In the vernacular of Power 5 college football they are referred to as non-conference games, occasional breaks in otherwise grueling schedules that feature opponents like Liberty, Nevada, Wyoming, Buffalo or New Hampshire.
Some fans of the sport have another name for them – cupcakes. As in sweet and delicious and may I have another.
Here’s a few examples from the 2019 pastry shelf: National champion Clemson will play Charlotte and Wofford. Ohio State has scheduled Florida Atlantic and Cincinnati. Oklahoma will take a breather against South Dakota. Notre Dame has New Mexico and Bowling Green.
Even the woe begotten in the nation, like UConn, perhaps the worst NCAA Division I program in the United States, does it. They open their season Aug. 29 with a home game against Wagner.
The idea, of course, is to give bigger programs a week to breath at home against opponents unequipped to deal with their power.
But it works both ways. The lesser programs submit to probable annihilation for nice chunks of change, sometimes more than $1 million. And their coaches often have bonuses negotiated into their contracts for wins against Power 5 teams.
USA Today estimated that $150 million was paid out for “guarantee games” during the 2017 season, including approximately $70 million during just the first weekend.
Still, there a stench surrounding these matchups. They provide belly laughs more than suspense and big-boy programs can be criticized for using them to stack victories that qualify them for bowl games. It all seems so unfair.
Of course, sometimes those decisions backfire. How do you think Michigan felt when Appalachian State beat them in Ann Arbor or when The Citadel silenced Arkansas in Fayetteville.
Let’s face it, most of time its Clemson 48, Furman 7 or Georgia 45, Austin Peay 0.
Does the die-hard fan enjoy these games? Perhaps the carnivores do. But we’re thinking most believe they’re not worth the money, kind of like an NFL preseason game.
The idea that these kind of games should be minimized may be gaining momentum and its an unexpected source, Alabama coach Nick Saban, at the forefront of the movement.
Saban says programs like his should play a least 10 games each season against Power 5 schools and then try to schedule major independents, like Notre Dame.
“I’ve always said, ‘Let’s play all Power 5 games,'” Saban told ESPN. “I was in the NFL where we played all the games against NFL teams. But let’s play at least 10 Power 5 games. It would be better for the players, better for the fans, and I think you wouldn’t have to worry that if you lost a game that you wouldn’t have as much of a chance to still be in [the College Football Playoff]. They talk about strength of schedule now, but how do you really evaluate that?”
Here’s how Saban thinks teams can get it done: The Crimson Tide would play one non-conference Power 5 game each year as part of a home-and-home series and another at a neutral site. Of course, this could only be possible if conferences like the ACC, SEC maintain eight-game league schedules and the Big 12, Pac-12 and Big 10 play nine.
Saban has also said he wouldn’t mind it if the SEC added one more conference game each season, thereby further toughening up their schedules.
“I think there’s a reality that all programs, coaches and ADs are facing that we need to have good games for our team, our fans and our programs,” Alabama’s athletic director Greg Byrne told ESPN. “Whether that’s additional conference games or additional [Power 5] nonconference games, I think you’re going to continue to see it move in that direction.”
The Crimson Tide have played 17 games over the last three seasons against teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. It doesn’t always work out for them, either. They lost three of them.
This season, Alabama’s schedule of four non-conference games begins against Duke in Atlanta on Aug. 31. The others are at home against FBS independent New Mexico State, Southern Miss and Western Carolina. All of likely big wins.
The Crimson Tide is already on the way to fulfilling its pledge. It has signed home-and-home deals with Texas, Wisconsin, South Florida, West Virginia and Oklahoma, although the games against the Sooners won’t come until 2032 and 2033 and many of the players who will perform in them are five years old right now. They also have one-game deals with USC and Miami and are talking now with Florida.
“It’s been harder for us (to schedule) because our rivals, Auburn and Tennessee, are in the conference,” said Saban. “But I can promise you that we want to play more games against Power 5 teams and should play more games against Power 5 teams, all of us.
“If we don’t, fans are going to quit coming, and I can’t say I blame them.”