By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
Mark Stoops said a lot of interesting things after Kentucky’s 38-24 win Saturday over a talented and competitive Toledo Rockets. He talked about guys seeing their first game action as a starter and how important experience is. He also talked about using that first game to correct mistakes going forward which, according his words, seemed almost inevitable.
But one thing he said really caught my attention. It caught my attention because it didn’t really make any sense.
Here’s what he said. “We don’t get any exhibition games or anything. I mean, we just practice against ourselves. And so early on it’s very difficult because if you have some inexperienced players, they’re just so used to playing your team and then you go play somebody else, they dress things up differently, maybe same plays, things just look different and it’s just different,” Stoops said. “So we don’t get the opportunity to have scrimmage games against other opponents and/or exhibition games or pre-season games, so it’s tough.”
Now, I agree with what he said. In watching games across the country on Saturday you could see it in almost every game. Teams that you would expect to dominate lesser opponents did not. In some cases they didn’t even win. Tennessee, South Carolina and Missouri all found out that playing against a veteran, well-coached opponent is very difficult while also trying to break new players into the starting lineup.
So here’s the part that didn’t make sense. Why don’t college football teams play exhibition games? College basketball teams do and with college basketball playing a 34-game regular season each game is not as meaningful as they are in a 12-game football season. In basketball, teams can work out the kinks over the first couple of exhibition games before the real season starts.
In football it’s more like the beginning of a horse race. Open the starting gate and hit the track running. That can be very difficult to do for a player that has had no experience in a college game. As most of us know that have done anything new at a higher level, a person can train forever but it takes actual experience to adjust to the new activity, whatever it might be.
So back to the original question. Why don’t college football teams play exhibition games?
Think of it this way. Most teams play one FCS opponent or a very weak FBS opponent each season. Most fans and college football analysts complain about the weak schedules that teams in Power Five conferences play nowadays. It seems to make sense that the first game of the season — whether a game is added to the schedule to make 13 or taken away to make 11 — should be designated as an exhibition game.
It would allow FBS coaches an opportunity to see first-hand, in game action, what their weaknesses are and give them an additional week to make the necessary adjustments before the actual season starts. It would allow FCS teams an opportunity to play against an FBS opponent in a big-time college atmosphere – something those FCS players might never get an opportunity to do – and it would allow the FCS programs to make some extra money.
It seems that Tennessee paid Georgia State, an FBS Sunbelt team, $950,000 to play the Volunteers in this year’s season opener. If Tennessee can do that, then most other schools should be able to put together a very inviting financial incentive for an FCS team to play an exhibition.
It seems that something like that would benefit the FBS schools through game experience in an exhibition and FCS schools would get the opportunity to play at places like Death Valley or Bryant-Denny Stadium and receive significant final compensation to do it.
If an exhibition game was added to the schedule college football fans — in person and via TV outlets like ESPN — would be able to watch their favorite team play one week earlier which would seem like a blessing after waiting all summer for college football to start.
The only negative I can see might be for the FCS teams. They play a 24-team tournament at the end of the season and adding one more game to the playoff team’s schedule could create a physical hardship for teams that make a deep run into the FCS playoffs.
But even with that it seems that FCS teams could choose to play or not play an exhibition game as they see fit — there are 130 teams that play in the FBS Division and 126 that play in the FCS Division. There are also 168 Division II teams that play college football. That could potentially be 294 teams between FCS and Division II that might be willing to play an exhibition game against an FBS team.
I know this topic has been brought up before in the past but it seems like with college football parity at an all-time high and most college athletic directors looking for a way to generate more revenue for their programs it should be a “no-brainer” for the NCAA powers-that-be to make it happen.
Since having college football exhibition games seems to be a very logical step to help all NCAA programs move forward I can’t imagine what the objections might be. But then again, in seeing some of the decisions handed down in the past by the NCAA, I realize that it may not happen.
In fact, we would probably find out that the dictionary the NCAA uses has the page with the word “logical” torn out of it.