November 8, 2007

When a title rides on a rivalry

I’ve been waiting a long time for this one.

As a rail-thin high school football defensive back/receiver/quarterback in Southern New Jersey back in 1993, getting recruiting letters from small schools with good academic reputations turned out to be a pretty common thing. The very first letter I’d ever received was from a place in Virginia I’d never heard of, but through the frequency of the mailings (back in days before e-mail and text messaging) I got to follow along a slightly bumpy road on this team’s quest for its conference championship.

In the midst of a disappointing 2-7 senior year in which my Triton Mustangs lost heartbreaker after heartbreaker, this team’s winning run captivated me. It turned out later that the school interested me too, but solely from a football perspective, this Randolph-Macon place seemed to be alive in its anticipation of the season-ending clash. Not only was it going to be the 100th year since they first played Hampden-Sydney College, but the conference title would be on the line as well.

I read about the talents of Hampden-Sydney’s Cetric Gayles and Randolph-Macon’s Dexter Hurt, and learned that the Yellow Jackets capped the season with a dramatic 17-10 title-clinching victory.

Tired of putting forth everything I had and still losing, I liked the idea of playing for a winner. 

Randolph-Macon, as you probably have gathered, became my college choice, over places like Albright, Allegheny, Salisbury, Ursinus, Muhlenberg and Widener, among others from outside Division III. 

The tradition was evident on early trips into the football building, as banners and trophies from past championships were on display. 

Upon indoctrination into the football rivalry, a Randolph-Macon player quickly learns that The Game is bigger than homecoming. Alumni, especially ex-players, all have a great Hampden-Sydney game story. Deep in the history of the rivalry were tales stolen war eagle pranks and missing engines, along with the idea that early Macon freshmen got to remove their beanies if the football team beat Hampden-Sydney, but had to wear them through the end of their first semester if they lost.

There’s a blood drive, dueling editorials in the school papers and the official running of the football from one campus to the other, a cooperative effort. For players, there used to be a haircut tradition, in which older players -- the other guys from Jersey, in my case -- got to take clippers to a freshman’s head and follow their inspiration. Some people got ill-advised designs, some lost eyebrows, but all haircuts were supposed to be displayed in class on Friday and not cleaned up until after game day.

My freshman season marked the 100th game (in the 101st year) and the crowd on hand at H-SC’s “death valley” -- estimated at 14,000 -- put forth a deafening roar.

We perhaps began to believe that all occurrences of The Game (also known as The South’s oldest small-college rivalry) would be so memorable.

In 1995, Randolph-Macon began a string of six consecutive victories in the rivalry. During my senior year, it got so bad that I got removed from my final game in the third quarter, and my team at one point led 42-6. In our last game, we couldn’t even go to the final whistle because they’d called off the dogs.

Over the following six years, Hampden-Sydney repaid the favor by sweeping all meetings in the rivalry. There have been some epic battles over the years, some 3- and 7-point games, but nothing quite like what I read about in 1993 and heard about so often as an R-MC freshman.

The game we considered to be for the ODAC title most years was played in Week 6 against Emory & Henry. By season’s end, there was plenty of reason to enjoy The Game, but none of it ever had to do with deciding a conference champion, much less a playoff bid under the 16-team system.

And so the rivalry came to be for me, personally, not quite all it was cracked up to be. As I began to travel with, first as the mid-Atlantic columnist in 2000 and as the national columnist ever since, I gained a new perspective on the Division III world.

I’ve sat in the office of all-time wins leader John Gagliardi of St. John’s, shot the breeze with Mount Union’s Larry Kehres on the sideline before a championship and have been mesmerized by Pacific Lutheran’s Frosty Westering. I’ve seen Division III football games literally from coast to coast, in Amherst, Mass. as well as Los Angeles, Calif. I’ve seen jaw-dropping moves, catches and hits, dramatic endings and electric atmospheres. Someday it’ll fill a 10th anniversary column.

I’ve been blessed to be the guy who gets to go to all the wonderful places in Division III and then try to do them justice by bringing a slice of their lives to the Internet for you.

But in the process, while learning that there are likeable people worth rooting for at every stop along the way, I grew distant from my own alma mater. Part of it was the turnover of the coaching staff, the athletic department and even the president, to the point where there are few people employed by the college who I was close to when I went there.

