Welcome to Preseason Conditioning. Starting today and extending through to the start of the FBS season on September 3, Jon will be dropping a daily afternoon column to help get you all back into game-ready shape for FOOTBAW. Each day, a topic of interest will be discussed, and a couple of conferences will be briefly previewed, starting with the NAIA conferences and finishing with the ACC and American on September 3.
Three ago, when I was spending all my time writing at my late and unlamented small college blog, I stumbled across the existence of a school that was a little dubious. Last year, the manager of the /r/CFB subreddit also stumbled upon the school. After bringing it to everyone's attention there, he then went a wee bit deeper: a full investigation of the history of the outfit.
We're talking, of course, of the infamous College of Faith, with known "branches" in Memphis, Charlotte, and Orlando. They're back on my radar yet again because it's that time of year when I start compiling everyone's schedules1. Naturally there they are again, dotting the schedules of schools who should know better.
The story gets deeper now, however. Apparently, there's now another branch in Oklahoma City, and they're on the schedules at Texas Southern and Prairie View A&M. It's a plague, and it needs to be stopped.
Sure, some people may ask what the harm is. The problem is two-fold: these shadow schools operate without proper academic oversight, and run on limited budgets which prevent basic necessities such as athletic trainers. The latter is, of course, a simple matter of player safety; these operations shouldn't be allowed for that reason alone. The academic issue, however, goes to the very heart of the mission espoused by the institutions who are members of the NCAA (and NAIA). Put another way, why should a game count if it's played against a school which doesn't even meet the most basic minimum requirement to even be considered for NCAA membership? That's the first criteria: "Are you accredited?" Only if you can answer "yes" to that question do any other considerations regarding your proposed membership apply.
There is a very simple solution to this issue, though. A solution that the membership of both organizations could easily adopt with virtually zero pushback:
Stop allowing, or at the very least stop recognizing, contests against schools which are not accredited by a nationally-recognized accreditation agency.
It's that simple. There is absolutely no excuse for collegiate athletic programs to be competing in games which "count" against any team which isn't engaged in the same mission. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by beating up on a team with a roster of less than two dozen players who don't receive competent coaching, and (as you can see if you go read the second Reddit link above) the pretense that these players are receiving an education is patently absurd.
At one time, there was an argument against this, but that argument was very limited in scope. There are some small schools which have been competing in college athletics for decades which had for whatever reason shunned accreditation. There were also gaps in the accreditation process; the regional accreditors are more strict about the requirements for accrediting schools, and many institutions which are perfectly legitimate (if limited) educational entities were not afforded that seal of quality.
But in the last couple of decades, those gaps have been erased. There are now nationally-recognized accreditation agencies which oversee areas such as bible colleges and vocational schools, ensuring that their curriculum and finances are on the up-and-up. Receiving that recognition is no longer quite as challenging as it once was; any institution which is truly in the business of providing an education should have no issue whatsoever with obtaining their bona fides.
Indeed, the two schools which immediately come to mind are Trinity Bible College and the Newport News Apprentice school. Neither are NCAA or NAIA members; Apprentice isn't even actually a "college" in a technical sense. But they have both long been part of the fabric of small college athletics, and while not being members of either organization have made the effort to abide by the rules of both. The thing is, they're now both accredited (Trinity by the Association of Biblical Higher Education, Apprentice by the Accrediting Commission of the Council on Occupational Education). So protecting them -- or, more accurately, protecting their rival NCAA and NAIA members' right to play them on a regular basis -- is no longer an issue.
It's time for the NCAA and NAIA to both step up and address this. It's a very simple rule change, and one which the vast majority of both organizations would support without objection.
(Then, once we've accomplished that, we can start ordering schools to remove all those games against high schools and YMCA squads from their record books. But that's another issue entirely.)
Update: Alan Grosback, Sports Information Director for the NAIA, reached out to me to clarify that the NAIA does not count games played against non-accredited institutions in their official records. I've asked for further information, and we'll cover that in a follow-up post.
1 - A practice I engage in despite the ease of looking things up solely so that I can create my own spreadsheet and manually enter each game, because that way I'm more in tune with what's going on. If you've never done it, try it sometime. It's super effective.
NAIA Independents Preview
This is the shortest preview I'll write all season: there are no more NAIA independents. Arizona Christian has joined the Central States Football League, Lindenwood-Belleville (the school with the candy-cane striped field) and Missouri Baptist have joined the Mid-States Football Association, and both Haskell and Menlo have dropped football. Well, Haskell has "suspended" football. Maybe they'll UAB it back.
