With the recent addition of a game against FCS foe James Madison at FedEx Field in Washington, DC, in 2012, the WVU football team has now filled out its non-conference schedule through 2015. The addition of TCU to the Big East gives all conference teams 4 home and 4 road games every year within the conference, leaving 4 open dates for schools to do what they want. WVU is signed up to play BYU at FedEx Field in 2016, and current contracts with Maryland and East Carolina extend through 2017, leaving one open slot in 2016 and two in 2017. After that, the slate is wide open for Oliver Luck and company to line up the best possible non-conference schedule that will result in: (1) increased revenue for WVU, (2) broadened exposure for WVU; and (3) maximized opportunities for WVU to compete for, and win, a national championship. As of today, WVU's non-conference schedules through 2017 look like this:
2012: Marshall (H), Florida State (A), Maryland (H), James Madison (N - Washington, DC)
2013: William & Mary (H), Florida State (H), Maryland (N - Baltimore, MD), East Carolina (H)
2014: Towson (H), Michigan State (H), Maryland (A), East Carolina (A)
2015: Liberty (H), Michigan State (A), Maryland (H), East Carolina (H)
2016: BYU (N - Washington, DC), Maryland (H), East Carolina (A)
2017: Maryland (A), East Carolina (H)Luck has, thus far, been exceedingly candid about his vision for WVU future football scheduling. Last fall, after the addition of TCU was announced, he told WVIllustrated:
"The expansion of the Big East will make it a little more challenging [to schedule Marshall]," says Luck. "Not impossible, but a little more challenging. It very well may be that we can only do a Marshall game every now and then as opposed to every year or four out of five years."
Luck says he wants to see WVU continue to play what he calls "power teams out of some of the power conferences," after a season opener against a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) opponent.
Earlier this year in a sit-down with MSNSportsnet, Luck offered these thoughts on future football scheduling:
Number one, football is crucial and is responsible for the bulk of our revenue. Number two, every team has a scheduling philosophy. For us, we want to have a high profile, attractive AQ non-conference opponent on our schedule. We’ve got LSU this year and we had Auburn in the past. Going forward, we have Michigan State and Florida State. In addition, we have extended our series with Maryland, which is very important for us. The proximity and the importance of the Baltimore/Washington D.C. recruiting area is crucial for us. Then we have historically played a I-AA team like Coastal Carolina or Norfolk State. We also have a tradition of playing a MAC school and of course over the past decade or so the Marshall series has been a fixture on our schedule. But with the addition of TCU and the expectation of a 10th member very soon, we have no option but to sit tight and wait and see what happens with our conference. It is highly likely that we will have nine conference games in the near future and if that is the case we will certainly have to review our non-conference scheduling priorities. Also, one development that we have noticed is that there are more and more opportunities to play the so-called "one-off" games. We will be playing BYU at FedEx Field, for example, and these match-ups are becoming more common
In light of the games on the schedule so far and given Luck's comments on WVU's scheduling philosophy, what can we expect to see going forward in terms of filling open dates in 2016 and beyond?
1. Signature BCS opponents will continue to be a staple of WVU's nonconference schedule.
Let's face it: playing in the Big East isn't going to earn much respect on the national level. Sure, TCU may enhance the league's profile a bit, but to really make a statement, WVU is going to have to play---and beat---a team with national cache', like LSU, Auburn, Ohio State, or Florida State. These are the kind of games that get WVU on national television and sell season tickets, and Luck knows that. Luck also sees other schools following a similar philosophy: Ohio State traditionally plays one national power (Texas, USC, and Miami in recent years) and a couple patsies; Virginia Tech hasn't been shy about facing off against big-time opponents (LSU and Boise State recently at neutral sites); Penn State seems to always have a signature game on their slate (Oregon State, Notre Dame, and Alabama, plus
Pitt on future schedules). While scheduling these games can be difficult since major powers are hesitant to come to Morgantown for a home-and-home, Luck may have to get creative in enhancing WVU's image via these types of games, which brings us to our next point:
2. Look for more games at NFL stadiums.
With NFL stadiums looking for ways to generate revenue, more and more are turning to these early-season non-conference match-ups as a way to fill the seats when the pros aren't in town. Some of the match-ups have been bordering on epic (VT-Boise State, LSU-Oregon, Clemson-Alabama), others just a yearly game moved to a pro stadium to increase potential attendance (WVU-Cincinnati, WVU-Maryland), and yet others almost head-scratching in their randomness (WVU-JMU). For a school like WVU, these games offer a chance to play close to fertile recruiting grounds, build name recognition (as Charley West calls it, "branding") in major markets, and schedule games against quality opponents without worrying about a home-and-home. Financially, it makes some sense as well. We've debated about the JMU game before, but with increased revenue from a new Big East TV deal on the horizon, FCS and non-AQ teams demanding higher payouts for one-and-done games, and the potential to increase profit with multi-million dollar payouts for neutral site games, the importance for WVU to have a 7th home game is going by the wayside. Sure, it sucks for local businesses who reap benefits from home game crowds and for season ticket holders who may get one less game per year, but the view from here is that we're going to start seeing more games in NFL stadiums in the future (DC? Baltimore? Charlotte? NYC? Atlanta?).
3. FCS games aren't going anywhere, so get used to them.
Although Luck will certainly explore alternative ways to generate revenue and increase exposure, the best way (for the time being) to fill the schedule and make money is to schedule FCS teams for a home game. With at least 4 road games built into the Big East schedule and another road game likely scheduled against a BCS opponent, WVU will need a home game with no return date to round out the schedule. Since (inexplicably) giving ECU a home-and-home contract, WVU is saddled with return dates to Greenville until 2017, further handicapping our chances of scheduling major conference teams (who require a return game). As long as the payouts don't become cost-prohibitive, FCS teams present really the only available means of ensuring WVU has at least 6 home games every year. And honestly, since they allow the team a chance to work out the kinks early in the year and will typically (as the first game of the year in warm weather) be reasonably well-attended, I don't see a huge downside to them. So stop complaining, drink heavily before (and during!) the game, and enjoy watching Holgs run up the score on some poor FCS school.
4. We won't see as much of Marshall.
For one thing, there just isn't as much room on the schedule. Especially not if they want us to come to Huntington. With the games at NFL stadiums, FCS games (which, as Luck stated, we may be able to replace with Marshall), and the need to include marquee teams, we're simply running out of room. Especially room to go on the road to play a non-AQ team other than ECU. And while I'm sure Marshall wouldn't mind a neutral-site game at UC Field in Charleston, I just don't see that happening in our lifetime. Expect this series to relegated mercifully to an occasional special event, say every 4 or 5 years.
5. Expect the unexpected.
The name of the game right now is uncertainty. Nobody has any idea what sort of odd twists and turns conference realignment may take in the next 5 years. Will the Big East go to 10 teams (rotating between 4 and 5 home conference games)? 12 teams (creating a conference schedule of who knows who many games)? Will WVU be invited to join another conference altogether? It's impossible to predict all of this, yet somehow Luck is tasked with planning future non-conference games amid all the uncertainty. Given what we know about Luck, we can safely say he's not afraid to take risks and approach traditional problems in a less-than-traditional manner. He will do everything in his power to put WVU in the best possible position to be successful in all aspects, and it's going to be fun for us, as fans, to watch.
Those are my thoughts on future non-conference schedules. Did I miss anything? Get anything wrong? Do you see any ideas or have you heard any rumors? Let's hear it in the comments!