FCS Scheduling Issues, UNI’s Missing 11th Game

Hot Beef Take
There’s been some uneasy feeling in the Cedar Valley lately about Northern Iowa’s missing eleventh game and why it hasn’t been scheduled yet. If you read the Twitter feed and look at various websites, almost 90% of all FCS schools have released their 2018 schedules. There are a few that haven’t, but the games missing off their schedules are conference games that can only be filled in certain dates with those teams within their own leagues. And you know, these games will be set before anything else happens.
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So why hasn’t Northern Iowa filled this void? To answer it simply, there’s only so many options available. And the options made available just a week or two ago have closed even further with more and more teams finishing out what they’ve needed to do to get their schedules completed. One might ask, well, why was this done before UNI’s schedule? The answer to that is these other schools may have filled them months ago and just not released the information. It could also be that they were able to find suitable partners in a better geographical and talent fit than what Northern Iowa provides.
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So with all that said, who’s left? There’s a grand total of 15 schools with games left on their schedules. That’s out of 125. That paltry 12% remaining doesn’t leave a lot on the table and even less to be desired. And in actuality, one of those schools is said to be in negotiations with ESPN about a Kickoff Game to take place in Week 0. For those who don’t know or understand, Week 0 is the week that many FBS schools start their season. This is usually the last weekend in August, a week prior to when the FCS traditionally starts their season. There are a handful of FCS teams who play FBS opponents that weekend also, but these are at a much lower frequency than the first few weeks of September.
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Below, we’ll take a look at who’s left with vacancies and dates and any notes pertaining to that particular team.
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Eastern Washington(Big Sky)
  • 1 game
  • Sept 1 or Oct 20
  • Almost certainly has to be a home game as both other non-conference games are on the road
  • Rumor has it if they cannot find an FCS opponent, they will try to play Div-II Central Washington, who’s working on transitioning to FCS in the coming years
Sacramento State(Big Sky)
  • 1 game
  • Sept 1 or Sept 29
  • Almost certainly has to be a home game as both other non-conference games are on the road
  • Considered playing Eastern Washington an a non-conference game, but already has a non-conference game with Big Sky foe Northern Colorado. The Big Sky only allows one such game to be on a team’s schedule. By the same token, Eastern Washington already has one of these games also.
Presbyterian(Big South)
  • 1 game
  • Sept 1 or Sept 29
  • Would make sense to stay in the southeast if the game is on the road, as the school is transitioning to the non-scholarship Pioneer League in 2020.
  • A game with neighbor Davidson makes too much sense not to happen, on Sept 1.
Hampton(FCS Independent – Big South in 2019)
  • 6 games, although 2 have been named just not put on the calendar
  • Sept 22, Oct 6, Oct 20, Oct 27, Nov 3, Nov 10 or Nov 17
  • A lot of open dates to help those in need, but probably only those east of the Mississippi River(Hampton is in Washington, DC area). Games against Div-II Virginia Union and Virginia-Lynchburg have been announced but not scheduled.
  • After a nasty split from the MEAC, reports say they have contacted every team in their old conference for non-conference games and been denied by all ten, so don’t look for any help there.
Howard(Mid-Eastern)
  • 1 game
  • Sept 15 or Sept 29
  • Another team likely to stay in the eastern half of the country as a Washington, DC area school.
North Carolina A&T(Mid-Eastern)
  • 1 game
  • Sept 15 or Oct 20
  • This is the team in talks with ESPN. Would be a huge boost for the MEAC to get their most established team in a Kickoff Game against a high quality opponent. Jacksonville State fits that mold. Essentially, this team is probably off the market for an opponent.
Savannah State(Mid-Eastern)
  • 1 game
  • Sept 15 or Oct 20
  • Savannah State has a long history of playing anywhere against anybody, as long as they get a check. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility they show up to play anyone with a common open date.
Missouri State(Missouri Valley)
  • 1 game
  • Sept 8 or Sept 22
  • Geographically, Arkansas-Pine Bluff is right next door with a common open date. And it would be a good opponent for each. Arkansas-PineBluff wouldn’t be completely outclassed by an improving MVFC team and it’s a team that Missouri State should be able to beat. A local/regional Div-II school is not out of the question either.
