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Rule Change Could Mean Revenue Loss for UMaine Football Program

ORONO, Maine - Each fall, smaller Division 1 college football programs, like the one at the University of Maine, often play at least one game against a powerhouse opponent. While the games aren't always competitive, the smaller programs get paid a lot of money to play them and they depend on this revenue to supplement their budgets. This year, a new playoff system will decide the national championship in major college football, with a selection committee picking four teams to face off for the title. As Jay Field explains, strength of schedule will carry a lot of weight, and that has smaller football programs worried it will become harder to schedule so-called "payday" games against Division 1 powers.

 

A little over a week ago, Boston College, which plays in the Atlantic Coast Conference, upset the ninth-ranked team in the nation. On Saturday, UMaine grabbed the early momentum in Chestnutt Hill with an interception.

Announcer: "Will this be a shocker for BC?  Are they living off the laurels of last week's win?"

No and no, it turned out. BC went on to beat the Black Bears 40-10. The game, though, wasn't a complete loss for UMaine. Younger players on the Black Bear roster got the experience of playing against a premier college football program. The university got something important too.

"Money - the guarantee," says Karlton Creech, UMaine's athletic director. The Black Bears got paid $350,000 to take on Boston College. "It's an important part of our budget scenario for our football program to try to schedule these games every year."

In football terms, UMaine is what's called an FCS school. That stands for Football Championship Subdivision. Division 1 powers like Boston College, the University of Alabama, Ohio State, which play in the five biggest conferences in the country, are called Football Bowl Subdivision, or FBS, schools. Many FCS schools across the nation typically play a game or two every year against FBS opponents.

Dennis Thomas is commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, where South Carolina State and Florida A&M recently faced Clemson and the University of Miami. Thomas says these FBS teams have important reasons of their own for playing FCS schools.

"They have 12 games each season scheduled. And there are going to be times when there will be a conflict of schedule and you can't get an FBS game," Thomas says.

This fall, though, a change to the way college football crowns its national champion has some smaller programs worried it could become tougher to get the big powers to play them. After years of bowl games and periodic conflicts over final rankings, the NCAA is moving to a playoff system.

"There's been talk that the FBS-level, Big 5 schools may shy away from scheduling FCS for our level opponents, because of strength of schedule," Creech says.

Football programs typically try to schedule games years in advance. In a recent phone call with a major TV network, Karlton Creech says he asked the official on the other end of the line whether FBS schools were likely to shy away from playing smaller programs. It's possible, the official told him. Out in the Midwest, the Big Ten has recommended to its schools that they not schedule FCS opponents.

Other conferences are taking a wait and see approach. Michael Strickland is the ACC's senior associate commissioner for football operations. "Philosophically, our league has not made any rule that would prohibit our teams, in the future, from playing an FCS opponent," Strickland says.

But Strickland says he will be paying close attention later this fall, when the NCAA selection committee chooses which schools get to compete in college football's first National Championship playoff. How strongly the committee weighs strength of schedule may determine how easy or difficult it will be for schools like UMaine to keep scheduling payday games in the coming years.