by John Furgele
Level The Field Please: As usual, week two of the college football season was a crazy as ever. Houston’s victory at Oklahoma State had to make old Bill Yeoman proud. The Cougars, once a valued and top member of the old Southwest Conferecne stunned the Cowboys, who one week earlier beat Georgia to open the season. More than ever, college football has seen much more parity. yes, the big dogs still dominate, but for a Conference USA school to beat a Big 12 school on the road has to say something about the talent pool that exists in the game today.
Of all the games, all the announcing and all the commentary, perhaps the best came from the color commentator at the Lehigh-Villanova Division 1-AA game. I watched the game on FCS, and forgive me for not knowing and therefore not giving credit to the commentator, but his comment concerned scholarships at the 1-AA level.
In Division 1-AA, the maximum number of scholarships is 63 (at Division 1-A it is 85). Because of that, we are seeing more 1-AA teams not only compete, but beat Division 1-A teams. Villanove beat Temle and Richmond and William andMary also posted wins over Duke and Virginia respectively.
In Division 1-AA, there are several conferences that do not permit theior members to give it all or any scholarships. The Ivy League does not allow its members to award any type of athletic scholsarship. Now, that certainly doesn’t mean that players don’t receive grants, academic scholarships, but unlike a Delaware, which can have 63 full scholarships, the Ivy League schools have to be more creative in getting quality athletes to their schools.
I’m not sure that bothers the Ivy league. This league plays by its own set of rules. For years, teams could only play on Saturdays, their seasons could not begin until the third September, and members would play 10 games with the last game being the Saturday before Thanksgving. Recently, the league has allowed some Friday night games to get some TV exposure, but the other rules remain in place. And, the Ivy league champion does not participate in the 1-AA playoffs. There has been some talk about the Ivy League entereing the 1-AA playoffs but nothing serious has come out of it.
The Patriot League is like the IvyLeague. They can offer grants and academic scholarships, but cannot offer atheltic ones. But, unlike the Ivy League, they do participate in the 1-AA playoffs and 2003, Cogate appeared in the championship game, losing to Delaware.
The Northeast Conference, featuring the likes of Albany, Monmouth, Wagner and Central Connecticut only recently began allowing its members to award athletic scholarships, but instead of having 63, they permit 30. The NEC is eligible for the postseason, but they do not get an automatic bid and through 2008 has never had a member make the playoffs. That will change in 2009, when Division 1-AA expands its playoffs from 16 to 20 teams.
Here’s the point. The NCAA, whch oversees 1-AA football (that’s why there’s a playoff) should get everybody on the same page. If you want to play 1-AA football, you have to award the full compliment of scholarships. If not, drop down to Division II or form a 1-AAA league where the Colgates, Bucknells, San Diegos and Cornells can play each other each week. Watching Albany play Massachusetts can be just as tough as watching Charleston Southern venture into Florida.
The commentator kept emphasizing how solid the Patriot League is without the use of scholarships and he stated that if the Patriot League allowed its members to have them, they would be right on par with the Colonial Conference, which is considered by most as the best and deepest 1-AA conference in the nation. These were not just the commentators words, they came from Villanova coach Andy Talley.
Many of you do ot care, but Division 1-AA is very important to the fiber of college football in America. Not every city and town in the country can have a major univesity with a 75,000 seat stadium. For towns like Newark, Delaware, Statesboro, Georgia, Boone, North Carolina, and Missoula, Montana, Division 1-AA football is a big time event. I lived in Delaware and was fortunate enough to attend three UD games, where over 20,000 packed old Delaware Stadium to see their beloved Blue Hens play.
When you watch Ball State play Penn State, you assume that Penn State will win, but you know that both schools have 85 scholarship players. It should be the same when Albany takes on Massachusetts or Bucknell plays Cornell or lehigh plays Villanova.