Football Gazette's Small College Football Blog

Don Hansen's Football Gazette Blog of information, comments, notes, and tidebits on Small College Football. NCAA 1-AA & Mid Major, Division II & Mid Major, Division III, NAIA, and NCCAA

Thursday, September 13, 2007

RED ZONE

THE RED ZONE By Craig Burroughs

The University of Alabama's January hiring of Nick Saban away from the NFL's Miami Dolphins has brought to the fore some pressing questions about the direction in which major college football is heading. Coaching salaries at school's in BCS-automatic-qualifying conferences have soared out of sight with all the dollars that are now at stake, thanks to television money. Mosthead coaches at large State universities now make more than their schools' Presidents and the Governor of their respective States (combined!). Saban's $4 million deal at 'Bama, where football is apparently a lot more important than State Government, puts his base salary at more than 35 times the Governor's, and that could well be 45 times if his incentives are met! Not surprisingly, while Saban has set a new gold standard, most States with BCS schools have a large imbalance between coaches' pay and public servants' pay. For example, California's "Governator" earns a $175,000 annual salary, which is in the Top 5 of all State Governors, compared to the $1.5 million paid to Cal's Jeff Tedford and the $1.25 million collected by Fresno State's Pat Hill. Even UCLA's Karl Dorrell, whose yearly $881,000 paycheck isn't even in the Top 50 of today's major college head coaches', is still more than 4 times Governor Schwartzenegger's. The "new" coaches at California's other big schools, Chuck Long at San Diego State ($701,500) and Dick Tomey at San Jose State ($342,100), have less gaudy salaries, but still make much more than their famous movie star boss. The differences are most apparent in less populous States, like Iowa, where Hawkeye
Head Coach Kirk Ferentz pulls down more than $2.8 million, while Governor Chet Culver earns less than $110,000, not even 4% of his fellow State employee's paycheck in Iowa City! West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez, at $1,750,000, is compensated more than 18 times the $95,000 salary of Joe Manchin, the Governor of the Mountain State. Because of the plethora of TV money, and the perceived threat of coaches being hired away by the NFL, big-time college coaches have become the latest rock stars of our generation. Saban used the reverse psychology of being "bought back" into the college fraternity by Alabama after leaving LSU for a $5,000,000-plus income with the NFL's Miami Dolphins just 2 years earlier. His somewhat unusual situation has had an unfortunate effect on college football economics, by setting the salary bar unrealistically high compared to the reality of the NFL "threat." There are 119 1-A (Bowl Championship Division) football programs, but only 32 NFL franchises. Most NFL teams prefer to hire coaches who have already been in the league for years, primarily, I believe, because there are major differences between the college and pro games. Very few top college coaches, perhaps no more than 10-15%, would even be offered the chance to jump to the NFL, and if the opportunity did present itself, many of them would be loath to leave something they love, and with which they are comfortable, to enter the dog-eat-dog world of professional football. To a large number of the college coaches I know, money is not the determining factor in their choice of livelihood...it is their passion for the game and their love of the young men they mentor. As an example of this observation, I can offer a few names who have never been paid over $400,000 for a year of coaching a major college football team: 1) Joe Novak, Northern Illinois University, annual salary today of $212,496...Novak's Huskies have beaten Alabama, Maryland and Iowa State in the same season, all of whom went to bowl games, and he has coached the nation's leading rusher as well as coaching NIU to two bowl games and to winning seasons that should have led to bowl game invitations if NIU had been given the respect it deserves. 2) Then there's Chris Ault ($360,000) at Nevada, currently entering his 23rd year of coaching in three different stints at his alma mater;
Ault has a 185-78-1 record and has already been enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame;
3) Jeff Bower ($349,983) at Southern Miss, has led his alma mater and Conference USA "Team of the Decade" to seven bowl games in the past eight years, and his 96-67-1 record over his 14-year head coaching career has included a 47-17 CUSA record, a 52-13 home record and road wins over such heavyweights as Alabama and Nebraska; 4) Toledo's Tom Amstutz ($376,400), whose record in his first five years at his alma mater is 45-18, including four division titles, two outright MAC championships and 3 bowl games. I'd rather have any one of these men coaching for me if I were a major college AD, instead of chasing the superstar multimillion dollar men! * * * * *If unbeaten Boise State's not-to-be-forgotten 43-42 overtime win over heavy favorite Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl wasn't resounding proof of the desperate need for a playoff in major college football, I can't imagine what would be. The lightly-regarded Broncos, who led 28-10 late in the 3rd Quarter, saw the Sooners tie the game with just 86 seconds to play, with a 2-point conversion no less, then had their first subsequent snap result in an Oklahoma interception and TD return to put them in a 35-28 hole with just 64 seconds to play. The haughty Big XII champions thought they had dodged a bullet, but the Broncos delighted the largely BSU crowd and a rapt national TV audience by firing three more shots at OU, each more damaging than the last. The first, of course, was the 50-yard "hook-and-ladder" play with 7 seconds on the clock to send the game into OT. Then it was the first pass ever thrown by a 2nd-team wide receiver to score an answering TD in overtime after OU's star RB Adrian Peterson had ripped off a 25-yard scoring run to open the OT. And finally, it was the underhand "Statue of Liberty" run by Ian Johnson for the winning 2-point conversion to top off a game in which 37 points were scored in the final 19 snaps, beginning at the 1:30 mark of the 4th Quarter. I heard many veteran reporters in the pressbox remark that this game had to be the best bowl game in history, and some even said it was the best football game they'd ever seen, period! Since Boise State represented the first-ever appearance in a BCS bowl game by a Western Athletic Conference team, it's awfully hard for the BCS bigwigs to argue that games like this one can happen every year, or that only teams from the top six "power" conferences deserve to play for the national title. Remember that Oklahoma is a team that played for three BCS titles in the past six years, winning one of them. Remember also that Boise State manhandled a very good Oregon State team, 42-14, early in the season, and the Beavers went on to give USC its first PAC-10 loss in four years and end the season by beating three other bowl teams in a row. USC, of course, played for three of the last four BCS titles, so maybe the have-nots from the WAC can play with the big boys after all! And if the WAC has teams that can beat perennial BCS title contenders, then it only follows that the Mountain West, Conference USA and the Mid-American have teams that can just as well. TCU showed that when they opened the 2005 season in Norman, beating the Sooners by a 17-10 margin on their way to an 11-1 season in which they beat four other bowl teams, including another Big XII team in the EV1.net Bowl.
