Thursday, May 29, 2014

Solving the Non-D1 Problem

For Wofford, playing lower-division opponents (North Greenville and Virginia-Wise) this year is no fun.

No fun for the smaller team, as they likely have to trek a good distance to get walloped on the gridiron.

No fun for the fans, as the excitement of the usual home schedule eludes them this season.

Most importantly, however, it is no fun for the Terriers, because filling up open spots on the schedule with lower-division schools, as opposed to Division I schools, makes it harder for them to make the playoffs.

There, I said it.

The Terriers play nine Division I contests this season, and with one of those being against FCS Georgia Tech, that essentially leaves Gardner-Webb and the entire SoCon schedule. When the playoff committee reviews resumes, seven Division I wins is a must-have for any team on the cusp of a postseason bid.

We would have had an extra Division I opponent, Jacksonville, but they dropped us from the schedule a few weeks ago. Who do we replace them with? Why, none other than NAIA Virginia-Wise.

Yes, I believe that we can reach seven D1 wins, mainly aided by the newcomers and the already-struggling foes, but a little extra security is never harmful.

Where would we get that security? I’m glad you asked.

Banking on the Big South

There is a prime opportunity that lies in scheduling more opponents from the Big South Conference.

The relative locations of the Big South schools
(minus Liberty) to Wofford.
Courtesy Google Earth
Yes, we do have one on the schedule (Gardner-Webb), and yes, they beat us last year, but that matchup was played in a rainstorm and generally could have gone either way (Gardner-Webb won 3-0, with a late field goal).

In my opinion, we could get some extra wins (hopefully) by scheduling the likes of Presbyterian and Charleston Southern.

They may be improving, but that’s the beauty of it: instead of a monotonous beating of an NAIA or Division II or III foe, we could have a brisker, more physical match with a Big South school.

These schools (minus Liberty, which is still a reasonable distance away) are not far from Wofford, which would aid not only in travel expenses, but also in a possible deal in which we could alternate home and away games (it seems that we are already doing that Gardner-Webb).

As the crow flies, Gardner-Webb (24 miles) and Presbyterian (41 miles) are closest to Spartanburg, but Charleston Southern (179 miles) is practically a Citadel trip.

Coastal Carolina (located in Conway, SC) is around the same distance.

In fact, the longest trip (Liberty, at 223 miles) is still less than the longest SoCon trip (Samford), which is approximately 300 miles from Spartanburg.

Since 2007, the Terriers have posted an 9-1 record against Big South opponents, with the lone defeat coming in last year’s disappointing 3-0 rain-soaked loss to Gardner-Webb.

As you can tell from the data, it can be deduced that opponents from the Big South have been increasingly tougher to beat in recent years, finally materializing in the loss to GWU.

Yes, teams like GWU and Charleston Southern have had recent triumphs over other SoCon teams, but that’s all right.

We’re a tough squad, and we’re getting better.  We should be able to hold our own against any of these teams.

Now, you may have noticed that I specifically mentioned Presbyterian and Charleston Southern as extra opponents. 

This does not rule out Coastal Carolina, though. They may seem to be a tougher team than the rest of the conference, but scheduling them could spark a healthy cross-state rivalry, one that the Terriers could easily contend in.

Liberty, perhaps, could be a good “every now and then” opponent for the Terriers.

Lastly, scheduling Big South opponents would be a boon for Terrier ticket sales.
More fans would show up when they know that Wofford is playing a tougher local opponent.

Adding a few Big South games at Gibbs Stadium could also boost season ticket sales, as they make for a more exciting home slate. 

Now, I know what you’re thinking.

It’s not easy to schedule opponents, and Wofford has even had some trouble finding home games in the past, but if we can somehow ink a deal for the distant future, if not for its near counterpart, and sell a possibility of a yearly game, which alternates home and away, on the rise of ticket sales, and the playing of a stronger local team.

You know, keep the money close to home. Future deals may just be our saving grace.

This is where an information gap comes into place, as it can be so easy to find future scheduling information (sometimes years in advance) for major teams, but for smaller schools like Wofford, that information is practically nonexistent. 

These kinds of deals may be going on right now, for all that I know. I’m just here to indicate some opportunities.

Scheduling these teams annually can help cement rivalries that keep the fans entertained, and keep the teams on their “A-game”. 

We used to have a huge rivalry with Presbyterian, until it finally dwindled to a non-heralded matchup every few seasons. If we can restart this rivalry, and ease into some new ones, it can provide some great incentives for the program.

Wofford football was largely localized until some of our recent success has caused us to, perhaps, spread out more. Restructuring our local priorities, and restoring them to their former glory, will do nothing but strengthen the local football scene.

I mean, have we gotten too good to play these teams? Has being a top-25 FCS program nulled our once-rich rivalries?

Will we continue to schedule the lower-division teams, because that makes us feel like a giant (or an FBS program), paying a smaller school to come get thumped?

No; that’s not it. We’re a small school ourselves. Make that one of Division I’s smallest.

But we have some big opportunities waiting just outside the door. 

When we build up our SoCon success, we can further cement our place in the area by becoming somewhat of a regional power.

How would we do that?

Scheduling and building up strong rivalries with local non-conference (but still Division I) schools. They don’t have to be from the Big South, which is just a prime example of the many opportunities “in our backyard”.

We have some great potential; if we’re going to Conquer and Prevail for years to come, this is a great place to start.

As a matter of fact, it’s the absolute best place to start, because we all know that there’s no place like home.

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