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New ASUN-WAC Challenge for 2021
On February 23, 2021, the ASUN (Don’t call us Atlantic Sun) Conference and the Western Athletic Conference (Call us the WAC) announced they would be joining forces for the 2021 football season and then later divide to sponsor their football conferences. This will encompass a re-start for sponsoring football for the WAC, which left the football game in 2013. It will also introduce sponsoring football for the ASUN Conference, which has been one of the better non-football conferences in the nation, with schools like Liberty, North Florida, and Florida Gulf Coast University garnering national attention with successful basketball programs. With the announcement, the ASUN instantly looks like a potential powerhouse in FCS football with Central Arkansas, Jacksonville State, Eastern Kentucky, and future members Kennesaw State and North Alabama. The WAC didn’t know it at the time of the announcement, but they also look like an immediate force at the FCS level, as they will feature 2021 FCS National Champions, Sam Houston State Bearkats. The announcement served as the solution for two conferences to meet the automatic qualifying standard, joining together for the ASUN-WAC Challenge for the 2021 season. A conference alliance, known as the AQ7, will feature three schools (Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky, Jacksonville State) from the ASUN and four from the WAC (Abilene Christian, Lamar, Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin). These seven schools will battle for a chance to compete in the FCS Playoffs for the Fall 2021 football season. So let’s examine how the AQ7 breaks down.
The AQ7 Conference
The ASUN Conference and WAC have agreed on a one-year football scheduling alliance for the 2021 fall football season. “The ASUN and WAC are proud to be building opportunities for our student-athletes to compete at the highest level,” stated ASUN Commissioner Ted Gumbart. “This partnership provides teams in both leagues a path to an automatic bid and elevates the ASUN and WAC to a new level of competition. We look forward to creating more innovative ways to promote ASUN Football as an NCAA FCS league in 2021 and beyond.” During the February 2021 announcement, it was confirmed the current ASUN members, Kennesaw State and North Alabama, will continue to participate in the Big South Conference for the 2021 season. Also, current WAC members Dixie State and Tarleton State will participate in the joint schedule but will not be eligible for the group’s automatic bid due to their status as NCAA Division I reclassifying institutions. Three other football programs associated with both conferences will remain unaffected by the new alliance, as WAC member New Mexico State and ASUN member Liberty will continue as an FBS Independent. ASUN member Stetson will continue to play in the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League.
The seven schools will be known AQ7, will play a single round-robin, with each institution having three home contests and three road contests. The team with the highest winning percentage among AQ7 games shall receive the automatic qualification to the FCS playoffs. In addition, a trophy will be presented to the conference that has the highest winning percentage against the other conference. This AQ7 Champion will represent the ASUN-WAC Challenge in the Playoffs. Additionally, an at-large bid is also a genuine possibility for this powerful conference.
The ASUN joining the mix of sponsoring football is a bit of a surprise in one way, but likely a necessary jump to preserve the future of the conference. The ASUN watched the last founding member leave the conference in 2013 when the Mercer Bears re-started their football program and joined the Southern Conference. It also saw East Tennessee State University, Jacksonville State, and Gardner-Webb leave from 2008-2011 to join football conferences. Then the ASUN had to watch the Big South Conference, who they have an alliance, get the spotlight as startup Kennesaw State became one of the most successful football programs in the nation. However, since 2018 when Liberty rejoined the conference in all sports, excluding football, the conference has been upswing. Adding North Alabama in 2018 was more proof Ted Gumbart and the ASUN were drawing attention from successful programs looking to make the jump from Division II into the D-I ranks. With the addition of Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky, and Jacksonville State, the football community is turning to look at the ASUN and would like to know how they are doing what it is doing. Whatever it is, ASUN Commissioner Gumbart is doing it right. The 2022 ASUN Football Conference is looking like it will be a powerful conference, featuring nationally-ranked UCA, JAX State, and Kennesaw State. Don’t forget EKU, which has a storied program, is a team that has is moving in the right direction and just picked up a considerable transfer class, including a QB from Auburn, Cord Sandberg.
