In this whole “fairness” (translation: who gets the money) debate surrounding the push for an expanded playoff for D-1 football, it’s easy for people like Barton and Hatch to use Utah, Boise State and TCU as the poster children for their advocacy. And it’s just as easy for people like me to use the dregs of the Sun Belt and the MAC as good reasons for not spreading college football’s largesse to programs that don’t merit it.
But here’s the tough question for everybody: what’s fair for Fresno State?
I mean, here’s a program that has a moderate national profile – I bet some of Mandel’s Montana buddies have heard of the school – has enjoyed some success over the past few years (seven bowl games in the past eight seasons), plays a respectable schedule for a mid-major, has enjoyed some historical stability and support (the fundraising organization for the school’s athletics is 60 years old) draws respectably (better than Duke and comparable to last year’s BCS participant Cincinnati) and isn’t particularly profligate in its spending (FSU will end this fiscal year with a small deficit that will be covered and projects a 2011 budget with a tiny surplus).
And yet it’s got a legitimate concern about its future in D-1 athletics. Why?
… Fresno State’s problem is that revenues — the lifeblood of any Division I athletic program — are stagnant at best while expenses, even after years of belt-tightening, remain stubbornly high.
This also comes in the wake of recent NCAA conference realignment decisions that have weakened the Western Athletic Conference, to which Fresno State belongs, raising questions about the Bulldogs’ future in Division I athletics.
With Boise State’s impending departure, the WAC is reduced to a Sun Belt Conference with bad demographics, spread from Hawaii to Louisiana. Its best source of revenue comes from serving as cannon fodder in football road games.
… Fresno State is concerned about weak football ticket sales for this fall. Even though the Bulldogs play a rare seven-game home schedule that includes two high-profile Bowl Championship Series schools, Athletic Corp. director Larry Layne said the football program is projected to net about $200,000 less than it did last season. [Emphasis added.]
Last season, if you’re counting, only saw FSU play five home games.
So here’s the tough question again – is it worth saving Fresno State over the long haul as a D-1 program? And assuming that it’s doing everything it can, doing it right, yet still not able to keep its head above water, how much do you divert to it to help and where do you send it from?
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating for these Bulldogs. Even with enough money to avoid extinction as a D-1 program, it’s hard to see Fresno State joining the ranks of the elite, or even the quasi-elite. I’m not particularly enamored of sending SEC money to a school for which I have little rooting interest. But I can’t say that I don’t feel a certain amount of sympathy for FSU as a result of the way it finds itself squeezed.
Again, if there’s a compromise worth consideration, maybe it’s in a modest reduction in the number of football scholarships offered by D-1 schools. That would serve to reduce the financial pressure the Fresno States of the world face and would also enhance competition. I doubt that’s in the cards, though.
(h/t The Wiz of Odds)
UPDATE: This won’t help.