Troy, So. Alabama, UAB Always on D-I bubble
February 1, 2017 | View PDF
It has been heartbreaking to me as a football fan to watch some of the teams in the south who have moved up to Division I football over the last decade. Teams like Troy, UAB, South Alabama and Georgia State were probably correct in the assessment of moving into the top class of college football with the plethora of bowl games available, the promise of more money in the coffers due to expanded crowds and fan bases. Also the alumni were stuck in what they considered the oblivion of Division 1-AA or Division II. There may have been other considerations, but this was the impetus that had the alumni licking their lips at the prospect of playing teams like Alabama and Auburn. Georgia beat Troy 66-0 in Athens two years ago. What amount of money could be enjoyed by the university at the expense of an embarrassment like that. It is a given that Troy beat Mississippi State during a down year and also beat Missouri. The Missouri game was the first big conference team to come to Troy. The game was won on a fumble recovery for a touchdown and other mistakes by Missouri. Coach Pat Garner and I were in Troy for the Missouri game. It was at this game that I thought Troy may be able to compete with the “big boys”.
Games like the Missouri win and the Mississippi State win have been few and far between. Troy even persuaded Duke to come to Troy a few years ago. The score was Duke 34 and Troy 17. Well, that was a close game to the Troy faithful continuing to perpetuate the myth that Troy can eventually play with the Alabama’s, the Auburn’s, the Georgia’s. Coach Larry Blakeney retired from Troy in 2014 with the most wins by a college coach in the State of Alabama, even eclipsing his own college coach, Ralph “Shug” Jordan who won 176 games at Auburn. Larry coached, promoted, worked as hard as he could during his tenure at Troy. It must be pointed out however that many of those wins came in Division II and Division I-AA. The new coach, Neal Brown, in his second year, will find the going just as tough as Coach Blakeney did.
University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) has been in this quagmire for thirty years or more. They even beat LSU in Baton Rouge when Nick Saban was the LSU coach. Everybody got excited. What have they done since. Their record is worse than Troy’s, playing what I call the “Big Boys”. The University of Alabama System has carried the load of UAB football from its inception. UAB was forced to drop football in 2015 from lack of funding. Alumni and supporters pledged $17 million dollars to reinstate football in 2017. That $17 million will be gone in five years. Although UAB plays Troy each year, the attendance is not what one would expect of two D-I teams. UAB plays in Conference USA along with Southern Mississippi, a team we will discuss later. Troy plays in the Sun Belt Conference where they have to travel to Idaho and New Mexico State.
There are two other teams in the Sun Belt Conference that are in the “twilight zone” mentioned above. That is Georgia State in Atlanta and South Alabama in Mobile. South Alabama is having moderate success in that they are breaking even on the field, but not in the finance department.
Southern Mississippi has been in Division I for as long as I can remember. I first saw them play when the Golden Eagles beat a good Alabama team in Crampton Bowl in 1953. That has been the highlight of the not so glorious history of Southern Mississippi football. With the presence of programs at Ole Miss and Mississippi State, Southern Miss has been relegated to “baby brother”. They are out funded, out recruited and out coached. They can no longer be relevant in the State of Mississippi. The pool of football players is just not good enough to divide three ways in Mississippi.
We have discussed the difficult situation with schools that moved from D I-AA to D-I. Would these universities consider going down one classification in order to compete on the field and compete at the financial office? Probably not, but the following is a scenario that could work if phased in over a period of three years.
Troy, UAB, South Alabama, Georgia State and Southern Mississippi could begin the process of forming a new conference of Division I-AA schools called the DEEP SOUTH CONFERENCE.
Schools that are playing at the Division I-AA level now who should be added to the Deep South Conference are Alabama State in Montgomery, Alabama A&M in Huntsville, Jacksonville State in Jacksonville, Samford in Birmingham and Chattanooga in Tennessee. Three years is an ample time to make the move to the Deep South Conference. This gives us nine teams by 2019.
There are three Division II teams that are playing above their classification for the most part that could easily make the transition to Division I-AA in three years. They are North Alabama in Florence and Tuskegee in Tuskegee.
To move from D-I to D I-AA, teams would have to give up from 85 football scholarships down to 65. This sounds like a tremendous blow. But if you are not winning and making money, this would be a considerable savings in tuition room and board, and medical insurance not to mention the savings in cost of travel. No more Idaho’s or New Mexico State’s. Jacksonville State or Alabama State will bring more fans than Idaho and New Mexico State combined.
In addition to losing 20 scholarships, Division I-AA teams can only schedule eleven games because each team will be eligible for the I-AA National Championship Play-offs, if they qualify. Troy was a perennial candidate in I-AA and won the national championship twice. Therefore a nine game rotating schedule would allow each team to play nine conference games and two out of conference. This means you could schedule Michigan State as did Jacksonville State one year, traveling to East Lansing, Michigan, get beat 45-7 and come home with a nice check. Or you could schedule West Alabama, who I did not include in the proposed Deep South Conference because their potential fan base is seriously limited. The twelve teams recommended in this scenario would never have to travel more than approximately 300 miles. In some cases only forty or fifty miles. The savings would be tremendous. The chance of winning will be much better and the attendance at a winning Division I-AA program will certainly outdistance the present attendance of struggling Division I-A programs. Winning is contagious. So is losing!
Of course I have only given a scenario that could work. However, I am not naive enough to believe that all of the above schools would authorize such a drastic move. But, it is something to think about.
It just hurts me to see players and coaches be embarrassed and sometimes injured, playing programs that are just one step ahead of them. I don’t see Troy, UAB, Southern Mississippi, Georgia State, South Alabama ever reaching the goals that they set out to accomplish. There are just not enough good football players in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Tennessee to support programs other than Auburn, Alabama, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Georgia and Georgia Tech, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Any other Division I programs in these four states will always suffer no matter who the coach is or what the alumni base wants to accomplish or how much money is thrown at the program. There are other kinds of patience involved in deer hunting and deer management. With QDMA, I spend every day working with folks who understand and exemplify that virtue, ensuring that we don’t fritter away the things we have today, ruining what we could have tomorrow! Proper deer management isn’t something you just do for a couple of days a year, but something that takes constant dedication and work. The results take years to really start to shine, but they are absolutely worth it! That same pride I felt, seeing the results of the patience my son had that day, is the same I feel for the work I do with land management and deer herd management. It’s a lot of work, but it’s so definitely worth it! I encourage all of you to take some time and visit http://www.qdma.com and spend a little time reading up on us, and of course, deer! I really hope all of you folks have a wonderful remainder of the season, all the way through February 10th! So get out there, get comfy, and stay patient! Go get’em!