Hey ESPN, NCAA. Be Honest With Yourselves

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Preston Adams - FCS Fans Nation Contributor

I was watching the halftime show for the Celebration Bowl, and I am smart enough to know that even for a great FCS contest, ESPN, or any other network, isn’t likely to provide us with quality analysis of FCS football. To be honest, we can’t really blame them. It pays the bills to regurgitate the same takes about the same two playoff games between Alabama/Oklahoma and Notre Dame/Clemson for the next two weeks, and sprinkle in a take on a somewhat interesting bowl game here and there. What absolutely floored me about this particular clip, however, was how they tried to “argue” that there’s a reason the FBS playoffs work in FBS, and an FCS playoff would not work in the FBS. Well, thankfully some of us are willing to do the research on both FBS and FCS, and so I’d like to give the “experts” a crash course in what actually goes on in the FCS.


First of all, I’d like to address the comment about teams practicing and playing during finals. Please, cry me a river. I think most of us fans and the parents of players genuinely care about the players getting an education because they are going to school on scholarship, but let’s not pretend like TV pundits and the corporation of the NCAA really care about that, especially in sports like football and basketball. This is all about money, and nothing else for them. FCS athletes prepare for, and compete in games all the way up to, and through finals. The same goes for the FBS programs participating in early bowl games and conference championships. And, even if they have later bowl games, the kids are still practicing. So please, spare us the line of “oh but what about their education?” These kids are already practicing and playing through their hell weeks/finals weeks. The FCS games just happen to matter a little more at the time.


Secondly, I’d like to get into the debate of playing more games. As it stands now if you play in your conference championship and also play in the FBS championship, you’ll be playing a total of 15 games. Let’s take a look at the FCS. if you have a first round bye as a national seed and make it to the championship game, you are playing a total of...oh my goodness...15 games?!?! Funny how that works out. Now of course there are other variables in FCS, such as playing in the first round not as a national seed, or seasons like next year where the subdivision has 12 regular season games. But even still, are we REALLY going to quibble about one or two more games for a handful of teams? Trust me I am someone that genuinely cares about the health and safety of all athletes, especially those that are not being monetarily compensated, but I’m willing to bet that almost all college football players would do anything to play one more game with their teammates, especially for the chance to win a national championship. I say all of that to say, if you’re going to expand the playoffs in FBS to 8 (what I would like to see), you’re really adding one more game potentially for two schools, and even if you went to 12 or 16, it’s not that big of a difference. Besides, FBS schools have 20 plus more scholarship players than the FCS, and they’re apparently the “superior” athletes, and certainly have the superior facilities and support at the Power 5 level. The argument of too many games, is also a shallow one, at best.


Finally, I’d like to address a claim I heard during this segment about how what the FCS does is kind of a moot point because a team ranked lower than the 4 seed never wins the championship. For this, I kind of understand the ignorance, because it happens among some FCS fans as well. According to some parishes in the church of NDSU, the FCS playoffs and subdivision didn’t exist until the holy bison descended upon it, and thus started the reign of the almighty. Apparently, ESPN worships at the same parishes, because they forgot about some very recent history of teams NOT ranked in the top 4 winning the FCS/1-AA championship. As a JMU fan, I immediately thought of the first championship my Dukes won in 2004, a run which they played all of their games on the road. There was also App State in 2007, Richmond in 2008, and Eastern Washington in 2010, all unseeded teams eventually hoisting the championship trophy. Now since then, I think an argument can be made that there has been a separation of a few programs (NDSU obviously) that has cut down on this parity, but let’s not pretend like there isn’t the possibility for an unseeded team to make that kind of run. Youngstown State almost did it in 2016 but were upended by JMU. So, again, saying they shouldn’t expand the playoffs because we already know how the tournament will end up, is not only false, but it’s bad advertising. Then again, maybe it pays the bills and gets the eyeballs to the TV if you wave the Alabama flag every 3 minutes.


