Even before Penn State was hit with heavy NCAA sanctions last summer head coach Bill O'Brien suggested the school was already looking to rework their future schedules as much as possible. The intent given was to schedule big-game match-ups to give the players games to look forward to with the loss of bowl games through the 2015 season.
“I will say this – and nothing is set in stone – what we are trying to do is have a marquee game every year," O'Brien said last May. "For instance, we could open the season maybe at a neutral site or maybe at Beaver Stadium that would be against, obviously, a major college power, like an Alabama, like a Southern Cal, like a Stanford.”
The idea of playing games against the likes of Alabama, Notre Dame, Texas, Florida State and so on were in addition to the perhaps more realistic opportunity to schedule Hawaii. When O'Brien made those comments about future schedules, few would have considered Rhode Island a big game match-up.
Yes, Rhode Island. A program with an all-time record of 384-543-43, with zero conference championships and postseason victories. A program without a winning season since 2001 and just two winning seasons since Penn State joined the Big Ten.
According to an update by Frank Bodani, Penn State beat reporter for York Daily Record, the rumor of adding Rhode Island to the schedule could be a realistic possibility for the 2013 season. At least, Rhode Island seems to think this is a possibility.
“It’s not final now, but there’s a strong possibility,” Rhode Island coach Joe Trainer told RICentral.com. Trainer is a Pennsylvania native who played linebacker at Dickinson and coached as an assistant at Temple and head coach at Millersville at different points in his coaching career.
“Like all I-AA teams where you’re into making money, you play a guarantee game,” Trainer said. “The challenge of making a I-A game brings a significant amount of money to the program and that’s something we’re looking at."
As Bodani notes, Penn State would likely pay Rhode Island a minimum of $300,000 for a home game at Beaver Stadium, which would be on par with payments to previous opponents from the FCS such as Youngstown State and Eastern Illinois.
The word of a possible game with Rhode Island started with updates from Rhode Island players spreading around on Twitter last week saying the Penn State game was on the schedule. Bodani notes Penn State's September 14 game against Virginia as the most likely game to be rescheduled if possible. Penn State opens the season in MetLife Stadium against Syracuse on August 31 and opens the home schedule against Eastern Michigan. Virginia handed Penn State a loss last season in week two to drop the Nittany Lions to 0-2 to start the year.
If Penn State were to drop their ACC opponent for the upcoming season and replace it with a last-place team from the CAA it would be seen as a contrasting move to what O'Brien said the program would explore. Penn State is not in a position to be concerned about accumulating wins to reach bowl games under NCAA probation but wins do help foster a winning culture within the program. After seeing Virginia hand Penn State a tough loss on the road last year, and with some roster turnover heading in to 2013, scheduling Rhode Island makes it more likely Penn State picks up an extra win that O'Brien can feed off of and perhaps evaluate some new, young talent in the process.
Replacing Virginia with Rhode Island may not be the most popular move for fans. Attendance was already down last season, perhaps partly due to the NCAA sanctions but also for what was a relatively lackluster home schedule aside from the Ohio State game. In 2013 the home schedule will include games against Nebraska and Michigan as headliners, along with Illinois, Purdue, and Kent State in addition to the previously mentioned Eastern Michigan and Virginia (or Rhode Island).
Penn State has not confirmed any changes to the 2013 schedule, telling Examiner.com the schedule currently has no openings.
Kevin McGuire is a national college football writer for Examiner.com and the host of the No 2-Minute Warning podcast. Follow McGuire on Twitter and nominate him for a Shorty Award. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.