0

Tech follows trend by scheduling I-AA teams

ATLANTA - You never needed to be a Georgia Tech grad to decipher the Yellow Jacket football scheduling

formula.

Take eight Atlantic Coast Conference games, carry the one that is the annual showdown with Georgia, find another major conference opponent willing to play home and home (i.e. Auburn, Notre Dame, Brigham Young), and troll the mid-majors for a program willing to either take a paycheck for coming to Atlanta once or come to Bobby Dodd Stadium two or three times in exchange for one return trip (i.e. Connecticut, Middle Tennessee State).

The NCAA messed with the arithmetic two years ago, adding a 12th game to Georgia Tech and every other Division I-A team's schedule. The underlying reason was to ensure every team gets six home games - and the revenue that goes with them.

But to make that a reality, the NCAA had to lift its restrictions on Division I-AA opponents, which compete with 22 fewer scholarships than the big boys. Where once Georgia Tech could count a win against a I-AA program toward bowl eligibility only once every four years, I-AA victories are now good every year.

And that's why Georgia Tech is among 78 of the 119 Division I-A football programs to schedule a Division I-AA opponent this season. Samford, a small private college located in Birmingham, Ala., visits Bobby Dodd Stadium at 1:30 p.m. today.

"It's not so much that they've added a game as you have to go out and add an opponent that's willing to play at your place," Georgia Tech athletic director Dan Radakovich said. "We play a strong schedule already, so for us and a lot of others like us, it was just a matter of scheduling a I-AA opponent more often."

Radakovich and his staff take an educated approach to finding that I-AA opponent. They want to play teams from the region, opponents that will generate interest from within the Yellow Jacket fan base and bring a few fans of their own.

Hence Samford this season, and another Alabama school, Jacksonville State, next year and again in 2009. South Carolina State visits in 2010. Georgia Southern will likely be on the 2014 schedule.

Several other area I-AA programs - Furman, Wofford, Chattanooga, Western Carolina, Elon - are on the radar for future years.

"There are plenty of people out there who want to play," Georgia Tech head coach Chan Gailey said. "You just have to find the right fit for you. And that's for your program, for your situation.

"Proximity is normally a part of it."

Samford athletic director Bob Roller hopes the powerhouses in his state, Alabama and Auburn, adopt a similar approach. Those teams, with 80,000-plus seat stadiums, pay Division I-AA opponents $250,000 to $500,000 to play them.

That's what Roller calls a "brick-and-mortar payday" because it's enough to make stadium or practice-facility improvements.

Programs like Georgia Southern - and now Appalachian State, which knocked off Michigan last Saturday - earn respect as well as money by playing Division I-A opponents.

Past Georgia Southern powerhouse opponents include Florida State, Georgia and Oregon State.

Of course, Division I-AA teams can scare off potential opponents by threatening upsets. Sam Baker, Georgia Southern's athletic director, remembers the cold reception he received when contacting major schools about games earlier this decade.

Triple-option guru Paul Johnson, now at Navy, coached the Eagles then, and he had the Chicago Bears' Adrian Peterson in his backfield. GSU won back-to-back national championships in 1999 and 2000.

"I'd talk to an A.D.; then he would talk to the coaches," Baker said. "They'd call back and say, 'No thanks, we don't want to play you or the option.'"

Baker no longer has trouble scheduling I-A games, and not just because Georgia Southern no longer runs the option. The Eagles will play Colorado State later this season, Georgia next year and Navy in 2009.

"When you add a 12th game for all the I-A teams, there are so many teams out there you can play," Baker said. "Everybody needs to fill out their schedule."

SideBar: SAMFORD AT TECH

When: Today, 1:30 p.m.

Where: Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta

TV/Radio: ESPNU/790-AM