So what's in a college football subdivision name?

BY BRIAN NIELSEN Sports Editor
bnielsen@jg-tc.com

Subdivision. Championship. Football.

There. I’ve practically used more syllables and keystrokes than were allowed for a first paragraph in the old days when journalism teachers taught us to have short, sharp leads.

Who knew years later every Eastern Illinois football story I’d write would have to include Football Championship Subdivision.

Typing one atop the other, I count 15 more characters – including the space – for the new name than over the old NCAA Division I-AA, which I used to think bordered on cumbersome.
But Football Championship Subdivision it is at least this first year the way of differentiating a team like Eastern Illinois from the Football Bowl Subdivision teams like Purdue that bowled over the Panthers 52-6 last week.

Eventually, we’re bound to just say FCS or FBS. Nobody calls that station with SportsCenter and ballgames the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network anymore. I think that’s what ESPN used to be back in the days when we had Kentucky Fried Chicken instead of KFC.

You’ve heard television announcers misidentify different subdivisions, make fun of the names or simply refuse to quit saying NCAA Division I-A or I-AA.

“You know when you watch TV a lot of guys tend to make fun of it and make light of it,” said Tony Samuel, who, speaking of long names and abbreviation, coaches football at FCS member Southeast Missouri or SEMO. “Old habits are hard to break. It’s a little more definitive the way it is set now. That’s what I see. At the same time, as coaches we try to say Championship Division. It’s hard to say sub. But other than that, it’s a lot more definitive.”

Maybe the subdivision part came after at the end of a long hard meeting. Or after a big lunch.

“I personally think guys don’t have enough to do,” Murray State coach Matt Griffin said.

Before those people got to subdivision, they might have something going with the Bowl and Championship part. I-A and I-AA could have been confusing for those not used to it.

After all, those of us in Illinois have to remember – before the IHSA went completely wacky with four classes this year – that in high schools the big schools were AA and small schools were A but in college football the big boys were I-A and the next level was I-AA.

But most of us were used to that.

Still, the change.

“Obviously all the powers that be must think it’s important so it must be,” Eastern Kentucky coach Danny Hope said. “To a layman or a ball coach it doesn’t matter. There’s a reason for it in the big picture. To me as a coach we’re just trying to get the next snap. It doesn’t matter what label they put on us.”

Gail Richard, Eastern Illinois’ NCAA faculty rep and Ohio Valley Conference representative for the FCS governing committee – to talk about long words – said her group got the word from powers that be.

“It was more about clarifying I-AA is an NCAA-sponsored championship,” Richard said.

“It’s seeded teams whereas the bowl subdivision is not constructed that way. When you talk about the bowl subdivisions, it’s two conferences and who can raise money. I don’t know if sponsors played a part of this or not. I think it was an attempt to recognize that these are the individuals at a bowl level and those that actually play in a championship.”

Pat Sullivan, who won a Heisman Trophy at Auburn in 1971 before there was an NCAA Division I-AA, now understands some reason as the first-year coach at FCS Samford.

“You know, I really don’t know if it helps us or hurts us,” Sullivan said. “I think it adds a distinction that there is the football bowl, that we all grew up with and the football championship series is where there are playoffs. That kind of defines where our league is. I think it can be a positive thing. You look at what is happening in sports today. You have the Nextel Cup in racing. You have the FedEx Cup in tennis. I think it’s the trend.”

But a necessary trend?

“Was it broke?” Tennessee State coach James Webster said of NCAA I-A and I-AA. “Well, why fix it? I didn’t think it was broke so why fix it. You ask me right now ‘what is it?’ I think you have to think about what you’re saying. Why think about it?”

Bob Spoo is willing to try.

“It didn’t matter to me what they call it,” the Eastern Illinois coach said. “You have to go out there and play games. It doesn’t bother me. In comments I’ve tried to use the Football Championship Subdivision but sometimes I’ve fallen back and used I-AA.”

Talk about subdivisions has probably leaped when FCS Appalachian State shocked FBS Michigan and then the following week Northern Iowa beat Iowa State.

“I think what helps our division of football is when an Appalachian State does what it does,” Tennessee Tech coach Watson Brown said. “I think you’re going to see more teams play and more teams from our division win. I don’t know enough about the hows and whys about it but I still think people know the difference in levels. I don’t think that will change.”

I can tell you the difference between NCAA I-AA and Football Championship Subdivision.

We now have to use more keystrokes.