The USC athletics department has made a point of scheduling gimme games with in-state schools. In football, we've played Wofford and S. C. State regularly over the past few seasons, and we have games with The Citadel and Furman on deck in upcoming seasons. In basketball, we played USC-Upstate and Presbyterian last year, among others.
Personally, I'm a big fan of talking to the in-state schools when we're scheduling our cupcake games. Doing so keeps the guarantee money in the state, of course. It also, though, is good for the fans and the players. All of us know folks that went or go to the other in-state schools, and unlike Clemson fans, we can actually consider these people friendly rival fans. Moreover, lots of the players at these schools played high school ball with the guys on our team. Why not give them a chance to take on their old rivals and see how they measure up? I'd imagine that, for the most part, it's fun and everyone shakes hands at the end, although I'm sure there are exceptions. It's also worth keeping in mind that S. C. State has a killer band. Who doesn't want to see their halftime show?
The alternative, for me, makes playing these teams even more attractive. Let's be honest: even though it's fun to play S. C. State, it's still not as exciting as an SEC game. That's how playing cupcakes is. You know you're going to win and nobody cares. That is, of course, unless you crap the bed it turns out to be a close game, in which case you've embarrassed yourself. It's a lose-lose situation. If that's the case, why not sweeten the pot a little and go through these events with state schools, instead of Eastern Kentucky or some similar opponent? I, for one, find games against such schools even less attractive. If we're going to go through something that's necessarily going to be somewhat painful, we might as well do it against a local school.
There are some arguments against the practice. Most of them stem from the fact that our in-state football programs are pretty darn good, as USC fans have learned from our recent outings with Wofford. Some might say that by playing these schools that we make it more likely that we'll embarrass ourselves. I don't buy this argument. Regardless of whether they're good for an FCS team or not, there's no excuse for not playing well against an FCS team. We have a huge talent advantage over all FCS teams, whether it be Appalachian State, Wofford, or an FCS cellar dweller. We've had trouble against FCS teams in the past because we didn't prepare well, not because those teams were great. They may have been slightly more capable of taking advantage than other teams, but most of the burden for those pitiful performances falls on us.
Continue reading after the jump.
For all these reasons, I'm not so sure of what I think about our persistent refusal to play certain in-state schools in football:
Athletics director Eric Hyman, who set up the current rotation with the FCS schools, said USC would prefer to play the state's more established programs rather than Coastal Carolina, Charleston Southern and Presbyterian, which are relative newcomers to the FCS ranks.
"You look at the four schools we're playing, they just have more tradition," Hyman said. "The fans recognize them. They've been playing football for a lot longer."
You'll notice that in my defense of playing our in-state brethren, I never once said that I liked the idea because our opponents have "tradition." I said I liked it because it builds community among fans and players. That's something we can do for all in-state schools, not just Wofford, S. C. State, Furman, and The Citadel.
Moreover, arguing that we choose our FCS opponents because of their "tradition" seems like a slap in the face to scheduling logic. You schedule an out-of-conference game with Notre Dame or Michigan when you want to take on a team with tradition. You schedule a cupcake when you want to watch a touchdown derby in the first half and rest your starters in the second. I'll grant that we've been playing a school like Wofford for a very long time. We played the Terriers for the first time in 1895, and they beat us a handful of times in the early years. The game has some nostalgic value for that reason.
However, lets not deny that we now largely play them as a payout game and to build community. Those benefits should be shared with the newer programs, as well. For his part, Coastal Carolina AD Warren Koegel had this to say on the topic:
"I just think it would be a great game for the state of South Carolina and for us. It would be a wonderful thing for Coastal Carolina," Koegel said recently. "It'd be fun to see how we measure up."
I couldn't agree more. That's what this is about, right?