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Indiana’s shopping for a football game 3 weeks from now. Here are the options

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Midseason rescheduling would be weird, but it’s not impossible.

NCAA Football: Indiana at Virginia Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

College football’s pretty insignificant when hurricanes are putting lives and property in danger across much of the South and Gulf regions. But teams have had to react to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma all the same, with safety and logistics in mind.

So far, that’s meant 16 Division I schedule changes, including eight games canceled altogether. The latest is FIU not traveling to play Indiana on Saturday, with the Hoosiers trying to set up a different home game for Oct. 7 to offset it. That’s IU’s bye weekend, and it’s in the school’s interest to get a game’s revenues and another win toward bowl eligibility.

Indiana wants another game, but getting one is tricky.

If the Hoosiers want to win a game that’ll count toward bowl eligibility, they can only play an FBS or FCS team. The problems in finding one are obvious:

  • FBS teams can only play 12 games per regular season.
  • FCS teams can only play 11.
  • Most teams already have games scheduled that weekend.

For the few teams that visit Hawaii, the NCAA allows one extra game. But every team on the Rainbow Warriors’ home schedule is already booked for the weekend of Oct. 7. (In some years, FCS teams can play 12 games, but they can’t this year.)

Option No. 1: Schedule another team that had a cancellation and has a Week 6 bye.

There are two FBS teams that fit that bill: Georgia Tech and USF. All of the other FBS schools involved in cancellations thus far are booked for that weekend: UTSA, Houston, Florida State, Florida, UCF, USF, Miami, ULM, Arkansas State, Memphis, UConn, and FIU itself. So is FCS Northern Colorado, which had its game at Florida wiped out.

One FCS team meets both criteria (though a few others are also free that weekend): Charleston Southern. The Buccaneers’ game at South Carolina State was canceled last weekend, and they haven’t yet rescheduled it. Indiana could pay CSU a hefty guarantee, if CSU wants it. The standard for a Big Ten team to host an FCS school is somewhere around $500,000.

If USF wanted to play Indiana, that’d be a funny circle story, as IU blog Crimson Quarry explains:

Indiana just pulled the rug out from under USF three years ago, buying out a scheduled home-and-home series with the Bulls for $500,000 before it took place. Who did Indiana replace USF on the schedule with? A 2-for-1 with none other than fellow Florida school FIU. Whoops!

Mark Harlan was still leading USF’s athletic department at the time of the series cancellation, so it seems like the Bulls might not be super inclined to work with the Hoosiers here. But who knows. If both teams need a game, they both need a game. It could work.

It’s conceivable that USF could like the idea of slightly strengthening its schedule by playing a Big Ten road game against a potential bowl team. The Bulls have a shot at a New Year’s bowl, but their weak schedule could be an obstacle. And thanks to a “Week 0” game at San Jose State, USF has a second bye week anyway, in November.

Option No. 2: Pay some team a bunch of money to ditch a scheduled game.

That’s the approach LSU and Florida took last year, when Hurricane Matthew led to the postponement of their SEC game. Game contracts have penalty clauses if either team doesn’t show up, but that doesn’t mean teams can’t back out. In that case, LSU paid South Alabama $1.5 million to get out of their game, and Florida paid Presbyterian $500,000. The two smaller schools decided to just play each other, while the Gators and Tigers rescheduled for the same date.

This situation’s similar but different. In the case of LSU and Florida, the smaller schools were a natural fit, like two people’s exes deciding to go on a date.

Nobody’s likely to pay a thick buyout just to schedule a new game against Indiana on short notice. The Hoosiers would have to pay it for them, and they’d have to find an athletic director who’s not worried about looking bad for stiffing some other school.

Option No. 3: Don’t reschedule, and play an 11-game schedule.

That’s allowed, but it carries obvious downsides.

You’d think the NCAA would have a rule to prevent these situations from harming bowl eligibility. But it currently doesn’t, so Indiana has to make a decision.

To automatically quality for a bowl, Indiana needs to win as many games as it loses, just like any other FBS team. With what’s now an 11-game schedule, the Hoosiers have to go 6-5 to get there. They’d have a technical shot as an alternate at 5-6, but they’re down on the APR scores pecking order, so it would be a long shot.

If Indiana doesn’t care about bowls and just wants to have a home game for the sake of pride and money, it can play more or less whomever it wants. But for a win in that game to count toward bowl eligibility, IU has to play a Division I team.

The Hoosiers are allowed to count one FCS win toward bowl eligibility, and they don’t have any FCS teams on their schedule in 2017, so that’s an option if they can swing it.

They’d have to play a team that’s used 90 percent of the maximum allowed scholarship slots for FCS teams over a rolling two-year period, meaning 57 of 63. That would rule out teams from the Ivy League, who play 10-game schedules but don’t have athletic scholarships. Of all the hurdles that could trip up Indiana, that likely isn’t the one.

If IU does manage to get another game, it’ll be highly unusual.

Scheduling games midseason is unheard of or close to it. But it’s not against the rules, so maybe Hoosiers AD Fred Glass can stitch something together.