I have always held dear the people who were at Randolph-Macon when I was, and at times writing for means I hear from them when I otherwise wouldn’t. And Ashland, on and off campus, has always been a special place. Some of the best times in my life were at Randolph-Macon.

But by gaining the broader perspective on Division III, I lost the narrow focus and emotional ride that you get when you’re a die-hard fan of a particular team.

Eventually, given the history of the rivalry and the fact there was often somewhere else to be, like Wabash and DePauw’s Monon Bell game, I stopped going to The Game.

In fact, it was pretty easy to be impartial in my coverage of Division III when Randolph-Macon wasn’t doing anything memorable on the field.

Sure, I had that moment every year at the Stagg Bowl, wondering what Salem Stadium would look like with a bunch of screaming fans in Black and Lemon, guys I played with tailgating and ‘Yellow Jackets’ painted in the end zone. 

But I also left the program at a time when seven wins was becoming a given, and I somewhat resented the players, coaches and administrators who had let things fall into disarray. Not that they weren’t trying, and not that I was any help, writing about other schools and keeping journalistic integrity by not supporting my own. But as I would see us -- or rather, them -- get pounded by Washington and Lee, a team I never lost to, I would think “We never would have let that happen.”

I would still wear my Randolph-Macon shirts with pride, but they were for my era -- the Joe Riccio teams -- not for the guys who were out there failing to hold up the tradition so many people worked so hard to build.

To be the national columnist, I sacrificed nearly everything it was to be a proud alum. Whether Randolph-Macon won or lost, I almost stopped caring. My work had made it so I didn’t even hate the teams I was supposed to. Hampden-Sydney coach Marty Favret and I could share a laugh about the epic games the Catholic teams he was offensive coordinator for played against my Randolph-Macon teams.

On our recent trip, editor and publisher Pat Coleman told me a joke, and I didn’t even get it because I didn’t know who Zak Thornton was. (He’s R-MC’s beast running back, with more than 1,400 rushing yards this season and coming off consecutive 200-yard games.) I’ve never even spoken with Pedro Arruza, who’s been the Yellow Jackets’ coach for four seasons now. I always wanted to offer him some encouragement when times were rough, and see if there was anything me or the guys I still keep in touch with could do to help, as alumni. Now I’m just a total bandwagon-jumper if I go up to introduce myself.

Being that I’m often a walking billboard for any Division III football team, I wore a Wesley hat into work on Wednesday, mostly because it matched my outfit and is comfortable. But when Pat’s playoff projections came out, with the ODAC champ likely to head to Delaware to play the Wolverines, I immediately removed the hat and refused to put it back on. Now I can’t wear it, because “my” Jackets could be playoff-bound.

Winning sure has a way of changing how people feel.

I’ll be at Saturday’s game, the first one I’ve seen at Randolph-Macon in several years. I’ll catch up with old friends, perhaps even tailgate bit before I go to work in my capacity.

Being a Randolph-Macon football alum is fun again. The Game matters. Better yet, I don’t already know who’s going to win.

And hey, the Jackets did it all without any help from me. I never lost the love for Randolph-Macon, but I definitely lost touch.

I’m looking forward to going back. And maybe I can ditch the press box, sit in the stands and yell “Huck Fampden-Sydney!” or whatever else comes to mind. Might be nice to be a fan again, if just for a day.

 Emptying the notebook, extended thoughts


Writers aren’t always supposed to ‘empty the notebook.’ Sometimes you have to just let some decent thoughts go. But in the course of brainstorming for this here Week 11 Around the Nation, here are some other things that came up that I thought were worth throwing out there. And to be honest, I didn’t research a thing about R-MC vs. H-SC, that was all off the top of the head.

 If you could visit all 238 Division III schools, would you?

Pat and I counted a year or two ago, and we’ve seen games in all but one conference and had each been to dozens of campuses, but at the time were each short of 100. (We might have to revisit that discussion as we have again done some serious game-watching. Pat counts 98 teams he’s seen play in person and 57 campuses on which he’s seen games. Not as much as we could if this were our full-time jobs, but I digress.)

I haven’t been a diligent collector, say, picking up an item at every stop, but my home is --littered might be overstating, so let’s say dotted -- with items from Division III colleges. Mostly shirts, but a few pennants and hats, and not including my library of media guides. I can think of Randolph-Macon, Linfield, Mary Hardin-Baylor, McMurry, Millsaps, Moravian, Mount Union, Pacific Lutheran, St. Thomas, Thiel, UW-Whitewater, UW-Stout and Wesley things I own. Always thought I needed shirts from St. John’s and Rowan to attract maximum attention for Division III while out and about. Although, as we discussed once on Post Patterns, we Division III alums spot signs of D3 schools everywhere we go.

