Decisions to play won't satisfy everyone
For a short time today, I wondered if I could write anything that hasn’t been said or written in the past few days. That has never happened before. Not only am I normally outspoken, but I’d guess that my thought process is fairly unique.
By now, however, we’re all well aware of what happened in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania on Tuesday. It’s been on every channel non-stop, and rightfully so.
In the news business, we’re in the peculiar position of working our hardest when things are strangest. D3football.com founder Pat Coleman and I both live just miles from the Pentagon in Northern Virginia, and we both dropped our allegiance to sports in order to help with extra editions and news productions from our respective papers (our day jobs) on Tuesday.
Back on the sports desk late Tuesday evening, I’ve spent the past couple of days trying to determine not only when specific athletic events will resume, but if they should.
The opinion, quite honestly, has been varied.
More 9/11 coverage
I talked to Dallas Cowboy Matt Lehr, who is from Woodbridge, in the coverage area of the Potomac News and Manassas Journal Messenger. As of Wednesday evening, they were practicing as though they’d be playing in Detroit on Sunday. Lehr, whose father is on active duty in the Navy, seemed OK with getting back on the field.
The NFL announced Thursday morning that it would not play games on Sunday.
"We in the NFL have decided that our priorities for this weekend are to pause, grieve, and reflect," Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said on NFL.com. "A decision on whether to re-schedule this weekend's games ... is under consideration."
Mike Colangelo, a San Diego Padres outfielder who is also from northern Virginia, said his team sat huddled around the TV in the clubhouse for the past few days. Major League Baseball postponed its games through at least Thursday.
Colangelo told me he was fine with canceling or postponing games as long as it was necessary. Safety, he figured, should be paramount. He wasn’t sure if packing 40,000 fans into a stadium would be such a good idea right now.
Colangelo’s wife Robin flew out of Dulles Airport — where one of the four hijacked planes departed from — on Sunday to be with him on the Padres off day. Colangelo said she had planned to fly Tuesday.
The opinion of local high school football players, whose games were pushed from Friday to Saturday, was varied as well.
One local activities director probably said it best.
"It’s not easy," said Frank Higgins of Potomac High School. "No matter what you, you’re going to get criticized. You’re not going to keep people happy."
With nearly everything from NASCAR to the NFL being called off, the NCAA’s decision to allow conferences and member schools to decide the fate of their own games will be met with some criticism. Several Division I-A conferences reneged late Thursday and called all games off.
In Division III football (yes, this all relates to D-III, finally), the decision actually makes a lot of sense.
A lot of sporting events were canceled this week due to travel and security concerns. The scope of Division III football can ease some of those concerns, allowing games to go on.
Most Division III teams travel by bus, meaning that the FAA’s decisions on suspending flights don’t affect many travel plans. As of Friday morning, only seven Saturday games were confirmed canceled, and three of them required hundreds of miles in travel. Others involved schools in the New York City region.
Concerns about security when allowing tens of thousands of people into a stadium shouldn’t affect Divison III games either. Many schools seat just a few thousand for football games, and none would be a target for — god forbid — additional trouble.
Being a former Division III player, I wonder how we would have reacted though, if my team had been forced to play under the same circumstances.
It seems awful trivial to concern yourself with X's and O's when thousands are presumed dead. I would have certainly had some trouble with a coach yelling "it’s going to be a war today" as we headed for the field.
But logic also suggests that playing games — and returning to normal American life — is a healthy form of healing.
I know that personally, I will miss my weekend of football, now that most major colleges and the NFL have called games off. I may even have to leave the house on Sunday, since TV right now consists of breaking news and reruns of classic programs (in the past three days, I have been fortunate enough to search out and watch episodes of Three’s Company and Diff’rent Strokes, the Fat Boys’ movie Disorderlies and the fourth quarter of an early 80s Nets-76ers game).
If football were to go on at all levels, it could become sport’s greatest accomplishment – diverting a depressed nation from its grief for a few hours. But then, there is no guarantee that the networks would pre-empt their 24-7 news coverage to broadcast football anyway.
Is playing right now necessary for us as a nation to move on, or is it too soon considering the pain for the victims of Tuesday’s tragedies and their families?
A columnist’s job is to provide answers… but on this question, I think one has to look within. There is certainly not a definitive, across-the-board answer that will satisfy everyone concerned.
And so, until we hear differently, the games will go on. At least in Division III they will.
Around the Nation
In the wake of the attacks, the American Football Coaches Association is that, for the remainder of the college football season, an American flag decal be placed on the back of each player's helmet. The flags are to be in remembrance of the victims of the attack and in honor of those who have worked so valiantly to save lives. "This will serve as a reminder to all of our players, coaches, supporters and those watching on television that, though we are playing a game, we want to recognize the terrible loss that our country has suffered," AFCA Executive Director Grant Teaff said. "We want to emphasize the patriotism that we feel for the greatest country in the world."