Sports Illustrated responded to the Boise State-Oklahoma game with an imaginative proposal for an 8-team playoff using campus sites in mid-December for the first round, 2 of the current BCS bowls on a rotating basis for the semi-finals, then a championship bowl one week into January just as was done this year for the "chosen" Top 2. SI's idea would be a major step forward, but doesn't go far enough, in my mind. I've seen enough college football (990 games to date, and many more ahead, I hope) to know that the only way to know who's going to win on a particular day is to play the game. Did you think you'd watch a one-loss Florida team manhandle the Big Ten's supposedly unbeatable Buckeyes by the largest margin of victory ever by a #2 team over a #1? Nor did I, and it points up the fact that nothing beats playing head-to-head games. No poll or computer analysis or power ranking or strength-of-schedule rating will ever replace the actual playing of games, and there are, beyond the slightest doubt, more than eight teams capable of winning three straight at the end of a given season. The only way I can imagine ever seeing a real "National Champion" in most major college seasons is to have a 16-team FBS (nee 1-A) playoff, maybe by expanding the SI proposal to eight on-campus games in mid-December, with four bowl game quarterfinals, two bowl game semi's, and the Big Kahuna in early January. We've already seen that two college teams can play 8 days into the New Year, so why not let 16 teams vie for the privilege. The SI piece neatly debunks all the specious arguments against a playoff in the only division of any NCAA sport that doesn't have one, so here's hoping that before long the folks in the BCS cabal will realize that they're short-changing not only the people who buy tickets to their bowl games, but also the people who make those games possible...the college students on whose backs they're making untold millions! * * * * *After the exciting football travel year I had in 2005, I didn't think it would be possible to have an even better year in 2006. But, as they say, that's why they play the games...you never know what's going to happen on a given day at the ol' ballpark, and 2006 was littered with unexpectedly good games, and some surprising records as well. Not only did I get to see the aforementioned Boise State-Oklahoma thriller (the second-best football game I've ever seen), I got to see another game in Arizona just three nights earlier that was the third-best game in my years of football travels. It was Texas Tech's unbelievable 31-point comeback in the final 20 minutes of the Insight Bowl game against Minnesota. After the Gophers upped their lead to 38-7 halfway through the 3rd, the Red Raiders outscored them 37-3, including an improbable 51-yard field goal to tie the game as time expired. I had been kicking myself for several years about missing the second GMAC Bowl in Mobile back in 2001, the highest-scoring game in bowl history. In that game, Marshall wiped out a 38-8 halftime deficit against East Carolina to win 64-61 in double OT, thus establishing the all-time bowl-game record for largest deficit overcome to win. I would have been at that game if it had not conflicted with the New York holiday trip I take with my darling Sandy every year. We got back from theatre that night in time for me to watch the game's last quarter and OT's, all the while wishing secretly that I were in Mobile instead. Texas Tech's comeback let me come clean with Sandy about my 2001 regrets, and she actually apologized to me for "making" me miss such a thriller in 2001. I told her that there was no way to know in advance, and that now all I need is to see a bowl game that has a combined score of more than 125! And it looks as though we can expect more of the same in 2007. My college season begins on Thursday night, August 23rd, at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, ND, as the hometown Fighting Sioux entertain Humboldt State. That will be the first of what I hope will be a personal-best 82 college games this season, ending in New Orleans at the BCS Title Game on January 7th. But technically speaking, my football season has already begun...I am sending this column in from Canada in late July, where I've already seen the unbeaten and league-leading British Columbia Lions of the CFL outlast the winless Hamilton Tiger-Cats by a 22-18 score. I've also taken in a Canadian Juniors game, the first home contest in the history of the Kamloops Broncos, a disheartening 57-2 pasting at the hands of this year's BC Football Conference favorites, the Victoria Rebels. This season will also bring in ten more new college football programs, including eight 4-year schools and 2 playing JuCo schedules. The latter include Arkansas Baptist, which will play a schedule loaded with strong Texas JuCo teams, while Manhattan's Globe Institute of Technology will play mostly New York-area JV teams. The four-year schools, in alphabetical order, are: Birmingham-Southern(AL), Dordt College(IA), Faulkner University(AL), Kentucky Christian University, Lake Erie College(OH), Marian College(IN), North Carolina-Pembroke and Saint Vincent University(PA). I will have game stories and more details about each of these new programs as I cover them, with the final two planned to be seen against each other on October 27th, when Faulkner visits UNC-Pembroke. During the year we'll also have more news about the four new programs scheduled to kick off in 2008 and the three we know about so far due to start in 2009. Details on those programs, as well as my updated schedule, will appear in later columns, but you can go to the Football Gazette website to see my currently planned schedule, which will be updated in a few days. Happy Football!

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