It’s just something I think about, because, with the exception of the ODAC schools I played against, I would probably wear gear from any Division III school. Trying to get to 238 (Or, uh, 232) is a goal that’ll keep me busy and I’ll probably never reach.

Anyone out there have odd collections or goals like that? Is it only me that thinks in such broad terms? Discuss on Post Patterns’ Around the Nation thread.

 I am privy to a lot of experiences as the national columnist that I can’t help but think would have been cool as a player. The fun of playoff games and the camaraderie of certain road trips, especially those with unique non-game-related excursions involved, are among the experiences that just seem like they would have been fun to be a part of. I don’t think I ever feel a true jealousy though, because at Randolph-Macon I experienced a great place and great times with some of my all-time favorite people. But I still wonder if I knew while being recruited what I know now if I would have made a different decision. Maybe I would have tried to end up at Mount Union somehow, just to see what it would have been like to push myself to play alongside the greatest at this level.

 We often define rivalries by the level of hate involved, but those who have matured to a certain level realize that the hate is not genuine. It’s more of a respect based on what happened in competition we really cared about.

For instance, I never really developed a solid hate for Hampden-Sydney because my final three years, we were pretty sure we were going to win that game. Emory & Henry and Catholic were the only teams we lost any sleep over, while Guilford had some serious talent and gave us some good games as well. Bridgewater and Washington & Lee weren’t really the factors then in the ODAC race that they are now. Really only thoughts of consecutive last-minute losses to Emory & Henry my sophomore and junior years dredge up negative feelings. And I always felt good about getting them in the last minute as a senior. Even though we later lost at Guilford and had a three-way tie for the conference championship, I’ve always been convinced we were the best team that year. (For the record, had an AQ been on the line, I’m fairly certain the Rose Bowl rule or margin of victory among tied teams would have sent Guilford, not us, to the playoffs.)

But even when a rivalry does develop -- I know some of you out there are going to disagree and say you hold genuine hate for certain schools -- how often do you decide to root for them if they are your conference’s playoff representative? And when Division III gets publicity, like Trinity (Texas)’s finish against Millsaps a few weeks ago, admit it … you can’t help but be thrilled for our level, even if you personally aren’t a big Trinity fan.

 I’m sure I’ve written this before, but the first feedback e-mail I ever received back in 2000 was from an alum of Susquehanna, who asked, among other things, how I got the time to travel to games around Division III. Back then, I was just single and bored, roaming the mid-Atlantic in a blue Plymouth Sundance with a beat-up front fender and one headlight that pointed skyward. But now, with two toddlers at home, ‘how do you get the time to travel?’ is a legitimate question. As we often mention, is no one’s full-time job. But now that the site does well enough for us to afford cross-country trips, I occasionally leave the wife home alone with kids from Friday to Sunday, then come home, watch the Eagles game, and go to work on Sunday night. So the answer to how do I do it -- with a very cooperative wife. I know Pat can say the same, although I don’t think he has to bribe his wife with Nine West boots and trips to DSW Shoe Warehouse to keep fall weekends free.

 So I realize the column so far contains a lot of specifics and not a lot of football action. I’m gambling that people will be able to relate. As we grow older, we all grow apart from things. But around the nation I often see older gentlemen on game day, as though a part of them will always be at home on campus. That’s sort of what inspired this, the thought that I’ll never really have that. I’ve sacrificed that to become part of a bigger family, and I guess there’s nothing wrong with always being at home on any Division III campus.

Senior moments

So this is about the time of year when I wax poetic about it being the last game for seniors. (I think I even always use “wax poetic.”) While some have already played their final game and still others won’t know when their last game will be until the waning moments of a playoff loss, a good portion of Division III’s players are strapping it up one final time on Saturday.

As I often say, tackle football is like no other sport. You can’t quit and join the local rec league. This is it. You’re done. And a lot of players don’t realize it until it’s gone.

So now’s the time to take it all in. Presumably, there are some traditions in the final full-pads practice. I think in my time, seniors ran “The Gauntlet,” in which the rest of the team lines up in two rows and takes shots at you as you run down the middle for about 40 or 50 yards. Your disposition as a teammate through the years determined if people were going to unload on you or let you go through with a free pass.