Now, I want to make something perfectly clear while I’m closing here. I love ESPN, and almost everything they do for exposure for lesser programs and other sports. Without entities like ESPN 3 and ESPN + there’s a lot of college sports fans that would either be watching their teams on crappy streaming services, or not at all. Because of these services I was able to completely immerse myself in FCS football on Saturdays. I’m a firm believer that if you love something/someone, you ought to be critical of it/them because you hold them to a higher standard. As such, I am doing this for ESPN. If you’re going to cover the FCS on your bigger networks, get people that actually know about the history and programs to talk about these programs at halftime of these games. I promise your ratings won’t take a massive hit if you don’t mention Alabama or Clemson for a whole 20 minutes. Heck, take the bigger step and put more of these teams on the national networks. Even with a 24 team playoff, games in each and every conference matter week in and week out. If you promote more FCS games, you’ll get more viewers for your cable networks. Invest in these markets, and you’ll see the returns. Heck, you might even learn a thing or two about what actually goes on in the FCS as well. As for the NCAA? Another article, another time.

Yes, its Still the Big 3 for FCS

Photo: Hero Sports

Photo: Hero Sports

And, it’s not even close. With the early success of programs from the Ohio Valley and Southland in the playoffs, there was a lot of poking and prodding at the top 3 conferences at the FCS level. Well, mostly at the CAA, that had a terrible first round. But at the end of the day, we will have a final that features one team from either the CAA or Big Sky, and definitely one from the MVFC. What’s even crazier, is that this domination has been going on since the beginning of the 21st century.


Since the year 2000, there has been no national championship match up where there wasn’t at least one school from the Big 3 conferences involved. The title game in 2002 in which Western Kentucky defeated McNeese State 34-14, if you want to get technical, was a game in which WKU was in a MVFC transition league while winning this championship. Also since the year 2000, only 3 schools outside of the Big 3 conferences have won championships. The aforementioned Western Kentucky in 2002 (kind of), Georgia Southern won its final championship in 2000, and of course Appalachian State won 3 straight from 2005-2007 (that last one particularly painful if you’re a JMU fan). All 3 of these teams have since moved on to the FBS, and have had relative success since moving up.


Not convinced yet? Let’s keep going. Since 2000, of the 38 teams to make it to the championship game, 10 of them have been from a conference outside of the CAA, Big Sky, or MVFC (11 if you want to cling to WKU). 5 of those spots are taken by two teams, App. State 2005, 2006, 2007, and Sam Houston State 2011, 2012. The last 10 years are even more bleak for conferences outside of the big 3. Since 2008, of the 20 teams to reach the national championship, only 3 have come from a conference that isn’t the MVFC, CAA, or Big Sky. Conferences outside of those are also without a national championship in that 10 year span. And even more telling, since the 2016 season, of the 12 teams to make the national semifinals, only one has been from a conference outside the big 3. *Waves the Texas state flag for SHSU in 2017*.


Now, am I saying all of this to say that no other conference deserves to be seeded, or get national recognition? Nothing could be further from the truth. Programs like Jacksonville State  and Sam Houston State have dominated their conferences the last few years along with newcomers Kennesaw State in the Big South and Wofford filling the power vacuum in the SoCon. What has been pretty obvious though is while a lot of these conferences have teams improving/catching the perennial powers, they still lack the depth and quality to have their top teams compete week in and week out to get the preparation needed to beat out teams from the Big 3 that are facing fierce competition almost weekly. Again, this isn’t the fault of these very good programs. Their conference rivals need to do better.


But, I do not think all is lost. Kennesaw State is a very young program, and I fully expect them to continue improving. The Big South as a conference will be getting a right now inconsistent, but team with great potential in North Alabama this upcoming season, and looks like Campbell is trying to make a name for themselves (roll humps!). The SoCon was also a league full of parody looking like 5-6 teams could win it at one point (much like the CAA). I suspect those schools in the deep south will continue to make the necessary improvements to return some of their glory. We all know how serious football is down there. The Southland, while most of the perennial powers left a lot to be desired this year, showed improvements with the teams usually milling around the middle of their league. SHSU and McNeese got punched in the mouth this year, and I look forward to seeing how they respond. There was also great improvements in leagues such as the Pioneer, MEAC, Ivy, and SWAC. While the latter two do not participate in the playoffs, it certainly shows that overall, FCS schools are starting to take their programs more seriously. As for the MEAC, had it not been for Bethune Cookman winning the Florida Classic against arch rival FAMU, the Rattlers would have been the ones going to the Celebration Bowl, and North Carolina A&T would have almost certainly gotten an at large bid for the conference.


