because there’s no 14-team super conference bloat.

As for the hole on the regular-season schedule for ACC teams? Easy fix. There were three ACC-SEC matchups last weekend. Line up all 14 teams, play them Thursday through Monday and air them on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPNNews. Done and done.

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