I’m sure there were other, kinder traditions. But by the same token, that was it as far as cracking helmets, and if you craved contact, The Gauntlet got it done. I’d like to hear what other traditions teams use for their final practices.

Further, though, it’s not just the final weekend for players. It’s the end of the season for everyone from the play-by-play guy to the grounds crew, a 10- or 11-week rush that lights up autumn, providing a reason to anticipate every weekend. And still it seems to fly by.

It’s the end of a career for Moms and Dads who lived vicariously through their sons. Some of you out there haven’t missed a game since pee-wee leagues or Pop Warner. Every fall Saturday for the past dozen years has meant football for parents too. And they make friends in the stands and at the tailgates. They might be saying goodbye Saturday, or they might have become fans for life, planning to come back next season even though there’s no longer a son on the gridiron. 

Whatever your connection to the game, try to remember, if Saturday is your last, to stop and take it all in. Win or lose, enjoy the moments, and the fact you were able to enjoy the competition, fellowship with others, live Saturday’s adrenaline rush from up close and make it home safely.

Best rivalries

I wrote a Post Patterns post over the summer sketching out where the rivalries ranked. Why not share it again? It isn’t a final opinion; Rather, it’s to further the discussion among all of us about what makes up a great rivalry game and which one best exemplifies it in Division III.

I have not updated the rankings to reflect this season. 

What I said then: “If I had to rank the rivalries today, based on a formula I am purely making up as I write this (history, tradition, competitiveness, atmosphere and significance to the team, team’s season/schedule and alumni), I'd go:

1. Williams-Amherst
2. DePauw-Wabash 
3. Cortland State-Ithaca
4. Randolph-Macon/Hampden-Sydney 
5. Monmouth-Knox
6. Union-RPI
7. Hanover-Franklin
8. St. John’s-St. Thomas
9. Coe-Cornell
I'd also put up for consideration Coast Guard-Merchant Marine, Moravian-Muhlenberg, Trinity (Conn.)-Wesleyan, CBB (Colby, Bowdoin and Bates) and the rest of the NESCAC rivalries, Wheaton-North Central and I guess either Pomona-Pitzer/Occidental or Pomona-Pitzer/Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.

Probably forgetting a few.

Definitely willing to hear arguments to tweak these rankings. I'm pretty solid on my top 3, and likely on the top 5, but I really didn't give it a lot of thought after that … just threw something out there to get people talking.

There are other rivalries that are rather lengthy which don't seem to rile up the crowds (Albion-Kalamazoo, Hamline-Macalester) and some younger trophy games (Guilford-Greensboro Soup Bowl, Salisbury-Frostburg Regents Cup) which seem to be up and coming.”

Updating those thoughts, there are games like UW-Whitewater/UW-La Crosse, Mary Hardin-Baylor/Hardin-Simmons and Rowan/Montclair State which fall under ‘competitive rivalries’ for me, either because they lack the history or pomp and circumstance.

The rivalries ranked above all have a level of competition that goes on beyond the field, and beyond game week. Sometimes it's a historical milestone like 100 years, or a trophy, turkey, jug or pair of shoes. Sometimes it’s competition among alumni and/or the feeling that the certain game can define/salvage a season, no matter how the other games have gone. They tend to work best as the last game in the regular season.

Williams-Amherst tops the list not only because it’s the longest, but because the teams are often playing for the conference title, and have no national championship to work toward. That gives it the edge over Wabash-DePauw, which has all the elements of a great rivalry, plus the best trophy in the Monon Bell. Wabash leads the series 53-51-9, though DePauw leads 35-34-6 since the Bell was introduced in 1932.

Cortland State-Ithaca isn’t quite as old as some of the other top rivalries, but it’s risen to the top three because of a lively atmosphere and the way the game often impacts the playoff picture. It, like Randolph-Macon/Hampden-Sydney, is a game both teams look forward to all season. 

Monmouth and Knox hasn’t been competitive of late, but the stories of hijinks involving the Bronze Turkey trophy are top notch. Union and RPI, in the Dutchman Shoes rivalry, has most of the key elements as well now that it’s again competitive on a year-to-year basis.