Additionally, UNA has a history of success at the D-II level. The Lions distinguished itself as the only team to win three consecutive football national championships in NCAA Division II. Still, more work has to be done to fill out the conference.
The ASUN Conference only has five football teams as of Summer 2021. They need six to receive an automatic bid. Could Stetson make the jump to scholarship football from the Pioneer League? Not likely. How about Jacksonville? The Dolphins are a full member of the ASUN but discontinued their football program in 2019. They are unlikely re-start it anytime soon. Therefore, the ASUN has to look elsewhere. It has generally welcomed teams from the southeast region, except Northern Kentucky and NJIT, who only stayed in the conference for three years and five years, respectively. But, with adding teams in Arkansas and Kentucky, the option of adding teams in the central time zone is much more likely. However, the schools that make the most sense are still in the southeast. Teams like former ASUN members ETSU, Mercer, Samford, Campbell, and Gardner-Webb seem to be targeted for the new-look ASUN. With the Southland Conference losing its big-name schools, their future is legitimately in question. That makes their remaining schools, Nicholls State, Incarnate Word, and McNeese State, potential targets. Due to the location of teams from the Southern Conference, they are potential targets for the ASUN.
Moreover, targets that may be unlikely but make sense are Chattanooga (SoCon), Elon (CAA), Austin Peay (OVC), Missouri State (The Valley), SE MO State (OVC), and Tennessee Tech (OVC). The ASUN could also look to schools like Valdosta State or West Georgia, both D-II schools that have rumored to want to jump to the D-I FCS level. Either way, the ASUN is poised to be a contender for many years to come in the FCS, and it starts in the Fall 2021.
Finally, don’t believe the rumors of the ASUN jumping into the FBS ranks in a couple of years. The teams they are associating with are happy at the FCS level. Blogs continually speculate that FCS teams will make the jump, and with the successes of Liberty and Coastal Carolina, it is tempting. Fans generally fan (no pun intended) the flames of these rumors, but the jump to FBS is no small task. Larger stadiums, additional scholarships, and a requirement to have at least 15K fans per game is a stretch for these schools. While Jacksonville State averaged more than 16,000 in 2019, other schools in the ASUN struggled to hit 5,000 fans in attendance. The average for FCS schools in 2019 was just over 7,000 in attendance. So, don’t buy the hype. The ASUN is positioning itself to be a contender at the FCS level for years to come.
It seems like only yesterday, the WAC was a power-five conference and sponsored FBS football with teams like The Air Force Academy, BYU, UNLV, San Diego State, TCU, Wyoming, and Utah. Then a mass exodus from the WAC to the Mountain West and Pac-12 left the WAC a fractured football conference and the decision in 2012 was made to no longer sponsor football. But, the WAC is Back with the expansion of the conference adding more FCS football schools and more to scheduled come. Abilene Christian, Lamar University, Sam Houston State, and Stephen F. Austin officially join the WAC in July 2021. Dixie State (In the process of changing the school’s name) and Tarleton State are still in the reclassification period for transitioning from D-II to D-I and will not be eligible for the post-season for another two football seasons. All of the teams in the WAC will play a WAC schedule starting in 2021 as well as compete against the three ASUN schools for the ASUN-WAC Challenge. Southern Utah is scheduled to join the WAC in 2022. Jeff Hurd has brought football back to the Western Athletic Conference, and Sam Houston rewarded him with being the reigning FCS Champion. That notoriety will make the conference a primary talking point for all FCS football fans. The timing could not have been more perfect, and the WAC is shaping up to be a great conference. Two additional teams are rumored to be added later, making the WAC a potential eight-team football conference. The more, the merrier, and there are rumors the WAC is looking at schools like Weber State and some California and Colorado football programs to gauge their interest in joining. Additionally, former WAC member Idaho could be a target for membership. Like the ASUN, rumors abound about the WAC having aspirations of jumping back in the FBS game. While there may be some validity to the talk, it appears the WAC is focusing on the FCS level, and the future is very bright with how the WAC has presented its re-entry into sponsoring football.
