In the last few years, the "Power Five" conferences have enacted a wide variety of measures and regulations. Not all of them, but most of them, have been aimed at differentiating and/or distancing themselves from the Group of Five conferences.
Obviously the first and foremost of those is referring to themselves as the "Power Five," which serves no real purpose other than making a team like the Iowa State Cyclones or South Carolina Gamecocks look better than the Temple Owls or Toledo Rockets, even when things have gone horribly wrong for the former and couldn't be better for the latter.
However, beyond that, there's the matter of acquiring relative rule-making autonomy, which allows for things like the Big Ten mandating that their conference members not schedule FCS opponents, and also that they must schedule one Power 5 opponent in each year's non-conference schedule.
This created a variety of positives and negatives, depending on your perspective.
If you root for a Big Ten team, this eliminates the weakest level of competition you could schedule. This both creates an automatic boost to your strength of schedule, while also making wins in general more difficult to come by. Double-edged sword. If you're a Group of Five team, you're guaranteed an increase in non-conference games against Power Five teams, which means more guaranteed paychecks but also the potential for more guaranteed losses. Same kind of double-edged sword.
This is all workable for every team affected, as long as you have a strong understanding of what your expectations are and how you need to use the new adjustments to your advantage. Army, Memphis, Michigan State and Indiana are not all affected by that rule the same way, and are not necessarily aiming for the same program-wide goals, so they each will create their own work-around.
Unless maybe they wind up not needing that work-around at all?
Now, apparently, the Big Ten is starting to allow case-by-case basis exemptions to this. We already knew about the exemption given to independents (BYU, Notre Dame, and Army) by the SEC for them to count towards that scheduling restriction.
The Big Ten has followed suit, except they have also given exemptions to both UConn and Cincinnati towards this rule. On the surface, we can operate under the assumption that the Huskies and Bearcats received such an exemption because they are already on the future schedules of multiple Big Ten teams, but that only explains part of the issue.
The Big Ten also will allow games vs. Cincinnati and Connecticut, of the American Athletic Conference, to count as a Power 5 opponent, Big Ten senior associate commissioner Mark Rudner said. A source said Navy, in its first year in AAC, will also count. However, not all members of the AAC will count toward the Power 5 nonconference requirement, a source told ESPN.
O.K., I can appreciate the selective nature of the exemptions, because not all football programs (Tulane and Northern Illinois for example) are created equal, but have you seen UConn lately? They've won 15 games in the previous four years heading into this season, and they are well on their way to another wildly underwhelming campaign.
What about Temple, UCF or ECU? They are all decidedly better programs, both now and in the recent past, and they all have Big Ten teams on their schedule going forward. We could also place Boise within the bounds of that same inquiry.
Perhaps this will eventually wash out, and all of those teams currently facing Big Ten (or SEC, or ACC, or Pac 12, or Big 12) teams will be granted exemptions after evaluation from the conference leaders. That's great because it largely settles the "hey, why is he good enough for an exemption and I'm not" debate, but then you wind up in one of two other conundrums:
- You give exemptions to the best teams, which further marginalizes teams like North Texas or Charlotte - and then they can legitimately gripe by saying "wait a minute, you'll give Army an exception but not us?"
- You eventually give exemptions to most of the teams in the Group of Five over time, in which case why do you even have the rule - and the Power Five/Group of Five delineation - in the first place?
I am appreciative of the exemption process that is going on here, but it feels an awful lot like the Power Five conferences backing down from how forcefully they pursued the "autonomy" concept and other grandiose "Power Five" we're-better-than-you tactics. This serves no purpose but to make them look foolish.