I’m just going to say it at the risk of offending someone. Soccer Moms are killing sports in this Country. You know the type. They drive mini-vans and can only take their kids to Chick-Fil-A. They are also the ones that insist that their kids get trophies for just showing up. Youth sports play a critical part in this Country. No one plays in college or beyond without first playing on the sandlots. I played youth sports. Most of you probably did as well. In my years playing sports, you want to know how many trophies I won: TWO. My first year playing basketball we won the Roanoke County Championship not that I had much to do with it. I got splinters sitting the bench. But, I didn’t quit. I went to every practice and my parents came to every game and they didn’t bitch at the coach because I wasn’t good enough to play. In other words, I learned a lesson that remains with me to this day. If you aren’t good enough, you don’t play. That’s a lesson America’s youth are no longer getting.
The second trophy was my last year playing baseball. The North Roanoke Dodgers (and yes we had uniforms that looked just like the major league team) kicked everyone’s ass. We went 19-2 and won the championship. I’m proud to say I actually played a part in that championship. That group was together for two years. My first year I played a little in the outfield and some back-up first base, but I was largely a role player. Again, I didn’t quit. I showed up and enjoyed the experience. The second year, the first baseman I backed up was a budding college basketball player and rather than play baseball, his parents took him to camps around the country trying to get noticed. It worked, he played Division One College Basketball. It never occurred to me that I should get a trophy for just showing up. We wanted the trophy and by God we got it by working hard, listening to our coaches, playing as a team and beating everyone in route to that 19-2 record. What’s the incentive today? Mommy has made sure you get a trophy before you ever show up. It’s sad and frankly just plain wrong. I played on one team that didn’t win a game. We got sodas after the games but we didn’t get a trophy because we sucked. No other way to slice it.
Unless you’ve suddenly given birth to Odell Beckham, Jr., there is a 99.9995% chance that your kid won’t play professional sports, or even college sports. I have good friends who’ve coached high school sports. They’ve been compelled to give it up because of parents. The kids have been told their entire lives how good they are and they show up at high school and they just aren’t that good and don’t start. So, they quit. When they are there, they don’t listen. Good men who care about kids and helping mold their future, would rather quit that deal with the headaches created by the Chick-Fil-A crowd.
I realize that I might be painting with a “broad brush” here, and I’m sure there are plenty of parents who would rather not get see the “trophy generation” continue, but I say this because College Football has followed a similar path. This bowl season, we’ve officially reached the Participation Trophy stage. There are 40 bowl games which means there have to be 80 teams to fill them. There are a large amount of 6-6 teams and unbelievably there are 3 teams in bowl games with 5-7 records. If you know anything about coaching contracts, you know coaches get bonuses for taking their teams to bowl games. That means some athletic directors have to sign checks because their coaches were mediocre or just plain bad. The NCAA has no control over bowl games. That’s long been the province of the college presidents and with them in charge (some of whom were soccer moms or little league parents), the glut of bowl games isn’t going away and will likely get worse.
As for this weekend, there is the first slate of bowl games along with championship games in Division II and Division III. The Division II title game is in Kansas City, Kansas at a stadium built for soccer. Yes, you heard that right. Sporting Park in Kansas City hosts the D-II title game for the second year in a row after the game was played in Florence, Alabama for 28 years as Shepherd College from Shepherdstown, West Virginia faces Northwest Missouri State from Maryville, Missouri. Missouri State has won 4 Division II championships and finished runner-up 4 times. This is their 9th championship game. Shepherd appears in its first championship game. The Rams are the first team from the Mountain East Conference and its pre-cursor the West Virginia Conference to appear in a National Championship Game. I don’t think they’ll be the last. MEC put a team in the semi-finals last year in Concord and three MEC teams made the 28 team field this year.
The Division III Championship game will be played in Salem, Virginia for the 23rd straight year. Keep in mind this is the 43rd championship game in Division III so Salem has hosted over half of the national championships. The next closest host is Phenix City, Alabama with 15. Bradenton, Florida hosted it 4 times and Kings Island, Ohio twice.
There’s a reason Salem has become to Division III football what Omaha, Nebraska is to College Baseball. They do it right and don’t half-ass anything. One year on the eve of the “Stagg Bowl” as the Division III championship game is known, Salem was hammered with a major snow storm and even in Southwest Virginia a significant December snow event is rare. The City of Salem went to work and by the time they were finished moving the snow from the field and the stands, you’d swear it never snowed. If Mount Union has anything to do with it, the title game will never leave Salem. Since Salem began hosting the game in 1993, Mount Union has appeared in the title game 18 times, winning 11 championships. Those numbers are staggering. This year, Mount Union appears in another championship game. This time, the Purple Raiders face the Tommies of St. Thomas University from St. Paul, Minnesota. Both teams are undefeated and this is a re-match of the 2012 title game won by Mount Union 28-10. But, once again the City of Salem will be the winner. Oh, and since the Salem Spartans won Virginia’s Group 4A State Championship last weekend, expect a banner celebrating such title right underneath the scoreboard. There are plenty of communities in this world that could follow Salem’s example of civic pride and doing things in a first class manner.
