A wise man once tweeted that losing a buy game was “the epitome of brutality.” Don’t believe it? Ask California, East Carolina or Richmond, who suffered this fate thrice last season. Paying a mid-major team to beat you on your home floor can either bring temporary shame, or long-term consequences.
But what if the real epitome of brutality was losing to a non-Division I opponent in a regular-season game? And what if this happened more often than it should?
Over the past five seasons, Division I schools have amassed a 2,155-49 record against non-Division I (ND1) schools during the regular season. Unlike scheduling ND1 exhibitions — something most, if not all Division I schools do every year — regular-season games against these schools count against a team’s win-loss record. Playing ND1s almost always leads to a guaranteed win, but ND1s beat Division I teams an average of nine times per year, as shown in the spreadsheet below:
You can also view the data here.
A few initial observations:
- Division I schools win by an average of 31.2 ppg, whereas Non-Division I teams win by an average of 6.4 ppg.
- Northwestern State’s three losses against ND1 opponents leads the nation.
- Thanks to having a near-stranglehold on the Great Alaska Shootout’s (RIP) 7th place game, Division II Alaska Anchorage leads all ND1s with four wins.
- This past season, Norfolk State and Northwestern State shared the ignominious distinction of losing to multiple ND1s in the same year. The Spartans dropped games against Lynchburg and Elizabeth City State; the Demons fell to LSU-Shreveport and LeTourneau.
- Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word have scheduled the most ND1s, in part because each school had 10 or more ND1 games in their first season as Division I members.
- 2014-15 was bleak for San Jose State and Grambling State, both of whom would have been winless if not for beating two ND1s.
- On average, members of the Southland, Big South and Atlantic Sun conferences schedule the most ND1 opponents.
Most of these games are lopsided affairs. Last year, NCCAA school Toccoa Falls made national headlines for its 67-point loss to Mercer, 71-point losses to Charleston Southern and High Point, plus a whopping 101-point loss to Appalachian State. Scores like this happen every year. Lipscomb beat Fisk by 83 in 2016-17, Coastal Carolina beat Piedmont International by 81 in 2015-16 and three 80-point wins occurred in 2014-15. But the bleakest of all has to be Southern’s 116-12 decimation of Champion Baptist in the 2013-14 season, which set an NCAA record when Southern started the game on a 44-0 run.
At best, games against ND1s are ho-hum wins; at worst, they’re masochistic.
Given the talent and resource disparity between Division I and non-Division I schools, losing a buy game to a ND1 is a worse fate than losing by triple-digits. Division I teams are supposed to beat non-Division I schools.
True embarrassment happens when Division I teams don’t win the games they’ve won 98% of the time. Before being known as the first 1-seed to lose to a 16-seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Virginia Cavaliers were the first No. 1 team to lose to Division II Chaminade in 1982. Most recently, Chaminade beat California by 24 in the Maui Invitational, which was the largest ND1-over-D1 victory of the 2017-18 season.
This begs the question: Why do schools schedule these high-risk, low-reward games?
If your team ended up on Chaminade or Alaska Anchorage’s side of the bracket in a multi-team event, then these games were unavoidable.
The majority of these games, however, are in fact still unavoidable. For low-majors that need to fill a full non-conference schedule, scheduling over the recommended two-ND1 limit by either foregoing a MTE, or bringing one of the NCAA’s non-countable opponents to town is a necessary evil. This practice is rampant in conferences like the Southland, Big South and Atlantic Sun, where even the top teams (looking at you, Stephen F. Austin and Florida Gulf Coast) are guilty of scheduling as many as four ND1s a year.
Regardless, these ND1 games give players in-game reps in front of a home crowd, both of which are good things. But given the proclivity for blowouts in these games, the quality of reps against non-Division I level competition should be questioned.
The knee-jerk solution would be for mid-majors to get bought out by high-major schools, but not all teams can do this. Non-Division I games are features - not bugs - in a scheduling system that favors Power 5 schools while leaving even some of the best mid-majors scrambling for solutions.
Unless mid-majors get creative with in-season, home-and-home scheduling — or, in the case of the West Coast Conference, put a limit on non-Division I opponents — these non-Division I games will continue. So far, there are 231 (and counting) ND1 games scheduled for 2018-19, and not all of these games will be guaranteed wins. Although new D1 teams like Cal Baptist and North Alabama are the most susceptible to dropping a game against a ND1, more schools are bound to suffer the same brutal fate this season.
As someone who sat through a near-loss to Cal Lutheran and nearly lost hope for the season because of it, I hope your team (and all Division I teams) will stop scheduling non-Division I opponents in the near future. When Division I teams play ND1s, nobody really wins.