The first Saturday in December, otherwise known as Championship Saturday, has typically been a pretty sacred day in college football. Your team used to only play on that day if it was in a conference title game, but things have changed in recent years. Now, there are more non-title games getting moved to the first weekend of December, too.
Weather’s recent impact on a lot of games has pushed teams to go this route, rescheduling early-season meetings for later.
Since 2015, we’ve seen hurricanes like Harvey, Irma, and most recently, Florence, affect numerous games across the country. Some are canceled and not rescheduled. Others are rescheduled when both teams have a bye week, or made up another year.
When the 2016 Florida-LSU game was put off, the two schools just bought out later non-conference games and played each other. Their previously scheduled opponents, South Alabama and Presbyterian, just played each other in mid-November.
One of first schools to reschedule for Championship Saturday was Florida State, during its abysmal 2017 season.
The Noles were scheduled to play UL Monroe on Sept. 9, but it was moved to Dec. 2. At the time, the Noles were on the brink of losing their 35-year bowl streak. FSU wanted to preserve that and also keep up its deal with ULM.
Former Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson gave some insight as to how the contract negotiations went down:
“Florida State was very committed to not just leaving ULM hanging out there due to the cancellation,” Benson said in a phone interview with SB Nation. “So there’s always been a willingness by both parties to get the game played, so that ULM could benefit from the financial part of the game.”
Per FSU, there was no new contract drawn up. Instead, both parties are operating under the agreement signed in 2015. The agreement, obtained by SB Nation, has a clause in which each party was relieved from “any and all” obligations if playing the game became impractical due to, among other things, a hurricane.
“Had they been [Sun Belt] conference games, then we would have been involved heavily,” Benson said. “But these are contracts that are outside the jurisdiction of the Sun Belt and whatever we can do to help and assist, we’re there. But it’s primarily the two universities working out a deal.”
As for the game itself, the Noles were without longtime head coach Jimbo Fisher, who left the day before to accept the Texas AM job. (By far the weirdest part about this is the ESPN commercial that successfully predicted Fisher would be gone by the ULM game). As you can imagine, the attendance at Doak Campbell wasn’t great:
The attendance was announced as 58,780, but you be the judge.
The Noles won 42-10 and accepted a bowl bid to the Independence Bowl a day later. The biggest FSU purpose of playing this game was thus achieved, but folks were still a bit confused as to why FSU was playing at all:
Why in the hell is Florida state playing UL Monroe today?!?
— NV (@nivo3) December 2, 2017
My brother just texted that FSU beat ULM 40-10, and it seems weird that Florida State is playing a football game today.
— John Covil (@ncsupimaster) December 3, 2017
Why is Florida State even playing tomorrow? I thought it was championship Saturday?
— Ethan Vick (@sicvick16) December 1, 2017
FSU’s bowl streak survived, though it’s since ended.
In 2018, there will be a lot more folks confused, as we have six newly scheduled games with FBS teams on Championship Saturday, Dec. 1.
- ECU at NC State
- Marshall at Virginia Tech
- Akron at South Carolina
- Stanford at Cal
- Drake at Iowa State
- Norfolk State at Liberty
In November, Virginia Tech announced that it would be playing Marshall as long as it needed the game for bowl eligibility, which it does after beating UVA to get to 5-6. The Hokies are making up for a hurricane cancelation with ECU in September. ECU’s playing NC State, which had a game with West Virginia called.
South Carolina and Marshall had their own cancelation, which is how the Herd got free to play the Hokies and the Gamecocks got free to play Akron. The Zips, for their part, had their Week 1 game at Nebraska canceled after one kickoff and one long delay. Iowa State scheduled up Drake after the Cyclones had a Week 1 South Dakota State game called off.
Two of them are straight reschedules: Stanford-Cal due to wildfire in California, Norfolk State-Liberty due to Hurricane Florence.
Standard practice in scheduling these games was that if the teams wound up in conference title games or FCS playoff games, they wouldn’t happen. But here they all are.
So now, just more than half the FBS games this weekend are conference title games. It’s part weird games, part title games.
The Big 12 and Sun Belt recently adding championship games only makes all the non-championship games look like odder parts of the list.
It looks pretty funny, though the reasons for the rescheduled games aren’t.
At the end of the day, this is about getting the absolute most wins possible for FBS teams, and for some, it’s about getting checks.
For the big schools, they need six wins to go to bowl games, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to get extra practice time, national exposure, and recruiting opportunities in doing so. For the smaller schools, they also wanna suit up and play, and this exposure helps them, too. So do guarantee checks for playing on the road.
Sure, you won’t usually hear schools come out and say bowl eligibility is the reason they want to play, but that’s a big part. Nothing wrong with wanting a W.
And while these look out of place, they’re also more football. That’s a good thing, even on a Championship Saturday that has a bunch of lower-level playoff games, too.