Tiger Woods is an imperfect human being. Of course that is not newsworthy, but either is the fact he recently was charged with DUI in Jupiter, Florida. But, the media frenzy that followed represented the media’s obsession with destroying other’s lives.
Sports fans watched Tiger Woods professional golf career in awe as in his early 20’s took the golfing world by storm. He made golf fun and opened the sport up to many who had never given it notice. A back injury sidelined Tiger in 2009, but his celebrity status was shining brightly. In November 2009, Tiger was plastered all over the news with scandalous accusations that he had extra-marital affairs on his then wife, Elin Nordegren. Several days later, Tiger was involved in a minor traffic accident in his Cadillac Escalade. Speculation began immediately about what had occurred. Wild rumors spread about Elin chasing Tiger down the street with a golf club due to the affairs being revealed. Tiger later admitted to “transgressions” and apologized to harming his place as a role model. Tiger took an absolute beating in the media and lost countless amounts of dollars in endorsements. The media feed its obsession to relentlessly rip apart those in its bulls-eye. Tiger disappeared.
Since the horrific end to 2009, Tiger Woods has been essentially a non-factor in golf or as a celebrity. He would spark curiosity as his private relationships were revealed, but nothing that elevated him to his once high throne of sports celebrity.
In 2017, Tiger Woods was vocal about making a comeback to the PGA and his golfing career. On May 29, Tiger was found asleep at the wheel of his car by a police officer. After an investigation, Woods was arrested for DUI-Drugs. This sparked the media machine’s hunger to feed on Tiger again. The following days was again relentless to Tiger. Nothing was off limits. Every mistake Tiger had ever made was again spotlighted by every major network. Tiger once again was on the menu. Granted he placed himself in a bad spot, but the ultimate newsworthiness of the most recent incident was minor at best. Being a celebrity, the news of unscrupulous behavior always has a tinge of newsworthiness, but not to the extent the media hammers away.
Sports figures and celebrities aren’t the only targets of the news media. Political figures from local jurisdictions to the national political scene are often relentlessly torn apart. The media will also go after their own on occasion. Bill O’Reilly was a recent victim of the same kind of feeding frenzy, but since he had the top political commentary program in the nation, made him fair game. Those who shouldn’t be fair game are the non-celebrity victims.
Police officers, military personnel, teachers, etc, can find themselves in the food chain of the media if not careful. Careers have been destroyed, families split, and lives devastated by reporters looking to sensationalize the circumstances for ratings is an every day occurrence. The media won’t stop until they completely level those in their path. The question has to be raised as to why this tactic continues to used.
The answer may be in the desperate nature of the media business. You have to sell advertising to sell spots during the news that pays the salaries of those who report. The career field has been cut significantly in the past twenty years. The desire to scoop stories and draw attention is a successful tactic. Fox News continuously has “Breaking News” graphics on the screen to lure the viewers in. This attracts viewers, but diminishes the meaning of “breaking” when it comes to news. The public is becoming desensitized to some of the sensational methods of the media. This forces the media to resort to the most outrageous sensational news making cycles. What is more sensational than watching a once successful sports celebrity be torn down bit by bit?
We are deep into the conference play for all of the conferences at the division I level. I wanted to post my most updated prep sheets for broadcasters to use in their show prep.
Here are my stages of show prep:
1: Know the school:
Do research on the schools history, as far as previous mascots, famous alumni, previous championships, previous conferences,and any news worthy event in the past year from the university. Wikipedia can assist in this endeavor.
My hot sheets include, university enrollment, official colors, and the home arena’s name. I have also included the athletic director and university president’s name.
