On the Road Again: Cross-Sectional Scheduling by B.C.S. Conferences

Permit me to begin with a brief mea culpa; in yesterday's Super Bowl Sunday quick hits, I hurriedly explained why I didn't cover recruiting, then attempted to kick it over to MaconDawg for an example of how recruiting ought to be covered. Unfortunately, I inadvertently skipped an important step, essentially saying, "Covering recruiting is creepy . . . and MaconDawg covers it!" The ensuing syllogism was as unintentional as it is erroneous.

I regretted the mistaken implication, so, when MaconDawg brought my faux pas to my attention, I quickly apologized, but, since my error was "above the fold," as it were, I thought my correction should be, too. My bad, MaconDawg.

We all make mistakes.

Let us turn now to the matter at hand. Of late, the blogosphere has been abuzz with discussions of the relative merits of Pac-10 and S.E.C. scheduling, about which a cogent observer with a foot in both camps has noted:

In 2006 (including bowl season), the Pac-10 played a total of 30 out-of conference games against Division I-A opponents. In those 30 games, the Pac-10 compiled a record of 18-12. Those twelve losses were to Tennessee (Cal), Boise State (Oregon State), Notre Dame (UCLA, Stanford), Florida State (UCLA), BYU (Oregon), Hawaii (Arizona State), LSU (Arizona), Auburn (Washington State), Oklahoma (Washington), San Jose State (Stanford), and Navy (Stanford).

By contrast, the SEC played a total of 45 out of conference games against Division I-A opponents. In those 45 games, the SEC compiled a record of 35-10. Those ten losses were to Penn State (Tennessee), Louisville (Kentucky), Michigan (Vandy), Southern Cal (Arkansas), Wisconsin (Arkansas), O[klahoma] State (Alabama), Mizzou (Ole Miss), Wake Forest (Ole Miss), Tulane (Mississippi State), West Virginia (Mississippi State).

Take a look at those 10 teams that the SEC lost to. Save for Tulane and Mizzou, every single one of those teams finished the season ranked in the Top 25. . . . Now review the 11 teams that the Pac-10 lost to. Florida State, Navy, and San Jose State were unranked.


That's a fair point, although it does mean that each conference posted losses to eight teams ranked in the final poll. For what it's worth, though, U.S.C. is the only Pac-10 team that didn't lose at least one game to an out-of-conference opponent in 2006, whereas six of the S.E.C.'s 10 non-conference losses were sustained by Arkansas, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss.

A broader view of the question of non-conference scheduling has been offered by The Hoover Street Rag, while, elsewhere in Big Ten country, The Lawgiver has turned a cynical eye upon the issue. (Ostensibly, Craig and Geoff agree that Michigan should get out more, but I'm not going to give the Maize and Blue too tough a time, because at least they hate Florida, too.)

I concur with many of the quoted commentators that the primary criteria for evaluating a team's or a conference's scheduling are quality of opposition and won-lost record. Realistically, though, considerations of television exposure and media prestige come into play, which means going on the road to play marquee games in other regions. Accordingly, I will be taking a look at Pac-10 and S.E.C. scheduling using the factors focused on by real estate agents: location, location, and location.

The following states (shaded in blue) are ones in which Pac-10 teams are scheduled to play football games next autumn:

The West Coast B.C.S. league's out-of-conference road outings include trips to Brigham Young, Colorado State, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame (twice), Syracuse, Utah, and Wisconsin. All told, Pac-10 teams will compete in 11 states in the fall, including the four in which the league's schools play their home games.

(Although Tightwad Hill lists Stanford's October 13 game against Texas Christian as an away game, College Football Resource designates it as a home game for the Cardinal, which the school's website confirms.)

By contrast, these are the states (shaded in red) in which S.E.C. teams will take to the gridiron in 2007:

Obviously, there is a much greater degree of geographic contiguity to S.E.C. scheduling. Still, the league's treks outside the South include games in Missouri and Pennsylvania, so, even though it is possible to drive through 13 of the 14 states in which Southeastern Conference squads are playing football games without ever passing through any state in which no S.E.C. team is playing, the league's scheduling clearly is becoming less insular.

Pac-10 teams will log more miles. Is their scheduling truly more diverse, though? Pacific Coast squads will take the field in four states east of the Mississippi River. Southeastern squads will take the field in five states that did not secede in the 1860s. Had Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain been teaching summer session classes in rhetoric and German at Bowdoin College on July 2, 1863, S.E.C. teams might have needed passports to play their road games against Cal, Missouri, Temple, and West Virginia.

Most notably, four of the Pac-10's five long-distance road trips are to the Great Lake, Badger, and Hoosier States, where Oregon will take on Michigan, Washington State will face Wisconsin, and both Stanford and U.S.C. will play Notre Dame.

Two of these out-of-conference contests are against members of a league with which the Pac-10 shares a pair of bowl tie-ins, most notably in the Granddaddy of 'Em All. 57 of the last 61 Rose Bowls have pitted a Big Ten team against a Pac-10 team. The Ducks played postseason games in Pasadena as early as 1916 and as recently as 1994, and Mike Bellotti's squad would have appeared there in 2001, had not the B.C.S. shunted Oregon over to the Fiesta Bowl. The Cougars' trips to the Tournament of Roses commenced in the 1915 campaign and have come as late as the 2002 season. In short, despite the distance dividing the Pac-10 from the Big Ten, the two conferences have had a symbiotic relationship dating back even longer than that between the A.C.C. and the S.E.C.

Michigan-U.S.C. in the Rose Bowl . . . as it should be. (Photograph from M.S.N.B.C.)

