The first change is that I-A (but not I-AA) schools are allowed to schedule a 12th regular season game every year at their own discretion. Previously, 12 regular-season games were only allowed during years where there were 14 or more weekends during the NCAA football season (which does happen occasionally- the last time this happened was in 2003). This 12 game regular season "exemption" applied to I-AA as well - in 2002 Lehigh actually played a 12 game schedule.
The second change is that the rule that I-A schools could only count 1 victory against a I-AA school every 4 years towards their bowl eligibility was waived. Starting in 2006, each school can count 1 I-AA game a year towards their total.
These changes got me thinking. I-A schools frequently pay money guarantees for I-AA schools to play at the I-A school (for example, when Lehigh played at I-A UConn in 2003). The supply of I-A games is going up, while the supply of I-AA games is remaining constant. What might happen to the guarantees paid for I-A vs. I-AA matchups? I think the guarantees will go up across the board for I-AA games since so many I-A schools will be looking for money games (and what they consider "easy wins") while the supply of I-AA games remains constant. It will cost more for I-AA teams to be convinced to free their schedule for that 11th game. And that seems to be very good news for I-AA football in particular.
This could be really good for Lehigh football if the Mountain Hawks get active in the I-A football market. Lehigh has played 2 I-A schools in the past 5 years: Buffalo of the MAC in 2002 (we won that game 37-26) and independent UConn in 2003 (we lost 35-17). With more schools looking for games more often, what sort of matchups could Lehigh look for in the future? Here's 3 matchups I'd like to see.
- Lehigh vs. Penn St. A dream matchup pitting the 2 most popular teams in the Lehigh Valley. Lehigh and Penn St. have a relationship in other sports (wrestling and men's basketball), so it's not as outlandish as it at first may seem. I'd love to take a trip to Happy Valley and see the Engineers take the field there. Penn St. fans could make believe they're playing Notre Dame! Likelihood: Extremely unlikely, especially after Joe Pa basically admits here that he doesn't want a 12 game schedule, and committing to 3 games in the next 4 years with Temple.
- Lehigh vs. Pitt. In 2003, they played Furman (and almost lost). In 2005 they will play Youngstown St. Why shouldn't Pitt play Lehigh in 2006 or beyond? It could help both Pitt and Lehigh recruit in the eastern and western parts of the state respectively. It's a bus trip (albeit a long one), and the Lehigh Valley would be happy to see the game on TV. Likelihood: Why not? I could see this one happening.
- Lehigh vs. Rutgers. A loss to Villanova in 2002 and a loss to New Hampshire in 2004. A potential loss to Villanova in 2005. Why not a loss to Lehigh in 2006? Right down the street to quite a few local players, this game would be a great event for Lehigh fans and alumni. Furthermore, there is a historical connection - Lehigh played Rutgers almost yearly from 1884 to 1977. Likelihood: Another really great possibility.