Friday, September 14, 2012

Cupackes? I Could Eat!

The dead season of summer couldn’t end fast enough. We missed college football, and wanted it back badly. So bad, we didn’t care who was playing or how lopsided the games would be. We just wanted football.

And football we got. And while we have witnessed a few good games, most of them were laughers.

But this shouldn’t surprise us. The first few weeks of September have always been about big schools paying, er playing, little schools, as they work out the kinks and get solid game film.

But with Savannah State’s double doozie of Oklahoma State (84-0) and Florida State (55-0, called early), more attention has been paid to these types of games. And it hasn’t all been positive. Especially on ESPN and social media.

But has anyone really looked at how both teams benefit from these games, Including Clemson, a prime offender (hello Furman, Wofford, SC State, Coastal Carolina, UCS)?

Here’s a full house of alliteration showing why The TigerSwag supports non-conference cupcakes.

While most 4 & 5 star recruits want to play in front of 80,000 fans, they also want to play. And playing time is not guaranteed at most major D1 schools. But it is at the smaller schools. And if you’re a Savannah State or Furman, you sell the hound out of playing time, because no scout ever drafts from the bench.

And playing time isn’t just for the small schools. The big schools like these games because everyone gets to play. Just last week, Clemson played 80 players, including four quarterbacks. And it helped a dream come true for Daniel Rodriguez, an Army vet, as he caught a pass.

In addition to playing time, the FCS schools can sell recruits on big time college football. The FCS schools know the schedules years in advance and the players circle the big boys early. It’s a chance to measure yourself against the best. And this year, Savannah State got that chance twice.

And every once in a while, a school like App State (Michigan) or James Madison (VT) or the Citadel (UCS) makes some magic and walks out with a victory, to go along with their fat check.

Speaking of walking out with their fat check, the main reason these schools agree to play the big boys is revenue. A small, FCS school can earn up to $500k by traveling a few hours, enjoying a night on the town, and showing up to play a game they love. I’ve always said I’d take a mil to go one round against Tyson (in his prime). Well, this is no different. They have to take the punches of the big boys, but it’s amazing how different a sore shoulder feels when you’re holding a check for half a mil.

And it’s not just the small the schools that make the money. The big boys do as well. This gives the big schools a chance to do special events, like homecoming, and tie the football games into other non-revenue sports, all without giving up a home game.

You never know what you have until you put it to the test. This is true for both the big and small schools. The big schools have practice film, but very little else. Cupcake games give the coaches the chance to do things they normally wouldn’t do, all in an effort to see how the players respond. They run special plays, packages, and personnel, knowing a bad play or mistake doesn’t hurt you.

Conversely, the small schools get a chance to see how their players respond to adversity and how they perform against bigger, better, and faster players. And the experience they learn in these games becomes invaluable as the conference and playoff season wears on.

Clemson is a special place. And nothing is more special than sharing gameday with your kids. But for young kids, the big games aren’t always the best. There’s traffic, alcohol, TV timeouts, language, and general space issues. Plus people want to focus on the game (shocker) and don’t take kindly to squirmy kids.

But games against lower-level opponents are perfect. You can maneuver around campus as you share stories and memories. And the game itself is enjoyable as everyone’s in a good mood and Tiger Rag is on repeat.

I remember these games more than I ever remember the big ones.

While bringing the family to a Clemson game is an amazing experience, it can’t compare with the experience a Clemson-Ball State game in 2002 afforded us. That year, my wife and I, along with three other teachers, had the privilege of bringing nearly 100 sixth graders to a Clemson game. During this trip, we showed them the campus, coordinated a speaker from the admissions office, and instilled the idea that college is an option.

We can still picture the kids’ faces as they first saw the stadium or the Tiger Paws on the road or Schilletter Dining Hall or orange everywhere.

But what we remember the most are the kids arguing which city we were in when as we entered Greenville (3.5 hours into our trip). Some thought Atlanta (I-85 south), some thought Columbia (I-385 south), some thought Charlotte (I-85 north), and some thought we were still in Bluffton.

To this day, 10 years later, we’ll run across one of the kids that went on that trip and they’ll still be wearing orange – and proud to show it to us.

Did we change anyone’s decision of whether or not to go to college? Not sure, but we made a few new Clemson fans, which would never had happened if Ball State were Florida State.

And for these reasons, I’m glad Clemson chooses to play one of these games a year. Make it count Tiger Fans!

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