Scheduling is the topic on everyone’s minds in college football. This stems from the B1G 10 and PAC-12 coming out and cancelling their out of conference schedules for 2020. With this came much mourning of games lost, like Oregon-Ohio State. Questions came, like what happens to Notre Dame in a conference-play-only world?
Those are worthwhile, if not over-talked about questions. However, as out of conference games get cancelled, questions arise for the Group of Five. All these conferences rely on the Power 5 for pay games, which can be massive figures in terms of a program’s budget. Take UMass, an Independent. Ryan Bamford, the Minutemen’s athletic director, attributes their pay game with Auburn as being worth 20% of their annual football budget.
Rumors are swirling about the ACC cancelling out of conference games too, and most people expect it’s just a matter of time until all the Power 5 cancels out of conference games.
Meanwhile, FCS conferences are cancelling the fall sports season at a rapid rate. It seems to be a matter of time until they’re all not playing in the fall. Thus, scheduling for the G5 will become even more difficult.
The AAC presents its own unique challenges in scheduling. They rely on pay games with teams like ECU collecting $1.8 million to play Michigan in 2023. They also play FCS teams. Houston paid Prairie View A&M $400,000 for last season’s meeting. At the same time, AAC teams need a strong schedule. They’re trying to push a Power 6 narrative, and at the end of the day they need to prove it on the field. Furthermore, teams like UCF need as many P5 opponents as possible to prove they belong in College Football Playoff discussions.
That’s before you get into major cultural games that could be lost. This is headlined by the Army-Navy game, but includes match-ups like the Battle for the Iron Skillet between SMU and TCU. These are games that college football would be much worse off without.
So, the question is this, how should the AAC approach scheduling? There is talk about sticking with 8 conference games, but only two out of conference games.
AAC commissioner Mike Aresco says league is looking at different scheduling options for football, including a "hybrid” eight league games with two non-conference games. “Right now, we didn’t view a all-conference schedule as something we’d prefer to do."— Joseph Duarte (@Joseph_Duarte) July 16, 2020
This would allow for the preservation of those great rivalries, and showcase games like North Carolina at UCF.
It’s very much a solution for where college football is at right now, which is with the majority of FBS conferences still planning on playing their out of conference games. However, looking ahead, it is likely not a large enough adjustment to the schedule. By the time the season comes, most conferences are expected to be playing conference-only schedules. This makes two out of conference games unrealistic.
With that being said, the AAC should keep one out of conference match-up, regardless of what every other conference does. This would preserve the Army-Navy game, while giving teams a chance to schedule against the Independents. The Independents, which could include multiple games for the AAC against Notre Dame. That’s good optically and financially for the conference.
Now, it’s unlikely that everyone in the AAC would be able to find an out of conference opponent, so teams who can’t find a new out of conference game should be allowed to play one another as an out of conference game.
It’s not realistic that they’ll have the ability to play FCS or P5 opponents. So, the AAC needs to get creative with scheduling to keep with last season’s momentum.