Michigan AD David Brandon voiced the obvious, the school has no incentive to schedule a non-conference road game. Barring even-year trips to South Bend, the Wolverines would prefer playing every game at home. His statement should not astonish, since it has been a fait accompli for decades. Michigan has not played a non-conference road game against a team other than Notre Dame since 2003. Bo Schembechler scheduled just eight of them in 21 seasons.
There are reasons for that.
Money is king and home games for big schools are financially lucrative. Michigan – like Ohio State, Texas or a big SEC school – loses millions by not playing at home. The school brought in $5-6 million per game in revenue before renovating the stadium. The 7th and 8th home games, even against crap teams, are basically pure profit for the university. Only the staged neutral site games, such as Alabama in the Jerry Dome or a really top draw home and home (Michigan tried for the opener last year and ended up with UConn) would come close to equating that revenue for Michigan.
Non-conference road games make no competitive sense. They add risk without adding value. Voters are guided by win-loss records. Voters in week 13 don’t remember how wins were obtained in the first four weeks. Big Ten and SEC schools know their schedule will be strong enough (or be perceived to be strong enough) not to hurt them. Adding excess strength provides no benefit. It’s more prudent to assure a 4-0, or at worst a 3-1 start, especially with all your competitors doing it.
Every season the home games become more profitable and the pressure for perfection becomes greater. It shows up in the scheduling. Alabama plays at Penn State next season. Its other three non-conference games are Kent State, North Texas and Georgia Southern. Florida plays Florida State, but also Florida Atlantic, UAB and Furman. Wisconsin plays Oregon State, but also UNLV, Northern Illinois and South Dakota. Big teams generally schedule one prominent home and home. Michigan already has that with Notre Dame.
The non-conference season is sub-optimal, but lame appeals to competitive spirit won’t improve it. Teams need a tangible incentive, either financial or competitive, to play better games. That would require a radical change to the postseason and a reform of the way teams are ranked. Eventually, schools’ television network overlords will step in, but that will be to add an extra conference game.
Worth noting: Michigan’s supposed non-conference wussitude has them playing Alabama (neutral), Notre Dame (away) and Air Force in 2012. Combine that with a conference schedule sending them to Lincoln and Columbus. That will be one of the toughest schedules in the country. Michigan does play a directional school at home every year. This is why.
[Photo via Getty]