Every few years, the college football calendar has an anomaly, an extra Saturday between Labor Day weekend (the official start of college football) and Thanksgiving weekend, when the FCS playoffs begin. When that occurs, teams in the Championship Subdivision are permitted to schedule one more game than usual, for a total of 12 games. The next two seasons will see that schedule expansion, though not all programs will add the extra game.
Villanova is likely to be one of the programs that takes an extra bye week, rather than adding a game. That move, however, could be a mistake.
William & Mary learned that lesson in 2008, when their failure to schedule an extra game likely cost them a trip to the playoffs. The Tribe, like Villanova, opted to hold steady to their traditional 11-game schedule in 2002 and 2008, when FCS schools were last permitted to play an extra game. In 2008, they finished 7-4 (5-3 in the CAA) and were left out of the postseason. Fellow CAA program, Maine, however, scheduled the 12th game and finished 8-4 with a playoff berth.
Both Maine and W&M had a 5-3 record in conference play and the Tribe had a win over 4th-ranked UNH that Maine did not, but the Black Bears boosted their postseason resume by scheduling -- and winning -- a 12th game.
"It became apparent that if you don't play 12, you're potentially impacting your possibility of making the playoffs," Tribe athletic director Terry Driscoll told the Daily Press. "By playing 12, you're giving yourself the possibility of winning one more game. Eight wins are more attractive than seven wins, so you're pretty much compelled to play 12."
In 2013, William & Mary will play a 12-game schedule for the first time since 1932 and they plan to do so again in 2014. Maine will also play 12-games.
Villanova did make the playoffs in 2008 with a 9-2 record, but what if it had been a closer call?
Andy Talley has stated that he hopes not only to return to the playoffs next season, but to challenge for a national title. The easiest road to get there (as the 'Cats learned in 2010), is to earn a seeding and to play at home through the semifinals. Would a 9-2 team be seeded over a 10-2 team by the NCAA's committee?
The reasoning for skipping the 12th game isn't clear, but there is a strong possibility that it is budgetary more than customary.
Looking to add to a playoff resume, the 'Cats aren't likely to seek out another FBS opponent for next fall. Those games are revenue-positive thanks to payouts from the home team, but they also against teams that are bigger, deeper, and sometimes faster than FCS schools -- they are a likely loss. It is a big deal to knock off a big time football opponent, but the slightly-greater risk of injuries and the low odds of winning make it a bad call for a program looking for a shot at a deep playoff run.
Villanova likely wouldn't have to buy a game to expand their schedule, however, since the next two seasons offer the opportunity to add that extra game as a home-and-home arrangement. Even without that cost, however, the school would have to play an extra home game in at least one of those seasons, and cover the cost of travel in the other.
How much would that cost? Probably more than the revenue that they would earn from the game.
Plus, with one of the selling points of season tickets being their low cost, playing more games at home creates the risk of inflating the price of a season ticket package (and maybe driving away some "value" purchasers). If they opted to hold season ticket prices lower, the sales may remain steady, but the additional game would likely lose money.
Basketball turns a profit, so spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay the UMBC's of the world to come to campus and play a game, or scheduling Boston University at the cavernous Wells Fargo Center, can be done without batting an eye. Football, however, gets second-class billing at Villanova.
The athletics department sent the football team off to Long Island to play Stony Brook in the playoffs this fall because they didn't want to submit a bid to buy a home game from the NCAA -- it was a gamble, because if they had been seeded, they would have received the home game without bidding.
Villanova wasn't seeded, and the 'Cats suffered a loss on the road.
Playing a 12th football game over the next two years isn't an unspeakable financial commitment, and it is one that should be on the table. Especially with the fickle playoff selection committee putting so much energy into scrutinizing the records of teams on the bubble.
A playoff appearance may not be a financial boon for the program, but it does help with recruiting and in some cases, it will help bring the Villanova name to parts of the country where it may otherwise be unappreciated. The 2010 playoffs were a success in that regard, bringing a tough-as-nails Villanova team to Texas, North Carolina and Washington State, where neither football nor basketball play regularly.
So, if a 12th football game is potentially the differencemaker between a playoff bid and staying home in December, is the financial cost of that game really enough to sit out?