Northern Iowa(Missouri Valley)
  • 1 game
  • Sept 8 or Sept 22
  • Almost certainly has to be a home game as both other non-conference games are on the road
  • Nobody stands out geographically for Northern Iowa. One of the two SWAC teams are a possibility. Hampton could be on Sept 22, if one of those dates isn’t saved for a Div-II opponent they’ve already scheduled. Would not rule out a local/regional Div-II opponent either(Upper Iowa and Northern State. There are connections between Northern Iowa and Upper Iowa, but this would probably be seen as a last resort.
Wagner(Northeast)
  • 1 game
  • Sept 1 or Oct 20
  • Almost certainly has to be a home game as all other non-conference games are on the road. This is a bigger deal for them, as they play in the seven-team Northeast Conference. A five game non-conference road slate would mean they only have three home games all season.
  • Short of luring Presbyterian or Savannah State to the Pittsburgh area(home of Wagner), this date will likely be filled with a Div-II opponent.
Jacksonville State(Ohio Valley)
  • 2 games
  • Sept 1, Sept 8 or Sept 15
  • As mentioned above, one of these games seems to be accounted for in an ESPN Kickoff game with North Carolina A&T. It would leave all their dates available for anybody else, as this is the golden goose of non-conference opponents in 2018. With a Kickoff game, the likelihood of also playing a September 1 date are diminished, though not unprecedented. Rumors are circulating that Mississippi Valley State has been tabbed for September 8.
Davidson(Pioneer)
  • 3 games
  • Sept 1, Sept 8, Sept 15 or Nov 10
  • A game at nearby Presbyterian, on Sept 1, makes too much sense not to happen. They’re not an absolute no to play in the midwest, but would probably prefer to stay in the southeast, if possible. Being in the non-scholarship Pioneer League, playing games against Div-II opponents is a commonality. They’re not in a position to get at-large playoff bids, so scheduling against teams smaller than they are not frowned upon.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff(Southwestern)
  • 2 games
  • Sept 1, Sept 8 or Oct 13
  • Being centrally located in the United State gives them a chance to travel the country like few others. They could go to a Big Sky opponent on September 1 and a MVFC opponent on September 8. Sure, both would result in losses, likely, but they would be able to fund most of their athletic budget the rest of the year, easily. They already have road games to South Dakota State and FBS Florida International scheduled. If they want a home date, they’re probably going the Div-II route.
Mississippi Valley State(Southwestern)
  • 2 games
  • Sept 8, Sept 15 or Nov 10
  • With the dates available, a road game to the MVFC seems likely, even though it’s not set in stone. The aforementioned game at Jacksonville State would provide the same monetary reward and likely loss on the field. A late season game with Hampton makes sense, as both schools are part of the HBCU(Historically Black College and Universities) club. Schools from the MEAC and SWAC have been long-time scheduling partners.
Southern(Southwestern)
  • 1 game
  • Oct 6, Nov 3 or Nov 17
  • There’s an open date for November 17, but that will almost assuredly be left open as the following week, Southern plays Grambling State in the Bayou Classic(pay attention band geeks!). Just like Mississippi Valley State, being a HBCU, there would be a chance that Southern would play against Hampton on that date. But considering they have common open dates two other spots on the calendar, a game with Hampton would likely take place earlier.
What does this all say? It says that a team like Northern Iowa is going to have a rough time filling the void. I heard from a credible source that something was to be announced in the next week or so. If you ask this write/pundit, my guess is that Northern Iowa will play Division-II Upper Iowa. As damaging as it could be to the Panthers to playoff qualifying, it’s a safe opponent and less hurtful towards the pocket book, considering the opponent would travel about an hour to play. Rick Hartzell is Upper Iowa’s athletic director. One of his former employers? Northern Iowa. Again, it makes too much sense. And Upper Iowa hasn’t released their schedule yet either.