The Big Sky Conference announced four years of schedules for football games within the league Thursday, giving Cal Poly and 12 other members a better sense of what to plan for in the near future.
Cal Poly, which announced its intention to join the Big Sky only in football this past September, will play one more season — the one upcoming — in the Great West Conference. Then in 2012, the Mustangs and three other GWC programs — UC Davis, Southern Utah and North Dakota — will start playing a full schedule of Big Sky games.
The 13 Big Sky schools will all be in the same division, ending months of speculation that after adding the four new schools, the league might split into divisions.
In the format starting in 2012, all 13 schools will play eight conference games, four at home and four away.
The opponents in six of those eight guaranteed league games will fluctuate from year to year so that all programs will play each other at least twice during a four-year span. In the other two games, each school is guaranteed yearly dates against a pair of designated rival schools.
Cal Poly’s rivals were designated as UC Davis and Sacramento State. Cal Poly will host UC Davis in its first Big Sky game Sept. 22, 2012.
“I think it’s a great schedule,” Mustangs head coach Tim Walsh said, praising the arrangement that clustered Cal Poly with the league’s two other California schools.
In addition to the eight league games, the Big Sky will enable its teams to play nonconference games against one another that wouldn’t count toward the league standings. Part of the reason for that allowance is the relative lack of Football Championship Subdivision teams throughout the Western region.
Outside of Texas, every FCS program in the West besides four — San Diego, which doesn’t offer traditional athletics scholarships, North Dakota State, South Dakota and South Dakota State — will be in the Big Sky starting in 2012.
“Scheduling nonconference games, especially against other Championship Subdivision programs, has become increasingly difficult in the West,” Big Sky Commissioner Doug Fullerton said in a statement. “Since nearly all of the FCS schools in the region now reside in the Big Sky Conference, our institutions need to have the option to play each other as nonconference opponents in years they aren’t playing conference games.’’
Along those lines, Cal Poly owes one future nonconference road game each to two Big Sky programs, Eastern Washington and Montana, based on agreements previously in place with those schools.
A Cal Poly official said the Mustangs are in the process of negotiating with those schools where those games might fit best into the schedules of upcoming seasons.
Walsh said that in theory, he wouldn’t be opposed to playing other Big Sky teams in nonleague games, but such decisions would have to depend on the rest of a year’s given schedule.
The reasons for Cal Poly joining the Big Sky were multifold.
Because of a shortage of teams, the Great West doesn’t have a guaranteed national playoff berth.
Additionally, the GWC’s shortage of opponents also made nonconference scheduling extremely difficult and costly for Cal Poly, which often found itself playing overmatched opponents from other regions of the country having hardly any name recognition in San Luis Obispo, simply in order to piece together a full slate of games.
The conference is still deciding upon a tiebreaking formula to determine who would get the league’s automatic playoff bid in the event of a tie atop the standings.
Walsh said the particulars of such a tiebreaker scenario weren’t too much of a concern for him, given that if a team were to tie in the upper half of the league standings, it’d likely be awarded an at-large spot in the postseason based on the overall strength of the league.
Eastern Washington won the FCS national championship last year, and Montana played in the national title game in 2008 and 2009.“It’s the best conference, maybe, in the United States,” Walsh said, “so if you tie, you’re probably going to get into the playoffs, anyway.“We’re just excited to be in the Big Sky and think it should be very competitive.”