Hanover-Franklin and the Victory Bell seems to be a game that holds great meaning to the participants. St. John’s has won 10 in a row against St. Thomas, but there still fails to be a more idyllic setting for college football than when these two teams meet in late October in Collegeville.

The others on the list have always given me a varying sense of how important the rivalries are, although I think I would probably move Moravian-Muhlenberg in there at No. 9 because it fits the above descriptions, with a history not quite at 100 years but a proximity in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley that’s hard to beat.

As always, I’m open to debate. Add your thoughts on the Post Patterns rivalries thread.

GameDay take

ESPN is bringing its wildly popular College GameDay show to viewers from a Division III campus for the first time.

The perhaps monumental moment is a logical progression for the show, which has once before, according to Wikipedia, broadcasted from an Ivy League game (Harvard-Penn in 2002) and once from an HBCU game (the Bayou Classic in 2005). But otherwise it focuses on major-college games.

Although they picked a bad year to do Amherst at Williams, since the Lord Jeffs are 4-3 and the Ephs 5-2, it was a good choice. Williamstown, Mass. is just a short ride from ESPN studios in Bristol, Conn., and Division III’s oldest rivalry at 122 games will provide plenty of fodder for interesting stories. There should also be an atmosphere there perfectly representative of a small-college game day experience.

Any publicity for Division III is good publicity. Perhaps on the heels of the attention the Trinity-Millsaps ending drew, interest in small college football is at an all-time high. Casual fans might be wondering what else they’re missing.

Still, we know what people care about and what gets ratings, and it isn’t us. But if ESPN or any other network or publication claims to be about college football, the non-major divisions have got to be more than a novelty act.

Division III schools will benefit from the publicity, and so it’s only fair for them to ask ‘how high?’ when someone with a national presence asks them to jump. For, we’ll always be glad to function as “experts” to help open the door for anyone who wants to learn more about our level of football. But if all we can expect is a major entity to get in and get out every once in a while, that shouldn’t be something Division III football fans are satisfied with.

There is legitimate college football being played in all divisions, and here in Division III, we aren’t (the level formerly known as) I-A, and we’re happy with that. We aren’t the biggest, strongest and fastest, but we’re proud to be good athletes who are about their studies too. It’s a worthy niche, and not one that sacrifices much in terms of excitement in order to keep the balance between “student” and “athlete.” In fact, with five weeks of playoffs, you can probably argue that we’re more exciting.

Lack of exposure keeps Division III athletes humble, so getting more notice isn’t necessarily something we need to aspire to. But by the same token, a fair recognition of the game as it’s played and what it means to the people participating is worth pushing for.

As for ESPN, they may very well do a bang-up job this weekend. Let’s see what they say and how they treat Amherst and Williams.

Liberty Mutual coach of the year award

Last week’s essay on deserving coaches of the year appears to have generated no momentum in fan voting for Liberty Mutual’s award. Granted, only R-MC’s Pedro Arruza, out of the three I put at the top of my list, won last week, but the same five coaches remained at the top.

Millsaps’ Mike DuBose and RPI’s Joe King remained first and second among leaders, while Geneva’s Geno DeMarco and St. John’s’ John Gagliardi were fourth and fifth. The push for Case Western Reserve’s Greg Debeljak, new to the top five last week, continued as he moved up to third. The Spartans are 9-0. 

Voting for the award accounts for 20% of the final decision, and remains open until Nov. 27.

AQ review

For those of you who missed this week’s podcast, or just like to see things in print, here’s a status update on the 22 available automatic qualifiers:

