Savannah State University’s mission statement paints the portrait of an historic school complete with “the vim and vigor of quality collegiate life.” Above all, the number of amenities available to students creates a “nurturing environment.”
While these statements embody the essence of Georgia’s oldest public historically black college, the same can’t be said of the school’s football program over the last two weeks.
The sports world’s most cliché saying goes, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” but it’s doubtful this will prove to be the case for the Tigers.
In an attempt to gain a little extra money for the school’s athletic program, Savannah State scheduled games against No. 19 Oklahoma State and No. 6 Florida State, both on the road in hostile college football environments.
Two weeks into the season, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s (MEAC) newest member finds itself 0-2 with a -139 scoring differential and only 167 yards of total offense—hardly “nurturing” statistics.
The Tigers were dropped 84-0 by Oklahoma State in a brutal opener from which they received a $385,000 payday. Still, the incessant pounding proved to be hardly worth it.
Complaints of the Cowboys running up the score were silenced by the fact that they had their foot off the gas pedal for much of the game, with 9 of 12 touchdowns being scored on the ground and over 90 different players seeing field time.
This past Saturday in Tallahassee, Savannah State actually beat an eye-popping 70.5-point spread, but only because the game was mercifully called due to inclement weather with 8:59 to play in the 3rd quarter and Florida State leading 55-0.
It’s easy to call these games early-season blowouts and move on to more important analyses but one has to wonder if they ever should have been scheduled in the first place.
Other Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) or “Division I” schools have beaten Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools in the past. In 2007, a fast Appalachian State squad stunned Michigan in Ann Arbor and in 2010, Jacksonville State beat Ole Miss on the road.
FCS wins are becoming more and more commonplace, but can only happen when the matchups are fair and the underdog has at least a slim hope of playing competitively.
Since joining the MEAC in 2010, the Tigers have been awful by MEAC standards—let alone the Big 12 or Atlantic Coast Conference.
Last year, Savannah state was tied for a conference worst 1-7 record and a 1-10 record overall, the team’s only win coming over 2-9 North Carolina Central.
One can only hope the Tigers emerge from these last two weeks with something positive, but realistically there’s only so much character building these young players can take.
“I have to think they are good,” Savannah State coach Steve Davenport said following the loss to Oklahoma State, “Because if not, we are really bad.”
Truth be told, these are two very talented football teams with a level of competitiveness Savannah State will probably never find in the MEAC, but there comes a time when athletic department officials have to start worrying about the safety—and dignity—of players.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m a sucker for triumphant underdog stories. I still tear up when Jimmy Chipwood sinks the game-winning jumper or when Mike Winchell gets stopped a foot from the goal line in the Texas State Championship game. But 84-0 is hardly a Hollywood-worthy score.
Regardless, schools need to think seriously about the potential embarrassment they are putting players through before they look at the monetary benefit to an underfunded athletic program.
Ultimately, it’s accountability and time to grow—not annihilation at the hands of college football giants and a few extra bucks—that will make football programs like Savannah State successful in their own right.