2. Know the history of teams
You should know how long the teams have been participating in the sport. It is a nice talking point if it is a milestone year. I called a game last year for a team who was celebrating their 100 year of basketball.
Know when the last time the team made the post-season tournaments. It is important if they got snubbed by the NCAA, but made a run at the championship in the NIT.
Know any players who numbers are retired by the school or are playing in the NBA or next level of Pro ball.
3. Warren Nolan
Warrennolan.com is a great resource for men and women’s basketball, college baseball and college football (FBS and FCS). Check the teams RPI and schedule. Did they have any signature wins this season? Check the team’s non conference strength of schedule. These are all talking points during a game. Research is important. Know your teams.
4. NCAA Website
NCAA.com is an essential visit for broadcasters who are prepping for a game. I like to compare current stats with the previous seasons stats. I look for any drastic positive or negative change.
5. Team pages
Even Division III teams have improved websites to include updated rosters and statistics. Use these pages to get to know the coaching staff and players. I look for any connections with the two teams. Maybe one of the assistant coaches graduated from the opposing school or had previous coaching experience with the opposing coach. There are a number of things to look for to note for the broadcast.
Below is a link to my prep for Georgia Tech and Wofford:
My baseball call was featured on a Fox Sports segment this week. Thanks to Kristen Balboni for the nice segment.
I get a lot of questions about how to prep for a basketball game at Georgia Tech. I tell those who inquire, I prepare for Georgia Tech the same way I would if it were Kennesaw State, West Georgia, or some high school game. Preparing for the game has got to be a large part of your dedication as a broadcaster. I believe you will find your own niche when preparing for a broadcast, and I have adjusted my prep over the years. Generally, it has become more time consuming, not less. I want to know as much as I can about the teams/players/ coaches for both teams. Even though it is likely I will not use a lot of the information I gather in preparing, it allows me to develop a better understanding of the teams. At the NCAA D-1 level, there are a ton of resources including the game notes provided by the universities. Also Blue-Ribbon Yearbook, NCAA.com, KENPOM.com, WARRENNOLAN.com, and a hundred others. I use these resources and others to generate a “hot sheet” to have in front of me for the game. Attached is my latest version for Duquesne vs Georgia Tech on Tuesday 12/29 at McCamish Pavilion.
My adventure in broadcasting continues to expand as I have added Georgia Tech men’s basketball to my resume. What a thrilling opportunity to sit court side for Yellow Jacket squad that plays in the prestigious ACC. I jumped at the opportunity to work the non-conference games on ESPN3 from Hank McCamish Pavilion. The first game was versus ETSU and it was a great battle. Georgia Tech never could get separation and then this happened…
It was a great game to break into the season with Georgia Tech. Working with the crew at GT is such an amazing experience. I feel quite blessed!
I consider myself extremely blessed to be around great people who love sports and are so dedicated to broadcasting. This weekend I returned to Georgia Tech for ACC Volleyball on ESPN3. Video Director Andy Blanton and his staff at Georgia Tech do a tremendous job in every aspect of the broadcast. I also had a new partner-in-crime this week as former GT standout Kele Eveland provided color commentary and I was blown away by her insight. She brought energy, passion, and in-depth analysis of every play on the court. It also helped that the match was a dramatic come back by GT to win after being down 2 sets and facing match point vs Boston College. The intro was pre-recorded, but we were standing directly in front of the GT band, who were extremely loud. The O’Keefe Gym is a classic arena, so everything echoes. With no IFB, both Kele and I were screaming at each other as we introduced the match. Once the match started it was really smooth sailing. I even got to do a post-game interview with GT Head Coach Michelle Collier for BuzzVision. It was a fantastic opportunity and experience. I will be doing eight other volleyball broadcasts at Georgia Tech this season as their ACC schedule continues. Next broadcast is vs Louisville at GT on October 9th at 7pm on ESPN3.