ASC: Mary Hardin-Baylor has clinched a playoff bid.
CC: Muhlenberg has clinched.
CCIW: Wheaton, Illinois Wesleyan and North Central are all 5-1 in-conference, with the Titans playing at the Thunder Saturday and the Cardinals visiting 7-2, 4-2 Carthage. Wheaton beat North Central 28-24 and North Central beat Illinois Wesleyan 23-7, so a three-way tie is possible with an IWU win Saturdayy. If Wheaton wins, it clinches a bid. North Central can get in with a win and a Wheaton loss, while IWU can get in with a win and a North Central loss.
E8: Alfred, St. John Fisher and Hartwick are tied at 4-1 each, with the Saxons playing at the Cardinals and the Hawks going to Utica (1-4, 3-6). Alfred clinches with a win, while a St. John Fisher win gives the bid to Hartwick if it also wins. (Alfred beat Hartwick 46-36, Hartwick beat St. John Fisher 31-28, but Alfred also lost to Ithaca last week). No three-way tie possible here with the head-to-head game Saturday. Fisher’s hopes are in a Utica win or as a Pool C team.
HCAC: Franklin has clinched.
IBFC: Concordia (Wis.) has clinched.
IIAC: The winner of Central (9-0) at Wartburg (8-1) will clinch a spot, while Central would be almost automatic in Pool C if it loses. The Knights’ midseason non-conference loss to Augsburg makes this a likely must win for a playoff spot.
LL: Four teams are in the mix still, having gone 1-1 against the two teams its already played in the top four and having the third on the schedule this weekend. Everyone needs to win, plus has a rooting interest in the other game: They want the team they already beat to take out the team they lost to, giving them a head-to-head edge (and the AQ) when they end up tied atop the standings when the dust settles.
Hobart: Needs to win at Rochester and have Union beat RPI
Rochester: Needs to beat Hobart and have RPI beat Union
RPI: Needs to beat Union and have Hobart beat Rochester
Union: Needs to beat RPI and have Rochester beat Hobart
In Pool C, a one-loss RPI would be in good shape. Hobart, with two overall losses already, is treading on thin ice, while Union and Rochester (three losses) have no chance without the AQ.
MIAA: Lifted straight from the podcast script, though pared down: Here’s the tiebreaker that would be invoked if Olivet, Hope and Alma, which will each be 6-1, 6-4 overall if they win this week. Overall record is the tiebreaker after head-to-head, and all would be even, so we understand you go to the winning percentage of the teams played in non-conference action to decide this. Currently, Hope’s opponents are 20-7, Olivet’s 18-9 and Alma 16-11. Each of the three teams’ opponents each play this weekend, with Hope’s opponents facing the toughest slate: River Falls at Oshkosh; Central at Wartburg and Wheaton at Illinois Wesleyan. Olivet’s opponents are IWU (vs. Wheaton), Wittenberg (vs. Hiram) and Elmhurst (vs. North Park). That’s two wins basically guaranteed and IWU and Wheaton play head to head with two conferences’ titles on the line. If one of the three MIAA teams loses on Saturday, it goes like this: An Alma loss gives Olivet the title, a Hope loss gives Alma the title and an Olivet loss gives Hope the title.
MIAC: The winner of St. John’s (9-0) at Bethel (8-1) will will clinch a spot, while St. John’s would be almost automatic in Pool C if it loses. (Sound familiar?) The Royals’ season-opening non-conference loss to Buena Vista makes this a likely must win for a playoff spot.
MAC: Widener has clinched. 
MWC: St. Norbert has clinched.
NCAC: Wabash has clinched.
NEFC: Coast Guard (8-1) will play at Curry (10-0) for a playoff spot in the conference championship game. Curry could be a Pool C team and is not necessarily eliminated with a loss.
NJAC: The College of New Jersey has clinched.
OAC: Mount Union has clinched.
ODAC: The winner of Randolph-Macon (8-1) at Hampden-Sydney (7-2) will clinch a spot. The loser does not appear to be a Pool C candidate.
PAC: Washington & Jefferson has clinched.
SCIAC: Redlands (4-1, 7-1) plays at Cal Lutheran (5-0, 5-3), which clinches a bid with a win and is in good shape even if it picks up its fourth loss. If Occidental (4-1, 7-1) wins at Whittier (2-3, 3-5) and Redlands wins, there is a three-way tie that goes to Cal Lutheran by virtue of the Rose Bowl Rule (the tiebreaker that sends the team to the postseason which has been least recently). Redlands can get the bid with a win and an Occidental loss.
SCAC: Trinity (5-1, 8-1) can clinch with a win at Austin (2-4, 4-5). Millsaps (6-1, 7-2) gets the bid if Trinity’s picks up its second conference loss.
USAC: North Carolina Wesleyan has clinched.
WIAC: UW-Whitewater has clinched.

Highly recommended

Other things around the Web that might be of interest:

 The aforementioned Around the Nation podcast is available on The Daily Dose and iTunes.

 Pat Coleman takes another look at playoff scenarios in his weekly column for CSTV.

 Our photographers are still rocking and rolling, so if you haven’t seen our galleries, use the left-hand rail on the front page to check them out. You can get a feel for what the game is like elsewhere across the nation, and if it’s your game they shot, reprints are available.


