Savannah State had no business playing Florida State, Oklahoma State


Caleb Muncrief and Oklahoma State beat Savannah State, 84-0. Florida State then routed the Tigers, 55-0, in a game that was called in the third quarter because of lightning. (Sue Ogrocki/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
John Feinstein
Columnist September 9, 2012

The second worst thing that happened to Savannah State this past Saturday was learning, perhaps on the long bus ride home from Tallahassee, that Arizona had beaten Oklahoma State, 59-38. That result made SSU’s 84-0 loss to the Cowboys a week earlier even more embarrassing — if that was possible.

Of course the worst thing that happened to the Tigers, who have been turned into national punch lines by their athletic administration, was showing up at Doak Campbell Stadium earlier Saturday evening to play Florida State. The game was such a brutal mismatch that God finally decided to step in and stop it since apparently no one else was going to do so.

John Feinstein is a sports columnist for The Washington Post and also provides commentary for the Golf Channel and National Public Radio. View Archive

With 8 minutes 59 seconds left in the third quarter and the Seminoles leading 55-0, the rest of the game was called off by lightning. Even though FSU Coach Jimbo Fisher was apparently prepared to play everyone in the student body, a 60-minute game might very easily have produced a WORSE outcome than the one suffered by Savannah State a week earlier.

This is what Savannah State had to show for its trips to Oklahoma State and Florida State: $860,000 for the athletic department’s budget and two losses by a combined margin of 139-0, which was that “close” only because lightning struck. The yardage difference on Saturday, in a 36-minute game, was 413-28. Guess which team had the 28?

Games like this shouldn’t happen. If the NCAA isn’t going to ban games between Football Bowl Subdivision schools and Football Championship Subdivision schools (previously known as Division I-A and Division I-AA) it should at least declare that when the new playoff system begins in 2014 that playing a team from a lower division makes a team ineligible for the playoff.

That would not only make it impossible for Savannah State to feed its players to the wolves — or the Cowboys or Seminoles — but would eliminate games played Saturday such as Virginia Tech-Austin Peay (42-7); Boston College-Maine (34-3); Georgia Tech-Presbyterian (59-3); Tennessee-Georgia State (51-13) and Minnesota-New Hampshire (44-7).

Are there exceptions to the rule? Sure. Colorado and Colorado State lost to FCS teams on Saturday and Washington State had to rally to beat Eastern Washington, which won the FCS national title two years ago. That’s why such games shouldn’t be banned, they should simply force a true power school to think twice before scheduling them.

To be fair to Florida State, it was supposed to play West Virginia on Saturday. The Mountaineers pulled out of the game after moving to the Big 12, and FSU was left without an opponent a few months before the season began. That does not excuse Savannah State’s decision to take the money, especially after opening the season with a money game at Oklahoma State that it simply shouldn’t have been playing.

Savannah State’s total athletic budget for all sports is $5.1 million. It came into the games against Oklahoma State and Florida State having had back-to-back 1-10 seasons and with a record against FCS competition since it became an FCS team of 4-72. These guys can’t stay on the field against Florida A&M (47-7 last year) and Bethune-Cookman (59-3) and they’re scheduling Florida State? This is how, according to Coach Steve Davenport, the school is going to “strengthen itself for the future,” by becoming a national laughingstock and subjecting its players to this sort of humiliation?

Sterling Steward Jr., the school’s athletic director, said this after the Oklahoma State loss: “We’re going to continue to schedule games we feel help continue to build our athletic program and to make Savannah State as competitive as possible.”

Really? How about competing against teams and schools your own size (and budget)?

Davenport said he told his players before the trip to Oklahoma State that they were going there to win. By halftime, he admitted, he had adjusted his sights and told them to try to score or get a three-and-out before game’s end. Florida State was more of the same. It was 35-0 before the end of the first quarter when Fisher pulled his first-team offense.

Davenport and Steward also pulled out the oft-repeated argument that playing in major college stadiums was the thrill of a lifetime for their players. Maybe it was — until kickoff. It took Florida State 39 seconds to score on Saturday. It seems likely that the thrill wore off soon after that.

Only the weather prevented the Seminoles from easily covering the highest betting line to ever come out of Las Vegas on a college football game — 701 / 2 points — with ease. Because the game didn’t last 55 minutes everyone who bet on the game was refunded their money. That saved those who had taken the points a few dollars and a lot of embarrassment.

The funniest moment of the night, which was unseen by the public, came when it became apparent that trying to restart the game would be potentially dangerous not only to spectators but, undoubtedly, to Savannah State’s players. When the officials called the coaches and athletic directors to their locker room and walked through all the options, one that was actually mentioned was declaring the game a tie.

“I was in favor of that one,” Miles said. “Florida State was having none of it.”

That’s certainly a surprise.

Of course in a sense, maybe that would have been the right outcome: If you play Savannah State and lightning strikes — in any form — and you don’t win the game, you can’t play for the national championship.

The Tigers now have a week off to try to recover from the beatings they have taken — physically and emotionally. They will have plenty of time to listen to the jokes that will be made at their expense.

A week from Saturday they will host North Carolina Central — the one team they beat a year ago. Here’s hoping they have enough players who are standing upright to have a chance to repeat that success.

For more by the author, visit his blog at www.feinsteinonthebrink.com. To read his previous columns for The Post, go to washingtonpost.com/feinstein.

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