Dorm Report: Maybe no room for FCS in playoff era

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Updated: 6/04 3:50 pm

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Sure, plenty of coaches were probably thinking it. But Florida's Will Muschamp actually had the guts to come out and say it.

At the Southeastern Conference spring meetings in Destin, Fla., last week, the Florida coach said his Gators would likely try to avoid scheduling games against Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponents in the future.

"We're probably going to move forward without playing FCS opponents," Muschamp said. "I think more than anything that (the College Football Playoff) is part of it, and our fan base, as much as anything, wants to see better opponents."

With this being the first season of a four-team FBS playoff system to determine a national champion, rather than the former BCS system's selected participants, Muschamp might be on to something.

In a world where only four teams are selected to join the playoff, and with dozens of teams (realistically) vying for a spot, strength of schedule could mean everything. And for a conference like the SEC, which has sent nine teams to the national championship game in the past eight years, the competition level is already exceedingly high, making it difficult for a team to stand out.

Muschamp is no stranger to FCS competition. Last year, his Gators fell 26-20 to Georgia Southern - a team that was in the process of moving from the FCS to the FBS level - in the final weeks of the regular season. That loss guaranteed his Florida team a losing record, so it's not like the Gators were much of a contender anyway.

But you see his point. The fact Georgia Southern won that game and received national attention was because it wasn't supposed to happen that way. When a team like Florida plays a lower-division opponent, the outcome is usually predictable.

In some cases, an FCS team comes away victorious. Last year, FCS teams notched 16 wins over FBS competition - a single-season record. So it's not to say the teams at the FCS level are unworthy of facing the FBS, and surely that's not what Muschamp is implying.

But a win for a strong FBS program over an FCS squad is highly likely and relatively inconsequential, whereas a loss can have devastating effects. That is what Muschamp looks to eliminate.

Florida will play Eastern Kentucky in the 2014 season on Nov. 22. The Colonels, who participate in the Ohio Valley Conference at the FCS level, went 6-6 last season and ended it on a three-game losing streak. They played Louisville in 2013, losing, 44-7. The game at Florida will end EKU's regular season, and, in all likelihood, a loss won't affect the Colonels much.

But after the 2014 season, there is no lower-division opponent on any schedule for the Gators.

Jeremy Foley, the Florida athletic director and Muschamp's boss, said sometimes scheduling games against FCS opponents isn't avoidable.

"I understand what Will's saying," Foley said. "In a perfect world, you play all D-I schools. But also you have to have 12 opponents."

He wasn't the only one to point out the complexities of filling out a full schedule. Alabama coach Nick Saban said he and the athletic department at 'Bama try not to schedule FCS opponents, but it's not the easiest thing in the world to complete a full 12-game slate.

"I don't know that we have a choice sometimes," Saban said. "We can't just call people up and say, `We want to have a game.' It's not like setting up a golf game. ... Outside of the neutral-site game we do and our conference games, we struggle to schedule three other games."

Alabama took on FCS program Chattanooga last Nov. 23, and won, 49-0.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive said the decision to schedule games against lower- division opponents is an institutional one, and he has no plans to dictate the scheduling.

But it sounds like the common thought among SEC coaches is already taking a turn down that road of phasing out these smaller contests. And, as Muschamp alluded, the fans want to see high levels of competition and not what should be easy victories.

The SEC, along with the other power conferences in the college football nation, makes money by selling tickets and merchandise. Nothing draws more of a crowd to a football game like a rivalry contest, or a conference clash. Alabama taking on Chattanooga, while intriguing to some, isn't the marquee matchup fans of the Crimson Tide wanted to see down the stretch of last season.

In the end, which team would you rather see in the college football playoff, a team that beats an FCS program handily in the final week of the season or one that beats a formidable D-I opponent? Should the playoff selection committee members need something to hang their decision on, it will come down to strength of schedule. And while the FCS is making huge strides in the way of increasing its talent level, this is a completely different discussion.

Sure, Appalachian State defeating Michigan in the season opener of the 2007 season took the nation by storm, and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema called it something that "makes college football pretty cool." But in this new era of playoff football (which will hopefully expand in the coming years), maybe Muschamp is right.

Maybe it's best for potential playoff teams to ditch the lower-division games and give way to greater competition to further prove their worth.

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