Around the Nation is largely interactive, and since its inception has made reader feedback a part of the column. We keep a running board on Post Patterns (under general football) to discuss issues raised in the column, and we'll share feedback and answer questions there, as well as in the column occasionally. Send all correspondence to, or use our feedback form.

Topic of the Week: We’ve started a Post Patterns thread to help round up you suggestions for the year in review, which is schedule to hit cyberspace, at least in part, by the Stagg Bowl this year. 

While the season is still fresh in your minds, your suggestions for things you'd like to know but don't want to do the research on, odd occurrences, broken records and real or imagined superlatives are all fair game.

 Biggest surprise, worst prediction, most bang for the buck, best play, worst coaching decision. Make a category up! Send us anything that you see or have seen along the way that seems memorable.

Call for video

Around the Nation is always looking for video of anything Division III football-related. That means we'd like to get our hands on documentaries, local cable broadcasts and re-airs, links to archived broadcasts and coaches' tapes. 

Anything you can tape at home with regard to this week’s rivalry games, please do and let me know. This is also especially important to us around playoff time. Please let us know if you have access to footage, by e-mailing

For journalists and broadcasters

Keith McMillan is available on Thursdays and Fridays or by appointment to talk Division III football. For more information, e-mail Keith.

Attention SIDs

Around the Nation appreciates the contributions of the country’s sports information directors this season. At this point, we are only following schools online or by request. Please use your individual login and’s news release capabilities instead of for general and game-related releases. That way, they get front-page play and still catch Around the Nation’s attention. Feel free to send personally addressed e-mail at any time.

To reach Around the Nation by mail, use, 13055 Carolyn Forest Dr., Woodbridge, Va., 22192.

Thank you.

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Ryan Tipps

Ryan is's Senior Editor and begins as National Columnist in fall 2014. He was the Around the Mid-Atlantic Columnist from 2007 to 2011; has worked on all but one of the preseason Kickoff publications; has done game-day writing and photography and the pregame broadcast at the championship Stagg Bowl in Salem for almost a decade; and has taken photos at the Final Four for He's also on the selection staff for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year award.

2001-2013 columnist: Keith McMillan.