There are 5 bowl games this Saturday and there’s no question that the most interesting is the “Holy War” played in “Sin City.” BYU faces Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium in Vegas. These two teams annually met in a game called the “Holy War”, but since Utah went to the Pac-12 and BYU went Independent, they have not played since 2013. They will resume playing in the regular season next year, but the game will have a different look. BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall is exiting stage left to Virginia after Saturday’s game, while Utah’s Kyle Whittingham is a BYU alum who reportedly is interested in returning to BYU to coach. If that seems like an odd move, maybe. But, while I don’t know the inside story, the stories I’ve read have Whittingham constantly butting heads with his athletic director over assistant coaching salaries. BYU won’t have that problem. Both teams are 9-3. Utah started 6-0 and finished 3-3. Bowl games typically come down to who exactly wants to be there. See, last year’s Clemson beat down of Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl as a Exhibit “1” of that. Will BYU be motivated to win for a coach and a coaching staff who is leaving? Will Utah be motivated to win a game when they were literally a 37-30 2OT loss to Arizona from playing in the PAC-12 title game and possibly getting to the Rose Bowl? Someone has to win and so I’ll take Utah. They’ve won 11 of their last 12 Bowl Games including a serious beat-down of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl a couple of years ago. I’ll play the numbers on this one. And if you think it’s weird that there will be large amount of Mormons in Vegas this week, don’t. The first people who tried to settle the Las Vegas Valley were the Mormons in 1855. A group was sent there by their leader Brigham Young to live among the Paiute Indians. They were recalled back to Salt Lake City by Young (who had 54 wives by the way and clearly spent most of his time trying to make someone happy) in 1857. But, they left behind the Mormon Fort which still stands to this day in Vegas as the oldest building in Nevada.
The day begins with the New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque, New Mexico between 6-6 Arizona and the 7-5 Lobos of New Mexico on the Lobos home field. Arizona is in a bowl game for the 4th straight season. New Mexico is back in the post-season for the first time since 2007. New Mexico appeared in the first two New Mexico Bowl games in 2006 and 2007 before the program hit rock bottom which culminated with a head coach punching out one of his assistants. Former Notre Dame coach Bob Davie has revived the program with a triple option offense. So, New Mexico runs the option and Arizona runs a 3-3-5 defense. I like New Mexico to win this one. Fun Fact for this game: This is a match-up between two coaches who flamed out at two of College Football’s Blue Bloods. Davie at Notre Dame where he followed Lou Holtz as head coach and Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez who failed miserably at Michigan. Both are learning quickly that getting a job in a Western outpost where football isn’t necessarily the tail that wags the dog is a good gig and frankly this should be a good game.
At 5:30pm on Saturday it’s the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama. This game is at the Stadium known as the “Crampton Bowl”, the former home of that Christmas Day College Football All-Star Game known as the Blue-Gray Classic. I miss that thing on Christmas Day. This features the 10-2 Appalachian State Mountaineers against the 8-4 Ohio Bobcats. This is Appalachian State’s first ever bowl game after moving up from FCS, although they did appear in 10 NAIA level bowl games while an NAIA school from 1931 – 1955. From 1986 – 2012, Appalachian State played in 20 straight FCS (then known as I-AA) playoffs winning 3 straight national championships from 2005 – 2007. Ohio is in its 7th bowl game in 9 seasons. Fun fact: Football is apparently a big deal in Boone, North Carolina and so is this bowl game. App. State sold out of its initial allotment of tickets in just 48 hours and had to ask for more. The Stadium will apparently be mostly Black and Gold and so I’ll pick the Mountaineers to win this one. Additional Fun Fact: Tennessee will be scouting this game. The Volunteers face Appalachian State and Ohio in two of their first three games next season.
The final game of the day kicks off at 9:00 pm. ET in New Orleans, Louisiana as the 8-4 Bulldogs of La. Tech face the 9-3 Arkansas State Red Wolves in the New Orleans Bowl. This is La. Tech’s 8th bowl game in school history. Arkansas State clinched a spot in this game by winning the Sun Belt Conference Championship. The Red Wolves are in a bowl game for the 5th straight season, but get a change of scenery. Their first 4 games were at the GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. Fun Fact: These two schools are not strangers. This will be the 38th time they’ve played, but the first time in the post-season.
The other game on Saturday comes from Orlando, Florida. It’s called the Cure Bowl and it matches 5-7 San Jose State and 6-6 Georgia State. The cure for this thing is to play it, get it over with and never play it again. Hey but someone whose bad to mediocre is getting a trophy and maybe just maybe, a mini-van ride to Chick-Fil-A.