In this week's My Thought's Exactly, Daniel Gunderson discusses why the University of Northern Iowa is already playing for their playoff lives in week four.
The University of Northern Iowa Panthers are preparing for back-to-back weeks of football that could make or break their entire season. And it is only week four. Allow me to explain.
In the Football Championship Subdivision, you must win seven games against Division I opponents in order to qualify for the playoffs. So, if you have seven wins, but one is against Central State University, (Division II) you cannot qualify for the playoffs.
The way UNI is set up they are currently 1-2 with their one win coming against Central State University, meaning they are really 0-2. Their two losses came against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents Wisconsin and Iowa.
The team now has back-to-back games against arguably the best two teams in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. They are on the road this week against Youngstown State and will play North Dakota State University at home the following week.
If they want to make the FCS playoffs, they can only lose one more game the rest of the season. The obvious question here is why would you do this to yourself? A couple answers go with this question.
One, you schedule these games years in advance. NDSU already has Kansas State on their 2013 schedule and Iowa State on their 2014 schedule.
You don’t know how good your conference is going to be three to four years in the future. The MVFC might be the deepest it has ever been with Indiana State, Illinois State, YSU and NDSU all having legitimate shots at making the playoffs.
Two, it is a big payday and a win/win situation for an FCS school. NDSU received $275,000 for going to Fort Collins, Colo. to play Colorado State on September 8 this year. UNI received a combined $950,000 for playing Wisconsin and Iowa.
Also, a FCS school does not take a big hit in the polls if they lose and they solidify their high ranking if they win. UNI lost to both Wisconsin and Iowa, but in fact moved up in the polls after playing a ranked Wisconsin tough.
UNI is ranked 8th in both the FCS Coaches Poll and The Sports Network Poll. It is not a stretch to say that if they beat Wisconsin and still lose to Iowa, their ranking would be in the top five.
The reality is that UNI lost both games, won a meaningless game in between the two and if they lose their next two games, they are eliminated from playoff contention. This begs a couple questions from me.
First, why not just spread out the FBS schools? I realize UNI is in a prime location to play these FBS schools. You have two in state, plus the University of Minnesota and Wisconsin within three hours of Cedar Falls, Iowa.
However, these schools are paying UNI to come to them, so if UNI backs out they would only be hurting themselves. No skin off the back of the big schools. They could find anybody else to come to their stadium to play.
The FBS school is going to sell out regardless of the opponent. They can schedule an easy win from some other FCS school around the country who would love the amount of money to come play.
Play Iowa one year, Wisconsin another and throw in Iowa State another just for good measure. Play a lower tiered FCS school, like Robert Morris or Prairie View A&M so you get the much needed win against a Division I school.
Which brings me to my second question, if you are stuck in this scheduling conundrum, why not put an easy Division I opponent in between the hard hitters? You would assume they have enough money from playing the two FBS schools in one year to pay for a school to come to Cedar Falls.
It makes no sense to schedule a Division II team, especially one from Ohio, which is where CSU is located. You have Drake University, an FCS football school, literally two hours away.
I understand that trying to change a schedule the year of the game is extremely tough for every team involved. Last year, NDSU was supposed to play Georgia Southern at home but GSU bought out of the contract so they could have a sixth home game, according to GSU Athletic Director Sam Baker. In that case, Baker gave NDSU AD Gene Taylor a years notice.
In this instance, GSU played Tusculum University instead of NDSU, a D-II college. However, they only scheduled one FBS school in Alabama University. The other non-conference game they scheduled was against Presbyterian College, a D-I school from the Big South.
I would assume, however, that having to buy out a game is less important to college football teams than making the playoffs. If I am a fan of UNI, I wouldn’t applaud the team for taking a road less traveled with their schedule, but be critical of the powers that be that would put my team in such a tough spot.
With all that being said, UNI would be the last team I would want to play moving forward. I assume the coaches and players are well aware of the situation they are facing. They are going to make a point of playing every game from here on forward with a high sense of urgency.
It is just hard to realize that if NDSU goes 6-2 in conference play, they will make the playoffs, but if UNI goes 6-2, they don’t even qualify for them. Really makes you wonder if playing the high profile teams is worth it.
Daniel Gunderson is the producer of the Mike McFeely Show on 790 KFGO, which can be heard every weekday from 2-5 p.m. You can follow Daniel on Twitter @pintoKFGO or friend him on Facebook.