After Wisconsin finished up its blowout of Wofford, head coach Bret Bielema faced a difficult question about his schedule. Was the first non-sellout in 41 games a referendum on the opponent?
Bielema did his best to answer, pointing to challenges in getting schedules to line up and claiming the goal was to build as strong a schedule as possible.
The problem is that getting mad about playing FCS teams is that two big myths exist about scheduling FCS opponents.
Myth 1: FCS opponents drag down a strong schedule.
Sadly, fans are looking at the scheduling issue completely backwards. Good schedules are defined by the best opponents a team plays, not the worst, and fans need to look at that when venting scheduling rage.
No one cares that Florida plays an FCS and a Sun Belt team since the play Florida State. Eight of the top nine teams in the coaches poll play FCS opponents this year including everyone in the top six (it's a joke that Penn State and Ole Miss are in the top six at all with the teams they've faced, but that's another story). Hell, some of the schedules ESPN rated as its 10 hardest before the season feature the likes of UC-Davis, Tennessee Tech and Jacksonville State.
What many of those teams do have is at least one non-conference opponent that is considered pretty good, usually a BCS team. And that's what the Badgers need.
They need a team like the West Virginia and Oregon squads they played in the early 2000s. In the six seasons since Wisconsin faced West Virginia, its BCS non-conference foes have all rated somewhere between lacking and mediocre (2004 Arizona, 2005 North Carolina, 2007 Washington State).
Now the Cougars may have been good when they were scheduled, as they were strong enough to get to the Rose Bowl in 2002, but the goal must be to get a decent caliber of BCS conference opponent.
If the Badgers face a slate including one team at that good BCS level, a decent mid-major (Fresno State or UNLV), an average MAC or Mountain West team and someone from the FCS, that sounds like a perfectly fine schedule.
Myth 2: Wisconsin pays FCS opponents to come to Madison and pad its record
Yes it's true, the Badgers pay opponents such as Wofford and Cal Poly $500,000 to play in Camp Randall, and everyone gets steamed over it. But ask yourself, why should they come here if they don't get any money out of it?
It's expensive to fly over 100 people at least 1,000 miles. Someone has to pay to house and feed the players, coaches and staff on the trip. Does anyone think they just come jaunting over to Madison and spend that money because they just love playing football so much?
It's highly doubtful that the teams split gate receipts in any way, so if even 60,000 regular fans and every student pays for a ticket at face value (73,500 total fans), the university stands to pull in over $2.5 million dollars. And that does not include parking fees, mandatory seat donations or luxury suits.
The $500,000 is not just a big deal. It sounds like a lot of money, but the extra home game more than makes up for it. All the hyperbole over it is just ridiculous.
The Future: Why it could get better
Wisconsin's schedules in the next few years should include Arizona State, which shared a Pac 10 title two years ago, Oregon State, which won nine or more games for the last three seasons, and Virginia Tech, which has won two straight ACC titles.
Assuming each of these teams is still around those levels when they face Wisconsin in coming years (and that's a big assumption), the schedules will look fine. With one or two strong teams on the schedule, all the outrage over FCS opponents will probably just disappear.
Think Wisconsin should still cut the FCS foes? Tell Ben all about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.