We wrote for today's paper about Barry Alvarez telling a radio station that the Big Ten has agreed not to put FCS teams (formerly Division I-AA) on future schedules. This is not something that has formally been announced, but Barry is never shy about speaking his mind. One element we had hoped for in the piece was some perspective from a local FCS school, but it didn't arrive in time. However, we were able to chat with South Dakota State head coach John Stiegelmeier for a few minutes this morning as a follow-up. He had some good thoughts on the possibility of the scheduling change and what it would mean for a school like SDSU.
South Dakota State came to TCF Bank Stadium in 2009 and nearly upset Tim Brewster's Gophers, who held on for a 16-13 victory that made them bowl-eligible. The Jackrabbits are on Minnesota's schedule in 2015 and 2019 as well.
"You need to look at it from both sides of the FCS and FBS. For programs like us that are good programs, it’s a chance to measure ourselves and to obviously get a nice guarantee to help fund the program. That’s one of the realities. It’s a chance to put yourself on the map," Stiegelmeier said. "I understand totally from their standpoint. ... Ideally we’re able to play them in the future, but I understand it totally."
SDSU has Nebraska on its 2013 schedule, and Stiegelmeier pointed to a 14-point loss to the Cornhuskers in 2010 as a major moment for his program, which was still adjusting to life in the FCS after many years of playing Division II ball.
"Whether the score is close or not, the exposure is great. When you talk about when we play Minnesota, Nebraska, Missouri, that’s our recruiting area. There’s a heightened level of interest. Just pure exposure, regardless of score," he said. "And when you play them close – Nebraska, 14 points, was the best example – people feel like you won the game, so to speak. ... Where we’re at, it’s hard to schedule games. If you take away the Big Ten schools in the area, it becomes that much tougher. And if we’re going to play Florida International or North Carolina State, the benefits are less (in terms of recruiting and exposure)."
Stiegelmeier also said there is no doubt that players at FCS schools circle games against major-conference DI foes as measuring sticks. Those are often the schools players dreamed of attending, giving them something to prove. That's also, of course, what can make those games so dangerous for bigger schools. Minnesota is just 2-3 in its last five games against Dakota schools, all of whom play in FCS. For Big Ten teams, scheduling such games can be high risk with low reward.
"A (player) will be more interested in that one game in his career than who is in our conference," the coach said. "For an FCS player, that is a huge game in his tenure. That comes out before we promote it. That’s something in the hearts of these young men. It is a competition thing."