Fighting an Uphill Battle...Why Division I-AA and II Get The Cold Shoulder
What happened along the way?
Back in the "Good ole' days," we saw small schools being held in, actually, high regard when it came to college football. Grambling was respected, Alcorn State, Mississippi Valley State, Jackson State, etc.
Now, when someone mentions that a Division I-AA school did this (FCS? What? Stop with that.), or a Division II did that, the first response is "Who cares?"
I'll tell you who cares.
Quick, name the alma maters of Steve McNair, Jerry Rice, and Walter Payton.
They were all named above.
Steve McNair, one of only a handful of college football players in history to pass for 10,000 career yards and rush for 3,000 career yards, attended Alcorn State and even made a run at a Heisman trophy.
Jerry Rice, without a doubt, isn't even one of the top record holders in the history of college football, after he attended Mississippi Valley State.
Walter Payton, arguably the best running back to ever play the game, came from Jackson State.
Three of the greatest football players the NFL has seen, two of which who are, or arguably are, the best players to ever play at their position, and they all came from small schools.
Now? In 2008? If you mention a standout player from Alcorn State, Mississippi Valley State, or Jackson State, you'll likely get laughed at, and that will be followed up with "Who does he play against? Adam Sandler's team in 'Waterboy'?"
Where did these small schools go wrong?
Nowhere, that's where. It's been an evolution of know-it-all opinions in the world of sports that has ruined the hold that these smaller schools once had on football talent.
Look no further back than 2006 and 2007 for evidence that people need to see that Division I-AA and Division II football is not as much of a step down as people think it is.
Buster Larkins, a former starting safety with the Indiana Hoosiers, transferred to Division II athletic powerhouse Grand Valley State University, and rode the bench for a handful of games before finally stepping into a starting role. Most people would assume he came in and dominated his competition. No, he didn't.
Tony Carr, a former #1 cornerback for the Western Michigan Broncos, transferred to Grand Valley State to play with his brother, Brandon, now of the Kansas City Chiefs, and had a very notable quote to share, "The skill talent here is just as good as Division I. The only difference is the size of the linemen. But skill, talent, and speed, there's no difference."
Small-school fans will rejoice soon when Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie shows how talented these players can be, and as a Grand Valley State fan, I'm hoping Brandon Carr does the same thing with the Chiefs.
People automatically assume that the players at the I-AA and II levels of college football are there because they weren't good. Couldn't be further from the truth. Many of the players on the best Division I-AA and II teams are guys who either didn't have the grades to go to Division I (and in some cases, the I-AA and II standards for accepting athletes are even more stringent than Division I), some had family problems, and some just plain picked the lower division because of better clock rules for them in terms of how many years they had to play football, or because of high school injuries.
People are saying Joe Flacco was a bad pick, just because he went to Delaware. Really? Few people know that he was at Pittsburgh and was just behind Tyler Palko. Was he not as good as Palko? Questionable. Could the coaches have made a mistaken? Possibly.
Curt Anes and David Kircus, also Grand Valley State University alums, combined for one of most dangerous duos in the history of college football at any level. How did they end up at GVSU? They were both being courted by the University of Michigan in high school until season-ending injuries as either a junior or senior de-railed their plans. Grand Valley's Mike McFadden, who went to camp with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and is now in the Arena Football League, left GVSU as the Division II all-time career sack leader. He was also being courted by the University of Michigan until he blew out his knee, and he had to go to Grand Valley. Astin Martin, who led the Toledo Rockets in rushing one season, transferred to GVSU because of a sick family member of who lived 15 minutes away from the Grand Valley campus.
None of these guys are coming in and dominating their competition. Matt Gutierrez (Michigan) put up pedestrian numbers at Idaho State last season. Alley Broussard (LSU) didn't even make a dent in the Division II leader boards last season. I can guarantee Ryan Perriloux won't be lighting anyone up anytime soon, either.
So next time someone mentions a Division I-AA or Division II school or player to you, research the player. Research the school. Because odds are that player is better than 90% of your favorite BCS team's roster.
By the way, we've got playoffs. And they work. And nobody argues.
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