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KORCEK’S CORNER: Football scheduling needs a facelift

After hearing the rumor, three good sources confirmed it. Then, it’s no longer a rumor.

So maybe, you too, have heard the exciting news.

Hear me out. It hurts just to type this. But something needs to be said.

Under-scheduled? Over-scheduled? Who’s minding the Northern Illinois football scheduling, recent past or present?

Here's one of the Huskies' 2014 non-conference opponents.

Envelope, please (hold the applause): Presbyterian College.

I kid you not. Holy non-opposition, Batman.

No offense intended to the NCAA FCS-level, Big South Conference Blue Hose (2-9 record in 2012, by way), but you think TicketMaster or the NIU ticket office can handle the demand for Presbyterian from the general public? Coupled with the unimpressive, five-game Huskie Stadium 2013 schedule, this is more sad news for a program coming off an unprecedented 12-2 Orange Bowl campaign, second straight Mid-American Conference championship, Top 25, etc.

What’s the saying, perception is reality? Wait until ESPN, Sports Illustrated, USA Today all see Presbyterian on the NIU schedule.

For the next few paragraphs, hold onto your rotten tomatoes.

In hindsight, this might have been what our favorite ESPN talking head Kirk Herbstreit meant, but never articulated on the “Bowl Selection Show” in December. To him and his snob buddies, Northern Illinois was “a joke.” Forget that the Huskies accomplished everything the BCS oversight system required. Unprofessional and unprepared, Herbstreit offered no facts to substantiate his position. Not paying attention in high school speech class again, ah, Kirk?

A quick call to ESPN colleague and NFL draft expert Mel Kiper that afternoon prior to the show might have pointed to one disparity – pro prospect talent (Florida State led the nation with 11 NFL draft picks this April and had three NFL free agent signees while Northern Illinois had six NFL free agents this spring).

Then comes the obvious, in the last two “Phil Steele’s College Football Preview” magazines, the Huskies’ 2012 and 2013 schedules were ranked No. 122 and No. 124, respectively, in the FBS ranks. Not good. And Steele is one of the most accurate grid prognosticators in the business. He does his research and then some.

When you read about senior Heisman Trophy candidate Jordan Lynch, what's the fly-in-the-ointment comment in most of the preseason stories? His prolific total offense statistics and the fact that eight of his games come against the MAC. What "legitimized" Garrett Wolfe in 2005-06? Many things, but his productive games at Michigan and Ohio State didn't hurt.

One can only hope that upgrading NIU’s football schedule – especially at home – is a priority for our next AD and his staff.

Yes, we have the Soldier Field marquee games, too. Give the Huskies credit, they are one of a handful of MAC institutions that can swing such a date in an NFL venue and net a seven-figure profit – a financial windfall for a mid-major that could not happen in six or seven games in DeKalb. Still, the Soldier Field tickets are overpriced for many and where are all our 225,000 Northern Illinois alums?

If I were athletics director – and as crazy as that sounds – I would’ve called Purdue the day after the Orange Bowl and offered the Boilermakers $400,000 to change the site of the 2013 football game from West Lafayette to DeKalb for a sixth home date. Reward the program, the community, the businesses, the student-athletes, the students (can you say activity fees?), the fans, the alums. Bring a Big Ten Conference program into Huskie Stadium for the first time. Hasn’t Northern Illinois been a Division I grid program for 44 years? Considering some of the NIU athletics administrative salaries I read, could “we” be more entrepreneurial?

It seems every time I look, a Big Ten or BCS team is playing at another MAC stadium (Michigan State at Western Michigan in 2015 and MSU at Eastern Michigan in 2018 or 2020, Missouri at Toledo in 2014, Miami (Fla.) and Iowa State at Toledo in 2015). The last five years in DeKalb, it’s been an uninspiring vanilla diet of Indiana State (2008), North Dakota (2010), Cal Poly (2012), Tennessee-Martin (2012) and our Mid-Am foes. Those opponents will really help market Northern Illinois season tickets, gain more media coverage and attract four-star recruits.

Wise guy? No, I’m only an NIU grad with a little Cardinal and Black pride who wants to witness his alma mater ascend to that next level.

How can any long-suffering fan forget the Maryland-Northern Illinois classic (2003)?  Find an aerial shot of Huskie Stadium that night. From that angle, the stadium aisles in both grandstands are virtually indiscernible because people were sitting in them, plus standing 3-4 deep on the platform at the top of the East stands from end zone to end zone. Despite turning away 500 fans prior to the game, the “Dog House” probably was at 110-115 percent capacity.  

After a wonderful decade of Huskie gridiron success, how could there be 5,000-plus empty seats for Big 12 Conference opponent Kansas last fall? How? Jayhawk fans were wondering the same thing if you noticed.

Look back at the 1986 Northern Illinois schedule – the first year in our second tenure as a “major independent.” Then-AD Bob Brigham might have gotten a little too aggressive with road games at West Virginia, Wisconsin, No. 21 Iowa and No. 1 Miami (Fla.) at the old Orange Bowl. For the first time in my career, I looked at our football student-athletes as student-mercenaries. Needless to say, the Huskies finished 2-9. Which might have been the opposite scheduling extreme from the last five years.

Bottom line, if Northern Illinois truly desires to be the next Boise State, then improve the schedule from the 120s to the 70s, continue to work with the Big Ten, host in Soldier Field once every 3-4 years, play a minimum of six DeKalb dates and schedule strategically. If we must play an FCS at home, sign up Illinois State or Southern Illinois. Those storied, old IIAC rivalries would probably sell 1,500-2,500 opposition tickets. The idea is to fill Huskie Stadium.

But not Presbyterian, sorry.


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