Monday Musings: The chore of non-conference scheduling in Ames

“Why in the world would Iowa State schedule a game at Toledo in 2015?”

I get asked that question by Cyclone fans, in a borderline angry tone, what seems like all of the time.  

In the past decade or so, we have all witnessed the Cyclones take frustrating jaunts to Northern Illinois, Army, Kent State, Toledo and as recently as last year, Tulsa. In the future, Iowa State has road trips scheduled to San Jose State (2017) and Akron (2019). 

Why, oh why, would any program from the mighty Big 12 do such a thing?

This is impossible for some fans to understand and, to a point, I don’t really blame them. Of course, this all comes down to money. Recently though, the changing scope of college football has come into play as well.

These recent comments made by David Slayer, the Athletic Director at Miami (Ohio), are a perfect example.

"We go out to 2020, we’re getting $1.5 million from somebody," Sayler recently told FOX Sports. "There’s going to be growth built in each year. The numbers keep going up. As you’ve seen from the public with the revenues coming in from the Big Ten Network and all the seats those schools have, I don’€t think $1 million is a real staggering number at all when you really put it in context."

Also in the report, Slayer noted that he will not even field calls from “Big 5” (formerly BCS) schools offering to pay his program anything under $1 million per game. 

What exactly does Miami (Ohio)’s football scheduling have to do with Iowa State? Well, it is note worthy that Michigan will pay Miami (Ohio) $1.1 million this fall for a home-only game. Going forward, with most conferences electing to play nine conference games (television partners love this), scheduling a home-only game with pretty much any MAC (or Sun-Belt, etc.) type of program has turned into a bidding war.

When is the last time that Iowa State won any sort of a bidding war? 

Iowa State has the following options: Get in the game and out-bid the Michigan’s and Ohio State’s of the world. Or, do what Jamie Pollard has already done. Go home and home with programs like Toledo. When Toledo travels to Ames on Oct. 11 this year (2:30 p.m. on, it won’t cost Iowa State a dime. Under this setup, the home team keeps all revenue, like Toledo will benefit from in 2015. Iowa State will lose a home game (and gate) in 2015 but does not have to “buy a victory” in 2014.

Notably (to provide proper context to this conversation), Iowa State paid Northern Iowa $350,000 for its game in 2013.

In all fairness, this is a tricky situation for Jamie Pollard to be in. I’m pretty sure that a lot of fans out there (based off of conversations that I have with you all) would say, “Buy a win. We are fine with that.” Frankly, I kind of agree. The extra home game is not only great for fans but area businesses as well.

Let’s get to the elephant in the room, the fact that Iowa State is currently making more money off of television revenue than ever before. This is true, but Iowa State is still WAY behind most when it comes to facilities, coaching salaries and all of the jazz that makes a high-major athletic department roll.

Iowa State is making more cash, sure, but so is everybody else. Smaller schools are demanding more money than ever and because of the outrageous television contracts out there. And the big dogs are willing to pay top dollar.

The financial landscape in Ames has no doubt improved over the years, but Iowa State is still very far away from being a “big dog" in the large scheme of things. 

A solution?

I won’t sit here and act like I know every nuance that goes into college football scheduling. But I do believe that Iowa State would benefit by replacing the home and home’s with the Toledo’s of the world with other lower-tier “Big 5” schools, if possible.To me, this makes sense for all parties involved.

How about home and homes with Minnesota or Illinois? Northwestern makes sense. How about a renewed series with Colorado or Missouri? (Nebraska would never agree to come to Ames.) Wake Forest and Vanderbilt are similar programs to Iowa State. Louisville would be fun.

Granted, it isn’t exactly fair for me to mention those programs out of nowhere. I have no clue if they would ever want to play Iowa State. In my mind, home and homes with that type of school would be mutually beneficial. On both sides (in both years), those are winnable football games. Plus, you don’t have to hear the “you just lost to Akron” talk should you let one slip away. From that standpoint, this is better for the coaches too. If Paul Rhoads drops a game to Toledo, he will receive significantly more heat than losing a game to Purdue, even if Toledo is technically better than Purdue (which they are). It is all about perception. 

These games would be more interesting games for television networks. They are more interesting for fans. It seems like a win-win for everybody involved.

However in modern day college football, it takes two to tango and because of that, Iowa State can only do so much.