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It Only Hurts For A Little While
Rick Reilly
November 24, 1986
Just ask Cincinnati or any number of other college football have-nots who, week after week, are willing to serve as fodder for powerhouses like Miami and Penn State, most of whom have discovered that a prerequisite for a trip to the top of the polls—and into a major bowl game—is a cream-puff schedule
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November 24, 1986

It Only Hurts For A Little While

Just ask Cincinnati or any number of other college football have-nots who, week after week, are willing to serve as fodder for powerhouses like Miami and Penn State, most of whom have discovered that a prerequisite for a trip to the top of the polls—and into a major bowl game—is a cream-puff schedule

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Indeed, Penn State and Miami are Exhibits 1 and 1-A of street-smart scheduling. They've played just enough good teams to get a few TV games and catch the voter's eye. Yet they've played enough crummy teams to stay healthy, wealthy and undefeated. When Miami traveled to Cincinnati, for instance, it left behind eight injured starters and still won 45-13. Just a light workout; no pads. And about the time you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, Miami will be kicking off against East Carolina. You like them baked, stuffed or mashed?

Maybe—probably—Miami and Penn State are the two best teams in the country. But the point is, the people in charge greased the skids for those two teams. "One of the big problems with Miami in the past is they haven't given their people a chance to win," says Hurricane athletic director Sam Jankovich. "They played too many tough opponents back to back." Jankovich cites Notre Dame as a "talented team that's played too tough a schedule. You can't play a schedule like that and win a lot of games. It takes it out of you physically, spiritually, emotionally and everything else." So, without a national-championship playoff or voters who pay attention to schedules, there's no incentive to play anybody.

Take Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer, who now has control of scheduling for the Sooners. He has said he'll never play Miami again. Switzer knows what the fans want—national championships—and he wants to be sniffing one every year. Why take risks? "Texas will be back, and Texas is enough for me to contend with," says Switzer. "I don't need to take another nonconference national power and stick it in there.

"Look at Nebraska's future schedule." continues Switzer. "They've got series with Wyoming and Utah State. Hey, there's nothing wrong with that. You make about 80-20 money [in the gate split]. You give those people $200,000 and expenses, and you keep $800,000 or $900,000. Tell you what, scheduling has a lot to do with how you win national championships." Tell you what, instead of Miami next year, Oklahoma will play North Texas State.

North Texas State's phone will ring a lot this off-season. One call may well come from Iowa coach Hayden Fry, who is corn-feeding his teams nonconference games that go down easy. The Hawkeyes started 3-0 this season, making an immediate splash in the polls with routs of Iowa State, Northern Illinois and UTEP. Meanwhile, Fry has postponed the start of a series with Miami from 1985 to '90. "We're not going to be as beaten up as we were with the teams we used to play," says Fry. "You can look at it two ways, and one of them isn't very smart. It's an injustice to cripple your cotton-pickin' team in nonconference games. The Big Ten is tough enough."

At Michigan, coach Bo Schembechler, last of the dinosaurs, says he would like to schedule the Northern Illinoises of the world, "but Hayden's got all those teams tied up." Bo can poke fun, but all Fry has to do is point across the prairie to Illinois to show what macho scheduling can do to a team. A year ago, the Illini, ranked No. 1 in the preseason by TV Guide, practically had their show canceled by an opening loss to USC. Two weeks later Illinois was blown out by Nebraska and never recovered. This fall the Illini were routed by USC and Nebraska on consecutive weeks and went on to lose four of their next five games.

Who needs the aggravation? Besides, if you're a "have" in college football, like Iowa or Arkansas, bake sales usually don't cost a cent. Fry will sell out every home game whether he plays Texas or Texas Bible College. So why mess with Texas? As Baylor coach Grant Teaff says, "If the money is the same, why not get a victory at the same time?"

Holtz, for one, can tell you which is a happier climate for rebuilding. "Not even close," he says. "When you win more, the morale is good, practice improves more, everybody's happy, everybody comes along just fine. Fans don't mind if you play Little Sisters of the Poor as long as you have a good won-loss record. We may have a pretty good team, but nobody knows it."

Notre Dame, which is 4-5 after losing 24-19 to Penn State on Saturday, is through playing the martyr. "Nobody plays schedules like that anymore," said athletic director Gene Corrigan last week, whereupon he announced that in the 1990s Notre Dame would play Miami of Ohio, Northwestern, Indiana, Duke and Virginia. If you can't beat 'em....

"If I had my way, I'd schedule nothing but teams I thought I could beat," says Washington State coach Jim Walden. If you're rebuilding, the idea is to bring in crumb cakes and stomp them. If you beat four crumb cakes and win three out of seven conference games, you've got seven victories.

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