I say all of that to say, there’s a lot of good football being played at the FCS level. The engagement that I get on the FCS Fans Nation page has opened my eyes up even more to this fact. I also was covering the Patriot League for a radio show I do, so I wasn’t surprised that Colgate was the real deal, and even Georgetown almost had a winning season! (Yes, Georgetown plays Division I football. The more you know.) All I’m saying is, when people start talking about the CAA, Big Sky, and MVFC being so much better than all of the other conferences, they are not doing so without significant data to back them up. There’s been a very obvious gap between the top and the other conferences since the year 2000, and it’s gotten much worse since 2008. Here’s hoping that we get continued improvement and consistency out of these other conferences in 2019 and beyond. Who knows, maybe even VMI can make a push.


Time for the CAA to Split (again)

By Preston Adams

The landscape of FCS is quite diverse when you think about the size of conferences. We have some that are 6-7 teams, and others that are as big as 12, or 13. I think the perfect size of a conference is around 9-10 teams so everyone plays each other once a year, or only misses out on one team in conference. Sadly, with college athletics becoming more corporate, especially in the realm of football, this is a lot less likely to happen. And, certainly no conference will be shrinking willingly. With this in mind, I would like to propose that the CAA splits into 2 divisions, North and South, again. The last time they had this split was in 2009 before the conference had some major shake up losing Hofstra, Northeastern, UMASS, gaining ODU (then losing ODU), Elon,  Albany, and Stony Brook. The conference is settled at 12 teams since 2013, so it’s time to go back to the divisions. The split would be as follows:


North:

  1. Villanova

  2. Maine

  3. Stony Brook

  4. Rhode Island

  5. Albany

  6. New Hampshire


South:

  1. James Madison

  2. Delaware

  3. Richmond

  4. William & Mary

  5. Elon

  6. Towson


So, why do it? What’s wrong with not playing 3 teams from your conference every year? Why regionalize it? Well, first of all, I believe that part of the great allure of college sports is the rivalries one creates with the teams in their conferences. The opportunity the play the same 5 teams year in and year out will be great for fan interest. Secondly, the divisions are a lot more balanced since the last time the CAA did this. Before it was bottom heavy, with NOVA taking the place of the proposed Elon in the south. Talk about a loaded division! The split I propose is a lot more balanced, especially with the rise of Rhode Island and consistent play of Stony Brook over the last couple of years. Finally, it provides much needed consistency, and less of an opportunity for the pitfalls of top teams never facing off. On the off chance they do not though, at least this way provides us with more logical tie breakers than the craziness we almost saw in the CAA this year in terms of an AQ. The final tiebreaker under the old system was to have AD’s vote between schools that aren’t involved on who gets the AQ. I mean, come on. Plus, with each team facing the same opponents in division, there’s a less likely chance of the entire conference beating up on 2-3 teams, and therefore creating a potential headache scenario for a tiebreaker. The way I see this going with a tiebreaker is as follows:


  1. Conference W/L record

  2. Head-to-Head result

  3. Record vs. common CAA opponents

  4. W/L within division

  5. OOC record


Also, if you’re worried about the rivalry between Delaware and Villanova, there’s always clauses and caveats that make sure that the biggest conference rivals play under special circumstances, no matter what. Do you think it’s just a coincidence that JMU always plays Richmond and William & Mary every year? Even with the expansion of the ACC, Duke and North Carolina always play their home and home in basketball. Plus, even with that guaranteed crossover game, Delaware and NOVA still have the variables of 2 other crossover games. I’m not saying this system is perfect. I would prefer for everyone to play everyone, but not all leagues are capable of doing that. The Big Sky has the same issue, and the MVFC is about to add North Dakota to make it 11 teams in conference. Then again, this could also be moot whenever the next round of TV contracts is up and conference realignment at the FBS trickles down and Group of 5 conferences start to pluck FCS teams.


Bears football picks up second win in a row with victory at Southern Utah

The University of Northern Colorado football team secured its first road win in two years Saturday at Southern Utah. While it was not a pretty win, at the end of the day a win is a win.

UNC had all players back for the road trip to Cedar City, Utah and every one of those players was needed to win the game.