Now, before I get into the one conference I'm actually previewing today, just a note: my intention here is to just give some flavor. These aren't going to be anything really in-depth, largely because the smaller conferences won't even be starting to release media information until later in August. (Remember, many of these schools don't even have a complete grip on who's going to enroll, so they can't even begin to compile that information until camp opens.) As we get closer to the end of August, the information will be more current and accurate, but I'm still going to keep it light, even for the FBS conferences when we reach the final week.
The Sun Conference
|2014 Standings and Info|
|23||Webber International University Warriors||Babson Park FL||4-1||8-3|
|rv||Southeastern University Fire||Lakeland FL||3-2||7-3|
|Warner University Royals||Lake Wales FL||3-2||5-5|
|Ave Maria University Gyrenes||Ave Maria FL||3-2||5-6|
|Edward Waters College Tigers||Jacksonville FL||2-3||4-6|
|Point University Skyhawks||West Point GA||0-5||0-9|
The Sun, formerly the Florida Sun Conference before expanding outside the state, has been around since 1990. It wasn't until last year, however, that the conference had enough football-playing teams -- with the addition of a couple of affiliates -- to sponsor the sport, and only one of the league's six teams has a program which existed last decade. It's the NAIA's youngest football league, and that shows in the league's quality (or lack thereof). The initial championship last year was won by Webber International (4-1, 8-3), but the 23rd-ranked Warriors missed out on the NAIA playoffs.
Webber is expected to be the team to beat this year, holding that 23rd spot in the spring poll. (Yes, the NAIA issues an official spring poll.) First-Team All-Sun offensive lineman Macander Dieudonee returns, but the Warriors lost four other first-teamers to graduation. RB Darius Page, CB/KR Prince Holloway, DL Marquise Harts, and LB Trevor Montgomery, all honorable mentions, return as well. Webber's biggest non-conference test is a September 5 visit to FCS Stetson.
Southeastern is the best bet to challenge the Warriors. The Fire are led by NAIA preseason All-American running back Jarrell Reynolds, a redshirt sophomore coming off a season in which he ran for 1,469 yards and 26 touchdowns, including a 385-yard six-TD day against conference rival Edward Waters. Both figures were the highest single-game totals in the NAIA last year, and unsurprisingly Reynolds is the defending conference Player of the Year. One reason why Southeastern might rule the roost in 2015: three returning sophomores who made the conference first-team, and senior QB Jonathan Pierce returns to run the offense. An extremely young team loaded with returning sophomores -- the school just began football last year -- is in prime position to step up after a solid first year. One thing working against them: they have not one, but two of the dubious schools mentioned in today's lead story on the schedule. That will win games; it will also turn off voters, and the NAIA playoffs are entirely based on the final regular season poll.
Warner, who hosted Iowa State's satellite camp this summer, is also a very young team, having just begun football in 2013. Three first-team and four honorable mention selections return. The Royals have two FCS teams on their schedule, although one doesn't really count this year: San Diego on October 24 and East Tennessee State on Halloween. With D-II Florida Tech also on tap, Warner faces the league's most daunting non-conference slate.
Ave Maria, home of the Gyrenes -- the mascot is a bulldog, and the name refers to the fact that World War II marines didn't like being referred to as GIs -- are in rebuilding mode. They had three first-team selections last year; all graduated. Still, other than Edward Waters this is the conference's oldest program. Will having experienced roster turnover work in the Gyrene's favor? Perhaps, but with the top three teams in the league all returning massive roster numbers, it's a hard sell.
Edward Waters, the league's HBCU, returns three all-conference selections. The league's oldest football program will try to rebound from a mediocre 2014 by... scheduling garbage. They're one of the schools which officially open the 2015 football season, and they're doing it against University of Faith. A week later, they play some outfit called "University of God's Chosen", which may or may not be a rebranding of College of Faith (NC). Who can tell anymore? The "academics" portion of UGC's website suggests students enroll and take courses at Guilford Technical Community College, and jees, man, I give up. ANYway. The Tigers will pay for that opening two-week salvo, however, as they visit D-II Morehouse and FCS Kennesaw State the following two weeks.
Last year's winless cellar-dwellers are probably destined to remain there, and while it would be fun to claim it's Point's punishment for also scheduling God's Chosen, it's more to do with also scheduling Kennesaw State and three solid NAIA programs. Six first-teamers return, including NAIA preseason All-American punter David Strickland. But like I always say, when your punter is your star, you've got a problem. (Don't tell Chris Kluwe I said that.)
Game of the Year: Webber visits Southeastern on Halloween night, with the conference title probably on the line.
To help this process along, be advised that you are more than welcome to ask questions here, and on slack days we'll use them to generate a mailbag-type column. Fun, yes? Yes.
Now go hit those tackling dummies and show some effort. It's time to get those commenting fingers strong and ready for a long autumn.