The storied luxuries of college football are nowhere to be found at Bowie State College, Catholic University and Georgetown University. There are no special dorms, often no training table, seldom any scholarships. Neither the press nor rich alumni is especially interested in small-college players, who often must hold jobs to make their way and are coached, often as not, by part-time employes.
Usually, they are college students first and players second. Sometimes, they miss practices for class. They are players who for one reason or another were not cut out for the big time, but they do not seem jealous of those who are. Bill Cross of Georgetown, for one, is happy just to have four more years to play football.
Fred O'Connor Jr. began playing at William and Mary, a Division I-AA school. But at 5 feet 9, the coaches considered him too small.
O'Connor was used to succeeding in most of his endeavors. At William and Mary, he said he wasn't doing as well in school as he would have liked, and in two years there, he never even got into a game.
So O'Connor, a graduate of Chantilly High School, transferred to Catholic University, a 7,000- student Division III school where his father Fred Sr. since has become athletic director.
"The big thing was I wanted to experience a little more success -- in the classroom and on the football field," the younger O'Connor said.
Now a senior, O'Connor is a starting linebacker with a grade-point average well above 3.0.
Division III football programs are filled with players like O'Connor, who for one reason or another don't grab the interest of Division I coaches.
"They are guys a couple of inches too short . . . or who haven't developed as quickly," O'Connor said. "They might be 20 pounds too light or a couple of steps slow. They're guys who were good players in high school who don't get noticed enough or don't have the physical stature to get noticed by Division I schools."
As someone who has played Division I-AA and Division III football, O'Connor is in an unusual position to compare the systems.
The program at Catholic is in transition right now, with a new head coach, Ro Waldron. But O'Connor compares the past program at Catholic with the program at William and Mary, saying Catholic's had "a much lighter atmosphere."
At William and Mary, the football day began at 2:30, with a 30-minute meeting with position coaches. Practice lasted 2 1/2 hours, then dinner at the training table followed by a study hall. In addition, players lifted weights two times a week.
"You were actually doing something with football from 2:30 to 7:30 every school day," he said.
At Catholic, there was only a weekly football meeting and daily practice from 4:30 to 6:30.
"We were not together as a team as much at Catholic when I first got there," O'Connor said. "You had to have a lot of self-preparation. At William and Mary, there were full-time coaches to motivate you."
For Bill Cross, a graduate of St. John's High School, football was not a factor in his decision to attend Georgetown University, which operates a Division III football program although its basketball program is Division I.
Cross was accepted to Georgetown, then received an Army ROTC scholarship, so his mind was made up.
Later in the year, he was talking to his high school coach about going to Georgetown.
"Are you going to play ball?" his coach asked.
Cross was taken aback.
"I was, like, what are you talking about?" Cross said. "I didn't even know about the football program."
The situation at Georgetown is an interesting one. The football team takes quite a back seat to the basketball team, which Patrick Ewing led to the 1984 NCAA championship.
"It's almost ridiculous how we're just looked at as students," Cross said. "It's almost like we're not even considered athletes . . . It's so low-key, it's almost like a club."
At most Division I schools, football is a money-making sport, but at Georgetown, Cross said, the school may lose money on the team.
"(Football) is just there to provide an opportunity to challenge students," he said. "It's just like the debating team, an extracurricular activity.
"It's not like the Division I syndrome where you're a cog in a machine, a means to an end to fill a huge stadium and make money."
At Georgetown, football players often have to make way for the school's major sport. They are entitled to use training facilities, but sometimes they're asked to leave when basketball players lift because the basketball players don't like to have others in when they work out.
"Sometimes it gets a little frustrating," Cross said. "Little things like that can get to you."
As at other small schools, the frills are few at Georgetown. There is no training table, but because the football team comes into the cafeteria just after 7 p.m. closing time, the players usually have it to themselves.
"It feels like a training table," said Cross. "But it's the same food."
When compared with the usual talk about college football players' academic inadequacies, the situation at Georgetown is refreshing.
"Everybody graduates," Cross said. "When the alumni come back, every single one is pretty successful. It's unheard of to do poorly in school or not graduate. The competition doesn't stop with athletics . . . Everybody takes pride in academics, not to be labeled a dunce in the locker room."
At Bowie State College, a Division II school, the difference between divisions can be seen. John Organ, the head coach, is employed full time, unlike other small-college coaches. Yet his full-time status is a bit deceiving; he also is the athletic director at the 2,500-student school.
The biggest difference, though, is that football scholarships, which are not allowed in Division III, may be awarded at Division II schools. This year, for the first time, Bowie State is awarding scholarships.
Money still isn't much of a drawing card. Ted Green, an offensive and defensive lineman, chose Bowie State because he knew he'd have a chance to play right away.
"They give you a chance to play if you want to play," he said.
A scout from the University of Maryland saw Green play when he was a senior at Crossland High School and told him he had a chance to play on special teams. Green took a look at the roster, saw all the names ahead of his and chose Bowie State.
"There, I could have made it, but I would have to wait," Green said. "They have a lot at every position who are older. The odds are kind of against you."
Playing at Bowie State has had its drawbacks, though. In the last two years, the Bulldogs went 1-19. Last year, they didn't win a game.
"It's kind of hard to come back and play," he said. "But the seniors who come back love it too much to quit."