Trae Riek and Milo Hall had career days with both going above 100 yards for the first time together. Hall stood out big time with three rushing touchdowns.

Another accolade to add to the Bears season is Alex Wesley becomes the second receiver in UNC history to have multiple 1,000-yard seasons. The only other player to do that was Vincent Jackson, who later was a second-round NFL draft pick.

The Bears stormed ahead to a big lead and it looked like a done deal at halftime with a 24-11 lead.

In the second half, UNC let the Thunderbirds put up 28 points and gave them the ball back down only three points.

Coming to the rescue for the Bears was Henry Stelzner with a game-winning interception.

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How It Happened

First Half

On the first defensive drive the Bears came out hungry and ready to rumble. Isiah Swopes made that clear as he came through with a leveling hit on SUU running back.

UNC traditionally does well in the game if they score early and the Bears did just that in four plays, capped off with a Milo Hall touchdown.

After forcing another three-and-out, Mott once again led a steady march to the endzone where he dropped an absolute dime to Willie Fairman for a 32-yard touchdown.

SUU would finally figure out how to score by using Tyler Skidmore at quarterback, which the Bears did not plan on seeing at quarterback leading to some of his success.

The long 10-play drive was thoroughly and unnecessarily sustained by two Bears penalties.

For UNC, production would start to taper off as the drives became longer and further out of scoring range. In response, Marques Combs was still able to pull out a field goal for the Bears after an up and down 11-play drive.

The Thunderbirds would sit on the ball for nearly eight minutes as a roughing the kicker penalty kept the drive alive for SUU. Getting all the way to the five-yard line SUU would come across their own penalty trouble which led to a failed field goal attempt by Isiah Swopes.

While the Bears celebrated the missed field goal UNC would throw an interception which later led to a successful SUU field goal.

Both teams would punt as halftime neared and production dropped off significantly. UNC received the punt with good field position. There was only time for one play and Keaton Mott hit Theron Verna exactly for a 35-yard touchdown pass to go into halftime on a high note.

Half time: UNC 24, Southern Utah 11

Second Half

Mott would come out of the half on a hot streak and help the team to another field goal largely on the part of Willie Fairman’s 34-yard catch.

SUU was now in a larger hole and kept digging it deeper with a fumble by star receiver Ty Rutledge, forced by Michael Walker and covered up by freshman Brooks Talkington.

Like a machine, Mott marched the team down the field and was able to produce another touchdown. Milo Hall would take the handoff and sprint 19 yards for the score.

With SUU really hurting, Skidmore finally caught a break by throwing to Landen Measom, who found a hole in the coverage, for a 74-yard catch and sprint touchdown.

UNC would only take two running plays for its next score, but this touchdown would be the last score of the night for UNC in the late part of the third quarter. Trae Riek sprinted for his longest run of the season of 51 yards and Milo Hall finished the job with a 24-yard run for the touchdown.

The Bears game plan to be conservative from then on almost did not pay off as the Thunderbirds tightened up their coverage and UNC stuck to complacent run plays.

Punting all fourth quarter long while SUU scored 21 points put Bears fans on alert as the winning percentage was dropping exponentially.

The Thunderbirds got the ball back with 28 seconds left and a three touchdowns worth of momentum to work with. Dropping back for the pass and throwing away the ball low and away from the receiver paid off for UNC.

Henry Stelzner was in the right spot at the right time to make a diving interception that would win the game. The Bears had their first road win in two years.

Final: UNC 42, Southern Utah 39

The Mirror’s Keys to the Game Checklist

Defense:

  • Stop the Run: While three touchdowns on the ground still leaves room for improvement, only 129 yards allowed is not bad.

  • Sack the Quarterback: The Bears got nearly as many sacks as their season total this weekend which shows much needed improvement.

  • Cause Turnovers: Two turnovers may not be as many as the NAU game, but they came at key moments which proved pivotal to the win.

Offense:

  • Give Mott Time: While it was not flawless, it has been better in the recent games. Mott was only sacked twice and the running backs went over 200 yards.

  • Focus on Milo: Milo had a career day with 100+ yards and three touchdowns.

  • Score Early: The Bears scored on their first three drives which gave them considerable breathing room going into the rest of the game.