The Big Ten has not officially taken a stand against scheduling FCS opponents, but schools likely will cut back, or eliminate, those games with the expansion of the conference schedule.
Late last month, the league announced the reorganization into East and West divisions as well as plans to move to a nine-game conference schedule in 2016. The realignment will take place in 2014, coinciding with the arrival of Maryland and Rutgers -- as well as the first year of the College Football Playoff.
These changes have jeopardized the chances of FCS schools getting future games against Big Ten opponents. Iowa, scheduled to play Northern Iowa in 2014 and 2018, Illinois State in 2015 and North Dakota State in 2016, will be forced to make some decisions regarding those games.
"With the addition of Maryland and Rutgers, the changing of Big Ten Conference divisions, and the college football playoff format, Big Ten institutions have been involved in discussions involving the strength of schedules among member schools," Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said in an email to KCRG's Marc Morehouse. "Commissioner [Jim Delany] announced yesterday we will move to nine conference games in 2016, and, beginning that same year, will also focus on playing more ‘comparable' opponents and BCS level teams.
"The 5-4 home/away Big Ten schedule rotation allows for us to continue our series with Iowa State uninterrupted. Currently, we are scheduled to play Northern Iowa in 2014 and 2018. The new parameters would not allow us to play additional games in the future, but we'll work with the conference to see about keeping the two games already scheduled."
The North Dakota State game in 2016 causes the most logistical issues for the Hawkeyes. Iowa would need to make the case to its Big Ten peers that NDSU, as the current two-time defending FCS champions, is a "comparable" opponent. The issue also hits home for Barta, considering he was a quarterback for NDSU teams that won Division II NCAA titles in 1983, 1985 and 1986.
According to Morehouse, a North Dakota athletics official confirmed that no final decision has been made. For Iowa, a buyout from the NDSU contract will cost $250,000.
It is possible the Big Ten could allow the Hawkeyes to keep the Northern Iowa game in 2018 on the schedule in the name of in-state rivalry. But with the College Football Playoff placing a heavy emphasis on strength of schedule, it benefits conferences to eliminate FCS games from the future schedule.
If every team in a league has an impressive strength of schedule ranking, then the league champion will have a better chance of being selected for one of the national semifinals. The power five conferences -- Big Ten, SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, ACC -- have separated themselves from the rest of the group thanks to tie-ins with the premiere bowl games, but there is still a numbers game at hand for the playoff. Five conferences are competing to get representatives in four slots. At least one league will be shut out every year.
That's why we are seeing the expansion of conference schedules and the elimination of FCS opponents. If league's create an impressive challenge for their teams to overcome, then the selection committee will reward them with a spot in college football's newest showcase event.