Finding a strategy for success in college football begins long before the opening kickoff, two-a-days and even recruitment. It begins when scheduling non-conference opponents.
Most Football Bowl Subdivision teams know who will be on their schedules years before the first tickets are sold. In March 2009, Ohio announced its non-conference opponents through the 2015 season. Some smaller programs book dates with big-name teams as much as a decade in advance.
But not all planning results in blockbuster matchups. The Bobcats must make arrangements for four non-conference games each year, and through 2015, only one matchup each season pits Ohio against a member of a Bowl Championship Series automatic qualifying conference. Also on the schedule each year is a game against a Football Championship Subdivision team, as well as two matches against non-BCS conference teams.
Athletic Director Jim Schaus said there is more to scheduling than merely securing games against national powerhouses.
“I think the process of scheduling is strategic,” he said. “It depends on the situation that you’re in and what you’re trying to accomplish.”
What’s on Ohio’s agenda, Schaus said, is putting more emphasis on results. In 2009 and 2010, the team won a combined 17 games, the highest two-season total since 1959-60. Before 2006, the last nine-win season came in 1968. During that 38-year stretch, the Bobcats struggled through seven 10-loss seasons.
“We’ve made some adjustments in the last several years,” Schaus said. “We had not finished successfully on the field. Certainly one thing that you want to do is have a schedule that meets your needs.”
Those needs also include national recognition and revenue, Schaus said, stressing a balance of the two. The program gets paid to play non-conference road games against hefty opponents, but as was the case against Ohio State last fall, such contests often turn out to be no contest at all. The Bobcats gained $850,000 but lost the game, 43-7.
“You don’t want to do too many of those things because it will affect your schedule and ability to win,” Schaus said. “We have to give ourselves a chance to win.”
One way of making a schedule more winnable without sacrificing revenue is to play more home games. Hosting FCS teams or arranging home-and-home series with FBS members results in a chance to increase earnings via ticket revenue, food and souvenirs.
Schaus said season ticket revenue drops when Ohio plays only five home games in a season. Last year, the Bobcats played six games at Peden Stadium and won five. Two of those victories came against FCS member Wofford and a struggling Sun Belt squad in Louisiana-Lafayette.
“If we can get a football program to win consistently, that’s great for the university,” Schaus said. “Our season ticket sales last year were fantastic. You can’t just look at one game and say, ‘Why did you schedule this game?’”
But the home team in a non-conference game provides a travel guarantee for the visiting squad. Big-name programs typically pay the most for teams to visit. Playing more road games can lead to more guarantees for the athletic department. Ohio will receive about $100,000 to visit New Mexico State Sept. 3 but essentially will repay the Aggies when they visit Athens in 2012.
“You have to take a look at the big picture about what your program needs to accomplish,” Schaus said. “It’s not a cookie-cutter decision.”