Prairie View recently announced a 10-game schedule of football games for 2009, despite coming off its most successful season in generations.
Texas Southern has a similar number of upcoming contests on its slate right now, too.
Then Jackson State (winners of consecutive SWAC East titles, and the league crown in 2007) announced 10, too — though athletic director Bob Braddy said the program is still trying to sign another opponent.
“We would have loved to have an 11-game schedule, it just didn’t materialize,” Braddy said in published reports this week. “It’s not ideal … It’s very difficult at this time because most schools have completed their 2009 schedule. So, it’s very unlikely.”
It’s … the most powerful indication yet that the switch from a 9- to a 7-game mandate for scheduling by the league offices has already failed. (Another might be that many programs are playing each other anyway, making for a complex equation where some contests against common SWAC opponents do not count in the standings.)
Affiliated schools were previously asked to find just three or four teams to play, since they were required to face every other conference foe. Now, the figure is four or five opponents — or it was supposed to be.
Boy, this seems like a long time ago: “The schools were saying: ‘We need a seven-game conference schedule,'” SWAC commissioner Duer Sharp told me in 2008. “In the past, there was an issue of finding those additional games. There was a need then. Now, the schools are asking for relief. More and more, non-conference programs want to play SWAC schools, and this allows them to schedule more of those type games.”
Instead, some league programs — at least, so far — are simply lining up one fewer afternoon for their fans to enjoy the game.
That’s bad business. In more ways than one:
Money, money, money: Football in the SWAC, and everywhere across the landscape of college athletics, works as the budgetary bellcow. Checks cashed in the autumn help cover the expense for non-revenue sports in the spring. It would seem that every game, quite literally, would count to the accounting department.
Competitive balance: Programs have one fewer Saturday to lose a game, or to lose a player. On the other hand, they also could lose momentum by sitting out — as some argued happened with Jackson State last season when it was forced to wait three weeks to play in the SWAC Championship Game.
The student-athletes. Remember them?: Teams that schedule one fewer game rob their players of a rare chance to measure themselves against other programs. There are only so many times these student-athletes take the field, and many never play the sport again after their eligibility is complete. Over the course of a career, they could lose four to five Saturdays, limiting their opportunity to make the most of their own college experience. Many records — Grambling fans will remember marks set by Henry Tolbert, Bruce Eugene and Clyde Edwards, over the past few years — fall in the last contest of a senior season.
Scheduling hiccups like these might have been expected when the switch was made to a 7-game mandate last year. But given another cycle to sync up, putting together 11 contests should have come easier — in particular to teams with the recent success of Jackson State and Prairie View.
PV plays every SWAC school except Jackson State, with only two other non-conference games — New Mexico State and Morehouse College. JSU is playing Mississippi State and Tennessee State to begin the season, then eight consecutive league matches with three open weeks.
Texas Southern, school officials also say, is still in negotiations for its open Oct. 3, 2009 date.
Let’s hope all of these program ADs keep working to fill out the schedule. There’s a lot at stake — for fans, for the program, for the players, for the school — when you sit home on a Saturday afternoon in the fall.