The Pac-10's other two road games in the Midwest are against the Fighting Irish, with whom the Trojans have the sport's most storied cross-sectional rivalry. Although Notre Dame-Stanford has slightly less luster than the Golden Domers' annual battle with the Men of Troy, that may be true simply because the Cardinal are a part of the equation. As pointed out by Jason:

Stanford had the most difficult schedule in the country. Well, of course, Stanford had the most difficult schedule in the country. They did not have to play Stanford. Every other Pac-10 team's SOS is lower than Stanford's because Stanford dragged them down.

In any event, Stanford has played Notre Dame in every season except two since 1988, so it is fair to treat this rivalry as perennial. The Trojans' and the Cardinal's rivalries with the Irish may earn more frequent flyer miles than Georgia's and South Carolina's rivalries with Clemson, but U.S.C. and Stanford deserve approximately the same amount of credit for maintaining their traditional series with Notre Dame that the 'Dawgs and the 'Cocks receive for continuing to play the Tigers from Fort Hill.

Take heed, as well, of the Western states which are not shaded on either conference's schedule map: Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. How many serious football teams are located in those seven states?

Clearly, Boise State is one. Since moving up to Division I-A a little over a decade ago, the Broncos have faced Arizona State in 1996, Washington State in 1997, 1998, 2000, and 2001, U.C.L.A. in 1999, and Oregon State in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006, with four of those clashes taking place in the Gem State. During that same span, of course, B.S.U. has played regular-season games against Wisconsin in 1997, Arkansas in 2000 and 2002, South Carolina in 2001, and Georgia in 2005, as well.

I never miss an opportunity to remind folks that this happened.

Once you get past the Broncos, though, the pickings get pretty slim in that area of the country. Where else in those seven states could Pac-10 teams play road games? Nevada? U.N.L.V.? Wyoming? Aren't those teams that S.E.C. schools get no credit for beating?

Outside of the four Pac-10 home states, Colorado and Utah are the only nearby states containing more than one team that could be considered a credible candidate to receive a visit from a B.C.S. conference team. Unsurprisingly, one such team, Utah, has two Pac-10 teams on its 2007 slate.

The extremely limited availability of legitimate Division I-A programs (or, in many instances, Division I-A programs at all) in the region separating Pac-10 country from Big Ten and Big 12 country simply necessitates that Pac-10 teams travel . . . particularly if they want their non-conference contests to take place at an hour that will maximize their national television exposure.

In the South, on the other hand, the same states that contain S.E.C. schools also contain Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Miami, Southern Miss, and South Florida, all of which have appeared on Southeastern Conference schedules in the 21st century.

As far as I'm concerned, now that Drew Butler has committed to Georgia, we can go back to playing Clemson every year . . . Jon Richt or no Jon Richt.

S.E.C. squads' proximity to (and, oftentimes, longstanding rivalries with) such schools makes it easier for the Southeastern Conference to schedule legitimate non-conference road games closer to home. This isn't cowardice, it's fiscally-sound, fan-friendly, historically-mindful scheduling.

Given the South's greater geographic concentration of B.C.S. conference foes and legitimate mid-major opponents, S.E.C. squads' 2007 trips to Missouri, North Carolina, and West Virginia are at least somewhat comparable to Pac-10 teams' simultaneous treks to the Midwest . . . and all that is without giving any credit to Tennessee for traveling to face a legitimate team at a place where tree-huggers halt the expansion of campus facilities.

Let us, though, go beyond next autumn and peer farther into the future. Here are the states (shown in red) in which Georgia is scheduled to play out-of-conference road games between 2008 and 2015:

In addition, these (also shown in red) are the states in which Damon Evans has attempted to schedule non-conference road games, only to have the would-be host team back out on the deal or refuse to enter into negotiations:

Over the course of the next nine seasons, the Bulldogs will be going on the road to play Arizona State in Tempe, Colorado in Boulder, Oklahoma State in Stillwater, and Oregon in Eugene, in addition to squaring off with Clemson in Death Valley, Georgia Tech at historic Grant Field, and Louisville at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. The Red and Black also attempted to arrange meetings with Cincinnati in Paul Brown Stadium, Michigan in the Big House, Notre Dame in South Bend, and Oregon State in Corvallis.

With that kind of aggressive scheduling, I concede no ground to anyone regarding my team's willingness to accept non-conference challenges far from home and hedge. Despite playing an annual neutral-site contest against a division rival and maintaining a perennial rivalry with an in-state opponent that has not been in the same league with the Red and Black since the early 1960s, Georgia is taking its show on the road, from the Pacific Northwest to the Southwest . . . and to the Midwest, as well, if we can ever get a game up there.

Some S.E.C. scheduling is still an embarrassment. South Carolina seems content to turn its non-conference slate into a round-robin tournament with every Division I-AA school in the Palmetto State. Arkansas, Auburn, and Ole Miss all made it into the scheduling hall of shame.

I don't want to see any more of this guy unless it's in a Capital One commercial.

Georgia, however, is scheduling boldly once more. Tennessee, unburdened by a neutral-site series and blessed with an S.E.C. bottom-dweller for an in-state rival, schedules interregional home and home series with tough teams on a regular basis. Auburn even inked a deal to play Kansas State, with whom the Tigers have tangled before.

In short, there are valid reasons why S.E.C. teams do not travel as much, but S.E.C. teams still are traveling more. While marquee cross-sectional matchups are good for college football, a tough road game is a tough road game, regardless of whether Georgia takes a short drive up I-85 to Clemson or Cal travels halfway across the country to face Tennessee in Knoxville.

I'm proud that my alma mater has revived its historic "have team, will travel" mentality after a four-decade hiatus, but I'm also glad Clemson is back on the schedule, too. As is the case in the rest of life, it is a question of balance, not just geographically, but in all other respects, as well.

Go 'Dawgs!

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