College basketball takes center stage every March, but by the final note of “One Shining Moment,” college sports fans are left with a void. Football–real, meaningful football with university programs pursuing a championship–can fill that space. And the Football Championship Subdivision is the perfect candidate.
Football becomes ever more entrenched in the fabric of American culture, evident in the revenue and ratings records both the professional and highest level of the college game set annually. But as football’s rich get richer, the lower levels of college football are still trying to carve their own niche.
The introduction of the FCS Kickoff this August is a nice idea, and should bring two of the subdivision’s more powerful programs over the last half decade—Eastern Washington and Sam Houston State—some much deserved attention.
The subdivision has the football stage all to itself then, but the following week the FBS kicks off. NFL play gets underway two weeks later. By then, the FCS will return to the background. But with the growing demand for more football and a void in the spring, the NCAA and university athletic departments that field FCS-level programs can take this Week Zero concept a step further and occupy a stage all their own.
There’s an undeniable void for football in the spring waiting to be filled. The behemoths of the sport are already trying: the NFL is pushing the draft combine as a made-for-TV event (it isn’t), pro days and big-time college programs are filling broadcast openings with spring games.
Essentially fans are so starved for football come springtime that they tune into drills. Obviously, the demand for more football exists, and the FCS can parlay it into exposure and television revenue for its programs.
By kicking off the week between the NFL conference championship games and the Super Bowl, the FCS spring season fills the first gap in the football-less time of year. Then each Saturday throughout the spring sports season, there is real, live college football to satiate the masses, culminating Memorial Day weekend with the national championship game.
Obvious schematic issues would need to be ironed out, no question.
Moving the FCS season to spring has repercussions for the FBS, considering there were a record 110 FBS vs. FCS matchups in 2013. The cross-subdivision games would cease, resulting in more uniform scheduling in the College Football Playoff era. The Big Ten is already opting to drop FCS opponents, and by moving the subdivision’s season to spring, it ensures the other conferences follow suit.
Now, cross-subdivision matchups do serve a purpose: powerhouses use the games to get reserves repetitions, and FCS universities use the six-figure contracts to bolster their entire athletic departments.
Even with more exposure and access to television revenue, many FCS institutions could not afford to lose those paychecks altogether, but there is a viable solution.
The traditional spring game is outdated and has its critics within the FBS ranks. Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin criticized spring games earlier this month, saying per CoachingSearch.com that the event is geared more for fans.
Last year, we have 50,000 people here and ESPN here as a great recruiting opportunity, great national exposure for the program. It’s a great thing for fans. It was a beautiful day to get out and see the team. But from a football standpoint, I’ll be honest with you: You guys know me. That second half goes real quick. I’m ready to get out of there. The goal of that day is to look halfway decent and get out of that thing without getting anybody hurt. That’s the goal of that. For the fans, it’s a bigger deal.
Spring scrimmages can become more akin to real games with an actual opponent, which is a benefit for the FBS teams and an opportunity to split ticket sales for the FCS opponents. In a more controlled environment, this better serves the purpose of getting players live repetitions than simply throwing the reserves out in the fourth quarter of a blowout.
The week prior to the finals at many universities includes a “dead day,” or day without classes reserved for studying. Consider the week prior to the start of FCS Playoffs “Dead Week,” wherein programs that choose to can play an FBS scrimmage.
Obviously FBS teams that wish to use Dead Week would have to accommodate their spring football schedules to sync with this date, but plenty of programs already hold their spring game in mid-to-late April.
Using this spring sports season as the template, here’s how the schedule breaks down:
Jan. 25: Week 1
Feb. 1: Week 2
Feb. 8: Week 3
Feb. 15: Week 4
Feb. 22: Week 5
Mar. 1: Week 6
Mar. 8: Week 7
Mar. 15: Week 8
Mar. 22: Week 9
Mar. 29: Week 10
Apr. 5: Week 11
Apr. 12: Week 12
Apr. 19: Dead Week/FBS Spring Game Scrimmages
Apr. 26: Playoff Round 1
May 3: Playoff Round 2
May 10: Playoffs Quarterfinal
May 17: Playoffs Semifinal
May 24: National Championship
Just imagine: more football, a stage for the FCS to shine all on its own…and did I mention more football?