Big Ten's FCS ban ruffles UNI's Dannen; Barta says contract 'solid'

Chad Leistikow

CHICAGO – Jim Delany's strong statements on future Big Ten Conference scheduling left no doubt that Football Championship Series opponents are no more, starting in 2016.

The powerful league commissioner wasn't as definitive about Big Ten vs. FCS matchups that are already under contract for member schools — such as Iowa vs. North Dakota State in 2016, and Iowa vs. Northern Iowa in 2018.

"I'd imagine if someone had a contractual issue, you know, we would take a hard look at that," Delany said Friday at Big Ten Media Days at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place. "But I think that's the template that everyone thinks is best going forward."

Not everyone — not athletic directors such as Troy Dannen of UNI.

Dannen said teams in the Missouri Valley Conference (such as UNI, NDSU and Iowa's 2015 opening opponent in Illinois State) would be "disproportionally affected" because of their Midwest location. MVC teams have been a natural and competitive option for Big Ten teams.

Made aware of Delany's remarks Friday, Iowa athletic director Gary Barta told the Register "our current contracts are solid."

But, UNI in 2018 will almost certainly be the Hawkeyes' final FCS opponent. Iowa's next schedule opening comes in 2019.

Iowa will pay UNI $650,000 for that 2018 game — a large windfall for FCS teams, which have a limit of 63 scholarships (compared with 85 for Football Bowl Subdivision teams). UNI's total athletics budget is $13 million.

Delany outlined reasons for the philosophy change, which was generally agreed upon a few years ago but cemented Friday. The commissioner said doing so would improve schedule strength as the Big Ten aims to position itself have representatives in the four-team College Football Playoff, which is entering its second year. Delany tossed in that the quality of opponents used to fill out a 12-game schedule "didn't necessarily tantalize" Big Ten fans.

Big Ten athletic directors, starting in 2016, are committed to scheduling nine conference games (up from eight), at least one nonconference game against a Power Five opponent (for Iowa, that's probably Iowa State), and "no FCS" teams.

"I don't understand it," Dannen told the Register. "If you look at any strength of team ranking in the last few years, Northern Iowa and North Dakota State will rank ahead of 30 FBS schools. At least 30. So this isn't just about playing the best possible teams.

"Big Ten teams playing FCS schools didn't keep Ohio State from winning the national championship."

The market has officially changed. Outside of the Power Five schools (Delany said Notre Dame and BYU count toward that requirement), there are only five other FBS conferences with opponents to pick from: the American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt.

"If I'm a MAC AD right now, instead of $1.1 (million) to come to your place, the cost for me to come to your place is going to push $3 (million)," Dannen said. "Just because the subset of games for your nonconference, you just eliminated 126 FCS teams and you've only got about 50 nonconference (FBS teams) left."

The Big Ten is the first conference to commit to schedules without FCS opponents.

For now, teams such as UNI still have the ability to schedule opponents from other Power Five leagues. UNI has Iowa State booked on its schedule for 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2020.

"My biggest concern is not necessarily with the Big Ten," Dannen said. "My concern is if this becomes the way of the world for the other four leagues."