ESPN, a bigger and bigger player and broker in sports, started with dominoes and prompted the University of Central Arkansas into a chess match with its 2011 football scheduling.
It’s interesting that the clout ESPN offers teams with television exposure filters down to UCA’s level.
When ESPN knocks on the door, college officials knock it down and give the network the key.
The chess-like maneuvers are a little complicated.
What started with ESPN asking North Carolina and Louisville to play on Sept. 10 started the chain of events that shook up the UCA schedule — but for the good in the long run.
Louisville moving the North Carolina game to Sept. 10 forced Murray State to move its Sept. 10 game with Louisville to Sept. 3.
However, Murray State was supposed to open the season Thursday, Sept. 1, with a home game against UCA as part of a home-and-home contract that began last year.
UCA cancelled that part of the contract and looked for a home game that Thursday night. Henderson State, which is in the midst of rescheduling for the new Great American Conference, was available to play on that date. Exit Murray State on the road. Enter Henderson State at home.
On Sept. 10, UCA had Arkansas-Monticello, another NCAA Division II team entering the Great American Conference, scheduled at home. However, UCA wanted to avoid scheduling two Division II opponents in a season because it could hurt its postseason chances. To gain an at-large berth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, a team has to have seven Division I victories. That’s the tightrope an FCS team has to walk in scheduling an extra Division I opponent or one too many from Division II.
UCA discovered that Louisiana Tech had been dropped by Brigham Young for a Sept. 10 game and worked out the arrangements to play the Bulldogs in Ruston and drop Arkansas-Monticello.
Exit UAM at home, and enter Louisiana Tech on the road.
So, here’s how things look for what will be an interesting September for UCA football, which will enter its second full season of eligibility for the NCAA Division I FCS playoffs:
The Bears open at home on a Thursday night, something that students like and the teams have had success under Clint Conque.
They have road games at Football Bowl Subdivision schools Louisiana Tech (Sept. 10) and Arkansas State (Sept. 24) that sandwich the Southland Conference opener on the road at Sam Houston State (Sept. 17). However, the two FBS road games shape up initially as those that the Bears can be highly competitive and offer short and very doable road trips for their fans. The Arkansas State game will add a touch of excitement to football in the state — other than the Razorback level — not experienced in awhile.
Actually, UCA will play two and a half FBS teams next season. The season finale is against Texas State, a Southland member headed for the Western Athletic Conference. Texas State, one foot in and one foot out, will play an SLC schedule next season but its games won’t count in the conference standings.
And the bottom line:
The Bears are getting a $270,000 guarantee to play at Louisiana Tech. Combined with the $150,000 guarantee to play ASU, that’s $420.000 in revenue for the athletic budget. That’s less $75,000 UCA will have to play Murray State as a fee for cancellation of the home-and-home contract. That’s still $345,000 to the good.
ESPN, since it started the dominoes that forced changing that Sept. 10 game, will pay UAM the penalty fee for UCA having to break that contract.
Essentially, UAM will receive ESPN television money without appearing on ESPN.
So, a little fish in a big pond gets fed by a giant broker.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)