From Northeast Correspondent Jim Stout: Western Connecticut State has lost the services of Cortland State transfer and defensive back Austin Randolph, who has been called up by the U.S. Army reserves for possible deployment overseas. Randolph, a native of the Bronx, is a skilled armored tank driver. "Austin asked if he could stay because he was in the middle of school," said Western Connecticut head coach Bob Surace. "But he scored extremely high on his tests for driving tanks. They said they needed him."
Five of the Top 10 in the D3football.com preseason Top 25 have already suffered a loss. No. 7 Western Maryland lost to No. 6 Bridgewater and No. 10 St. John's lost to previously unranked UW-Eau Claire in Week 1. Then No. 2 Hardin-Simmons (35-28 Menlo), No. 3 Pacific Lutheran (35-27 Azusa Pacific, ranked No. 19 in NAIA) and No. 9 Trinity (Gustavus Adolphus) all lost in Week 2.
Though conference competition has yet to begin, the WIAC has flexed its muscle early on. The eight-school conference still has six unbeaten teams. Toss out 0-2 UW-River Falls, and the league is 10-1 in out-of-conference competition, with the lone loss coming in Division II Winona State's win over UW-La Crosse. Only the OAC (8-2, with the non-conference schedule complete) and NJAC (6-2 so far) are close.
Washington U. edged Illinois Wesleyan 17-14 to improve to 2-0. But the Bears' schedule gets tougher before it gets easier. After a game against Case Western Reserve, they play Albion, Rhodes and Trinity, who combined for a 22-10 mark in 2000. They then face UAA rival Carnegie Mellon, who has outscored its first two opponents 82-14.
The College of New Jersey's top two tacklers in its 28-14 win against Cortland State were identical twins — sophomore defensive backs Jason and Jeremy Julio. Jason had nine tackles and Jeremy was one of three Lions with seven.
Oberlin looked as if it would snap its 40-game losing streak when it led Pomona-Pitzner late in the fourth quarter Saturday. But the Sagehens' Joseph Cappola won it on a 43-yard punt return touchdown with 1:59 left.
Opening-day success: Linfield opened with its seventh consecutive season-opening win while Ithaca is 21-4 in its past 25 openers.
Division II Central Washington needed two scores in the final 3:16 to edge the Northwest Conference's Willamette 24-17.
Rochester rolled up 595 yards (including 315 rushing) in winning its opener 44-6 over St. John Fisher.
Wittenberg, four-time defending NCAC champions, improved to 2-0 with a 59-7 win over Heidelberg, sending The 'Berg to its 14th consecutive loss.
Games to Watch
No. 3 Wittenberg at Alma
The Tigers come off their big win by heading to central Michigan to visit the Scots (0-1), who finished 6-4 last year and 8-2 two seasons ago.
No. 5 Linfield at Southern Oregon
Marty Williams carried 21 times for 111 yards and two touchdowns in the Wildcats opening day win. He'll need to do just as well when Linfield meets the Raiders, ranked ninth in the NAIA, at 6 p.m. in Ashland. The Wildcats won 23-11 in 2000.
Willamette at No. 10 UW-Stout, ccd.
This highly anticipated interconference matchup was canceled earlier this week. The Bearcats also canceled a women's soccer trip to California and men's soccer and women's volleyball matches. There's a chance this could get made up in October, with some juggling.
No. 18 Montclair State at No. 20 Brockport State
Each of these 2000 East Region playoff participants come in ranked in the AFCA poll and unbeaten. The Red Hawks are unscored upon. The teams last played in 1999, when Montclair State won 30-15.
No. 22 Albion at Buffalo State
The Bengals split in games against I-AA Robert Morris and Division II Mansfield. But they chose no cream puff to open up their D3 slate. The Britons (2-0) have won five of six dating to last season and dropped 80 points in a game last October.
Aurora at Illinois Wesleyan, ccd.
Both of these teams stumbled against quality opponents in their openers, making the second game paramount to quality seasons. The game may or may not have playoff implications. Aurora swept the Illini-Badger Conference last year and went to the postseason. The Titans lost to CCIW opponent Wheaton, Millikin got the playoff berth and IWU stayed home.
Hartwick at Utica
Head coach Mike Kemp gets to scratch an itch building since he was hired in 1999: Utica will play its first varsity football game. With two recruiting classes under the belt, the Pioneers get to host the future Empire 8 opponent Hawks (2-0) on its literal home turf.
Worcester State at Bridgewater (Mass.) State
The 1-0 Bears host the 2-0 Lancers in a battle of the best in the NEFC's Bogan Division. The winner will likely grab the division title and possibly its NCAA tournament berth. The bid isn't guaranteed, because the Bogan division champion plays the winner of the Boyd division at season's end to see who goes to the show.
Wilmington (Ohio) at Baldwin-Wallace
A battle of two OAC dark horses. Each team rolled in its opener.
Also keep an eye on: DePauw at Hope, Emory and Henry at Sewanee, Johns Hopkins at Rochester, Lycoming at Susquehanna and Thomas More at Hanover, if they play. All of these games have reported in the affirmative so far, but we've also had several reversals of decisions since Thursday afternoon.