Scheduling Conundrum Part II: Solutions
Option 1: Socialism
The NCAA can do this -- they enforce letters of intent, game limits, sanction bowls, etc. They have the power to make teams honor the contracts they sign and even restrict the number of home games a team plays. Options:
- Restrict teams to two or (preferably) one guarantee games per year.
- Create a "letter of scheduling intent" that's binding. Teams can move games around, but they have to play 'em at some point, say five years after the game was originally scheduled.
- Put a hard limit on the number of home games... six or seven, likely seven.
Draconian measures all, but the NCAA has the power to make players sit out when they transfer and enforce binding letters of intent.
The inception of the LOI is a good model for what we're talking about here. Before the LOI, teams could poach players up until they showed up on campus. When a few teams started doing so, more teams followed in order to keep their programs on a level playing field, a situation directly analagous to some teams' attempts to schedule their way to fun and profit by lining up patsies. Once a few major contenders smoothed the path to the national championship game, everyone followed because it was in their interest. The NCAA finds themselves in a situation where each team's desire for individual profit hurts the overall product. The argument for scheduling restrictions is similar to that which compels professional leagues to implement salary caps: the main product of sports association is competition; maximizing that competition benefits everyone.
Note that any of these draconian measures will probably hurt a large number of low-level D-I football teams and possibly send a dozen or more down to I-AA, and we should be fine with that. There are no inalienable rights to D-I football. The Sun Belt should know better.
Option 2: Restructuring
Outside of a fairly unlikely NCAA smackdown the best chance for meaningful nonconference games is to make them... er... less meaningful. As of now any non-conference loss is almost a deathblow to one's national championship chances; at the very least it leaves no room for error. Short of making national championships unimportant, the only way to fix this is to expand the playoff system to more than two teams. Yes, "playoff." We've already established what the BCS is. Now we're just arguing quantity.
An eight team playoff -- one of the much-discussed topics of last offseason -- would hurt the unique tension of the regular season somewhat but would reduce the pressure to schedule nonconference games that appear to be easy wins, as there's always the conference championship escape hatch. That combined with increased demand for televisable games going forward could shift the nonconference equation enough to make competitive games the preferred option for power schools. As discussed before, the playoff should be structured to preserve the tension of the regular season as much as possible, which means major advantages bestowed upon the top teams: home games in the first and second round.
Pointless, all of this, but it's a long way to September.