D3 Football: Perspectives From a Student-Athlete
As the FBS season winds down amidst high-profile coaching searches at Notre Dame and others, I have noted the pain with which Irish players are parting with their coaches. Yet TV and equipment contracts, lucrative benefits from conference membership, large fan bases with seven or even eight home games keep big-time college football immune from dissolving their football programs.
The End of a College Football Program
We got an insight into how a football player feels when he suddenly loses his program from Chris Jarmon, a freshman offensive lineman last year at Division 3 Colorado College, in his blog from March 29, 2009. An athletic department meeting had been called. President Richard Celeste spoke to the football, softball and water polo teams:
“You could almost hear everyone’s hearts simultaneously hit the floor. I couldn’t even move, feeling a shock that rocked me to my core like nothing in my life ever has. I literally felt sick to my stomach as Celeste began a tirade about the economy and costs and endowment and program cuts and broken dreams. All in all, he said, CC would be cutting softball, football and women’s water polo to keep the other programs working in a manner that CC could be proud of. As soon as I heard the news, I knew I had to transfer. Football means almost everything to me, and I couldn’t live with myself not knowing I’d exhausted all playing opportunities. To be honest, I don’t know how I’m going to live without football once my senior season is over. So to not play my remaining three seasons would be the biggest regret of my life.
Thus, the main sentiment continues to be the surreal nature of this whole situation. We had no rumors, no warning. Our coaches didn’t even know football was being dropped until yesterday morning. We have recruits committed to come here and play for a team that no longer exists. The most surreal and jarring aspect of this whole thing is that, in a matter of seconds, I lost my family here as I knew it. Of my friends who I’d gotten to know so well, I’ll maybe see a few once the school year’s over. Maybe one or two will even transfer to the same school as me, but I doubt it. I might talk with my coaches occasionally via email or phone, but I’ll be just another ex-player. Now instead of dreaming about what we’ll do at CC next year, I’m scrambling to get teacher recommendations, transcripts and FAFSA forms. All the while I can barely stand to think about trying to find the same kind of family elsewhere. It makes me feel scared and weak. It’s sapped my energy completely. I’ve lost my appetite and I eat sparingly. I sleep more than I used to. This is undoubtedly a period of grieving for me, and to have to look for another place to go to school makes it even worse.
I’m coming to terms with the fact that the of brothers I’ve gained here at CC, I’ll most likely never see most of them again after I leave here. It continues to break my heart and soul. In those few seconds everything in my college life got turned upside down. Dollar signs aside, the athletic department did not drop a football program yesterday. They ruined a family. I pray that someday I will get over this, but I doubt it will be any time soon.” (Source: The D3 Experience)
Football Costs, FBS Recruiting Budgets
Jarmon had previously blogged concerns that many D3 football players have on January 31, 2009:
“Reading about teams cutting their programs is a scary thing to me as a D3 player, especially one whose team just capped off an 0-9 season amidst campus financial troubles. You think that this is something that won’t happen to you, and then two schools cut their programs in a single month. The financial ramifications of Divsion III football are extreme: the program requires exceptional amounts of money for proper equipment, and (in CC’s case, since we have to fly to every away game) some serious flying expenses.
I’ve kept the faith that as one of the most visible programs on campus and one of the oldest programs ever (we played the first football game west of the Mississippi), we won’t see this happen at CC. But if the rest of 2009 is as crazy as January was, who knows what will happen next?”
Colorado College played its first football game in 1882, five years prior to Notre Dame’s first game. The Board of Trustees tasked CC’s Athletic Department to cut $8-12 million dollars from their budgets. The “serious flying expenses” Jarmon refers to were detailed by Celeste: “It is important to note that our athletic program is the only Division III program in the Mountain Time Zone. In the 2008-09 academic year we will have purchased over 1,700 plane tickets and over 1,425 hotel nights in order for our teams to complete their schedules.” (Source: Colorado College)
Colorado College expected to save $450,000 in expenses by dissolving these three programs. In contrast, for recruiting expenses only, the top twenty FBS schools spent over $1 million dollars, representing 1-3% of their athletic department budgets. Tennessee spent over $2 million on recruiting with Notre Dame second at about $1.76 million. (Source: Fanblogs)
The Purest Form of College Football
Chris Jarmon subtitles his blog, “The Purest Form of College Football.” Division III athletes do not receive athletic scholarships. Their colleges are small, often private schools. Of the 233 D3 football programs in 28 conferences, only 27 teams have an average attendance of more than 3,000 fans per game. (Source: NCAA Accumulated Attendance Report.pdf)
Occasionally, a D3 football player gets an NFL tryout. The NCAA does not even distinguish D3 football players from their schools’ other students in graduation statistics. All are considered students. Playing for the love of football, without any chance at the NFL, with few opportunities to appear on TV or before more than a couple of thousand fans at most, and working to achieve your degree may well be the purest form of college football.
Jarmon, who is majoring in English with a Journalism minor, transferred to Grinnell College (Iowa) after spending a summer as an intern working for NFL Films. He continued his blog through a tough fall camp, learning a new offense and adjusting to new teammates and a new part of the country. He experienced his first win as a college football player and Grinnell’s tradition of “Beardtober.”
How has he fared with all the changes and transitions? He recently blogged:
“Throughout it all, football was a lifeline. The family here at Grinnell is as strong as any I’ve ever been a part of. This year was (and still is) the toughest I’ve gone through in my life, but thanks to those around me I can call it my most formative year yet as a student, as a football player, and as a man. It helped to heal the wounds that ran deep into my soul. I’ll never forget losing my family at CC, but having a family here helps me to embrace the pain and keep moving forward with love in my heart.
So now, as I listen to the freezing rain popping on my window during a cold November night in Iowa, many months later after another season of football and another year of life, was it all worth it?
How Novel—A Playoff
To paraphrase the Wizard of Oz, Division III has one thing FBS football does not have—an NCAA playoff to determine their champion.
The semifinals of the D3 playoffs pit four unbeaten teams that all rank in the top five nationally. Top-ranked and 10-time National Champion, Mount Union (OH) faces third-ranked Wesley (DE). Mt. Union’s second-ranked Scoring Offense (48 points per game) must overcome #3 Wesley’s fourth-ranked Scoring Defense (10 ppg). Mount Union’s top-ranked Scoring Defense (7 ppg) should be the difference against Wesley’s twenty-seventh ranked Scoring Offense (35 ppg).
Wisconsin-Whitewater, another past National Champion who finished second to Mount Union last year, may be headed for another final rematch with them. Before that, second-ranked Whitewater must overcome fifth-ranked Linfield (OR), who is also a previous National Champion. Whitewater will try to establish its rushing offense that averages over 200 yards per game against a Linfield defense that gives up over 160 ypg.
If Wisconsin-Whitewater and Mount Union meet in the Stagg Bowl finals, D3’s top two defenses will face two of its top offenses.
Should you tire of the endless BCS wrangling, calls for playoffs, questionable bowl matchups and discussions of revenues or even if you want to take a break from Notre Dame head coach rumors, check out the D3 playoffs and Chris Jarmon’s blog.
You should also expect more cutbacks and perhaps more small college football programs calling it quits.
So far this year, Hofstra (FCS) has ended their 69 year old program as well as Northeastern (DI) pulling the plug after 74 years.