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COLLEGE FOOTBALL '87 : COACHES, PLAYERS, TEAMS AND TRENDS TO WATCH THIS SEASON : SCHEDULING A FIESTA : Today's College Game Is as Much Getting Weaker Foes as It Is Beating Them

September 02, 1987|THOMAS BONK | Times Staff Writer

Guess what Texas Tech, Northern Illinois, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Tulsa, Temple, Rutgers and Syracuse have in common.

Give up?

Maybe that's what those teams should have done last season. But here are the two things they have in common: Penn State and Miami. Each of them played one or the other of those college football powers. Actually, it's three things if you want to count getting crushed.

That, by the way, is just what happened to East Carolina, the only team in the country that played both Penn State and Miami last year. The combined score of their games against the Nittany Lions and the Hurricanes was 78-17, which automatically qualified the Pirates for Least Carolina status.

You might think that for two such highly regarded teams as Penn State and Miami to play such lightly regarded schedules, it would be kind of a comedown for them. You might also want to reconsider. It paid off.

Both the Nittany Lions and the Hurricanes were 11-0 when they met in the Fiesta Bowl, where each collected a tidy $2.4 million.

It was all a matter of simple mathematics, all right. Add up the wins. Then divide the loot.

But it's sure going to be different this year. Penn State has added always tough Bowling Green to the schedule. The Hurricanes? Heck, they've added the dreaded Toledo Rockets, and you know they're really going to boost the old schedule.

You know something else? In three of the last five years, either Penn State or Miami has been the national champion. Miami won in 1983, Penn State in 1982 and '86.

So what does that make Penn State Coach Joe Paterno?

"About the most intelligent guy I know of," said Texas A&M Coach Jackie Sherrill, who never was Paterno's pal, even before Sherrill split from Pitt.

"I have more respect for Joe Paterno now than I ever did when we were playing him. And it has nothing to do with how I feel about him personally, which is another matter. But I'll tell you this, Joe Paterno and the people at Penn State take care of Penn State. The same thing's true at Miami."

It's probably not fair to point out just Penn State and Miami as teams that play such, well, light schedules. (Less filling?). Look around and you can see a lot of less-than-intense scheduling going on these days in college football. You don't need a scoreboard to keep track of such schedules as much as you need a paperweight.

Take Oklahoma, for instance. The Sooners are the nation's top-ranked team, but their schedule is rated the 72nd toughest in the country, according to USA Today, which uses computations by an MIT mathematics graduate.

Poor old Rice, which hasn't had a winning season for probably as far back as when there weren't any Southwest Conference teams on probation, plays a more difficult schedule than Oklahoma's.

That's not entirely the Sooners' fault, though. Sure, North Texas State is on the schedule, but Oklahoma also is lucky enough to be playing in a woefully weak Big Eight Conference. Last year, excluding the Sooners and Nebraska, the conference was 26-41.

This scheduling thing is all the rage now. Everybody's doing it. Even Notre Dame, which will play the most difficult schedule of any team in the nation this year, according to the ratings, has announced plans to ease off.

The Irish, who went 5-6 last season, playing a schedule that included seven teams in the top 20, are scheduling into the 1990s and lining up Miami of Ohio, Duke, Northwestern and Virginia.

Although that scheduling decision was made before he got there, it didn't take Richard Rosenthal, in his first year as Notre Dame's athletic director after succeeding Gene Corrigan, long to grasp the formula:

Winning = bowls = money .

"Bowl opportunities and financial rewards are unquestionably in line for a team with a winning record," he said in what may rank among college football's classic understatements.

And how those bowl games pay off. Last season, the 18 bowls paid out close to $47 million. It's going to be more than $50 million this season, according to Jim Brock, executive director of the Cotton Bowl.

The top five Bowl payoffs of 1987 were the Rose Bowl's $6.017 million; the Sugar Bowl's $2.55 million, the Orange Bowl's $2.468 million, the Fiesta's $2.4 million, the Cotton Bowl's $2.162 million, and the Florida Citrus' $900,000. And that's for each team.

Two questions need to be asked.

Do schools sometimes schedule weaker teams so they can bowl for big dollars?

"Sure, there's a lot of money out there," Brock said.

And is there anything wrong doing that?

"Not a thing," Sherrill said. "That's the cold, hard facts and that's the way it is. If I was there at Penn State, I'd do the same thing."

In fact, he did the same thing when he was at Pitt. Sherrill put together a typical independent's recipe for getting to a bowl game. It's not a schedule, really, it's a hit list.

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