Previous Columns

December 23, 2014
2014 year in review
There were many memorable moments from the 2014 season. We can't possibly cover them all, but we'll...
November 20, 2014
Playoff picks, surprises, disappointments
Around the Nation has assembled a team of prognosticators for an annual look at who might surprise...
November 13, 2014
Playing to perfection in the MAC
Delaware Valley and Widener have been building to this point all season. This weekend there are...
November 9, 2014
Snap judgments: Finding parity
Ryan Tipps thinks parity arises from other teams following the examples of top teams, finding the...
November 6, 2014
From slumping to surging
With two weeks of football left to play in the regular season, some names that may not be so...
November 2, 2014
Snap judgments: A week with plenty of surprises
By this point in the season, our expectations for each team are pretty solidly grounded. Upsets will...
October 29, 2014
The Empire 8: The conference where all 9 can beat you
So far, Brockport State has beaten Hartwick, who beat Alfred, who beat Buffalo State, who beat...
October 26, 2014
Snap judgments: An interesting week
It’s particularly exciting to see how conferences can still get shaken up this late in the...
October 23, 2014
Finding a freshman phenom
When a freshman steps on campus, he could be the next Nate Kmic, or he could be gone before the end...
October 19, 2014
Snap judgments: Finding clarity
We found out some things about how the NJAC race will play out, as well as the ODAC and HCAC. And...
October 16, 2014
Distance no deterrent to Mighty Mikey, Merchant Marine
The Mariners' football team 'adopted' a young cancer patient a few years ago, and although young...
October 12, 2014
Snap judgments: Putting the -ack in ODAC
You can tell when someone doesn't know Division III, because they pronounce the ODAC as O-D-A-C. But...
October 9, 2014
Re-ranking the conferences for 2014
Keith McMillan ranked conferences for years for This is Ryan Tipps' first crack at...
October 5, 2014
Snap judgments: Where's the dropoff in Division III?
Saturday's loss by St. John Fisher and losses earlier this season by Bethel and North Central serve...
October 2, 2014
It’s the size of the fight in the dog
This past week, Maranatha Baptist had to cancel a game because it didn't have enough players. And...
September 28, 2014
Snap judgments: Signature wins come in upsets
St. John's and UW-Stevens Point took center stage for their upset victories, but Christopher Newport...
September 25, 2014
The phrase that stays
From DePauw Never Quits to Wabash Always Fights to Every Man a Lute, some Division III schools...
September 21, 2014
Snap judgments: Taking a new look at the poll positioning
The perception seems to be that at about Week 3, most Top 25 voters do major teardowns and rebuildin...
September 17, 2014
Startups come back for seconds
The three teams that started up Division III football programs last season are now in the midst of...
September 14, 2014
Snap judgments: These underdogs brought some bite
There were some near-upsets on Saturday, but in the end, almost all of the higher-ranked teams came...
September 11, 2014
Monarch linebacker forced to follow his heart
Forced from the middle of the action to a supporting role on the sidelines, Methodist linebacker...
September 7, 2014
Snap judgments: Right/wrong foot
There are two ways to start the season -- with a win, or a loss. Now, not every win necessarily puts...
September 2, 2014
Division III football: A gentleman's game
Hampden-Sydney and Wabash, two all-male schools, are squaring off in football this weekend for the...
March 3, 2014
Analyzing the NJAC and E8's big moves
Wesley and its Capital Athletic Conference brethren join forces with five New Jersey schools to form...
November 24, 2013
Look who stole the show in Round 1
Many of those who shined in the first round of the 32-team playoffs weren't the nationally elite...
November 21, 2013
Playoff picks, surprises, disappointments
ATN assembles a team for an annual look at who might surprise and disappoint us in the 32-team...
November 16, 2013
On this day, they were all big games
Keith McMillan has instant reactions both inside and outside the playoff picture on the final day of...
November 13, 2013
A pre-regional rankings primer
Keith McMillan introduces the committee and their roles, analyzes Pools B and C and takes reader...
November 10, 2013
Snap judgments: Seen from the other side
Millsaps may well have a story for the ages out of Saturday's win vs. Centre, as will Cornell and...
November 7, 2013
Poll positions: What to make of regional rankings
If you haven't seen regional rankings before, or your team hasn't been a contender in recent years,...
November 3, 2013
Snap judgments: The aftermath
With so many games featuring two ranked teams, we should see a lot of movement in Sunday's Top 25...
October 24, 2013
Poll positions: Doing some number crunching
The Top 25 doesn't exist to steal anybody's joy. It is merely a prism through which to view...
October 20, 2013
Snap judgments: Cycling up
Maryville and TCNJ are atop their respective conferences, the John Carroll defense isn't the only...
October 13, 2013
Snap judgments: A blurry picture developing
Not literally -- we get great pictures from our associated photographers and SIDs, but that won't...
October 8, 2013
Poll positions: Streaking up the rankings
Keith McMillan looks at why one computer ranking is making the case for a blue team No. 1, and not a...
October 6, 2013
Snap judgments: Bounceback seasons
Olivet, St. Lawrence, North Park, Husson, Western Connecticut ... the list of improved teams this...
October 3, 2013
Re-ranking the conferences
With September's games, and the vast majority of non-conference play in the books, Around the Nation...
September 29, 2013
Snap judgments: Look away from the Top 25 scores
At first glance -- like say, the scores page, with the top 25 scores the initial finals that catch...
September 26, 2013
History lesson: Engineering rivalries
Week 4 is perhaps the most odd Saturday on the schedule. There aren't many great rivalries, but...
September 24, 2013
Poll positions: How the voters reacted
A kick going wide left produced a wide variety of reactions, but when Wesley got taken down a peg,...
September 22, 2013
Snap judgments: Week 3
The Tommie-Johnnie rivalry is back, UMHB's defensive line is pretty darn good, the MIAA has a better...
September 19, 2013
History lesson: Wesley vs. Mary Hardin-Baylor
Now that longtime rivals Wabash and DePauw are both in the North Coast, and Mount Union and...
September 18, 2013
Poll positions: There's some movement coming
The top of the poll didn't change much last week but Saturday's games could have a significant...
September 17, 2013
Off the beaten path
Just because a team isn't in the Top 25 running or mentioned in the podcast or doesn't have a Play...
September 11, 2013
Poll positions: Why teams shuffle
In Around the Nation, Keith McMillan discusses a nonstandard way of assembling the ballot after Week...
September 8, 2013
Snap judgments
Keith McMillan's Around the Nation column returns. You'll see ATN several times a week, including on...

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