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IOWA CITY - The Big Ten's decision to eliminate future schedules with Football Championship Subdivision schools has no bearing on whether Northern Iowa will leap to the bowl subdivision.
Northern Iowa Athletics Director Troy Dannen told The Gazette his school is unlikely to move beyond the FCS for one simple reason.
"It comes down to economics," he said. "That discussion has never been about the competitive part of it, although it is a lot easier to have that discussion if you are competitive. It's always been a fiscal discussion. If you can sustain a budget necessary not just to play at the FBS but to be competitive at the FBS level.
"Frankly as things sit today, our budget would have to increase by about $6-7 million to be a median level Sun Belt or Mid-American Conference budget. I think that answers a lot questions right there, whether it's feasible today financially or whether it's feasible one, five, 10 years down the line. If you look at the numbers today, I don't know you can put your athletic department in that kind of position fiscally."
According to numbers provided to the U.S. Department of Education, UNI's football expenses totaled nearly $3.33 million in fiscal year 2011. Every football program in the MAC, a potential destination if UNI committed to the FBS, spent at least $5.12 million that year.
Much of Northern Iowa's athletics department revenue comes from games at FBS programs. Last year the school took in $950,000 with games at Wisconsin and Iowa.
The Big Ten announced a policy Sunday - and Commissioner Jim Delany reiterated Wednesday - that league schools must schedule games against schools that regularly carry 85 scholarships. That prevents Iowa from continuing games against Missouri Valley Conference schools Missouri State (2013), Northern Iowa (2014, 2018), Illinois State (2015) and North Dakota State (2016). Big Ten schools will be allowed to play those games only if they cannot reach a contract settlement.
The Panthers were competitive in last year's games at Big Ten venues, losing only 26-21 to eventual Big Ten champion Wisconsin and 27-16 at Iowa.
"I feel disappointed for future players of the University of Northern Iowa because it was a great stage and environment and a great opportunity," UNI Coach Mark Farley said Monday. "I know the reasons, but really it's too bad for some of the players that will come through the future who won't be able to experience that."
Northern Iowa will continue to regularly play FBS opponents, despite the Big Ten policy. UNI has games scheduled against Iowa State this year, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2019, 2021 and 2023. Along with playing at Iowa in 2014, the Panthers will travel to Hawaii.
"Our preference would be always to play somebody who is a bus ride away," Dannen said. "Now, in the next year, we're playing Hawaii as a second game. Well, we cut the bus game, but Hawaii pays for team transportation. So it's a little bit of a different animal with that type of trip."