Opinion Corner: Three weeks isn’t enoughYou may not be the only one who thinks three weeks is too much time for North Dakota State’s football team to prepare for a national championship game.
By: Kevin Schnepf, Forum Sports Editor, The Jamestown Sun
You may not be the only one who thinks three weeks is too much time for North Dakota State’s football team to prepare for a national championship game.
That’s nearly as much time as Chris Humphries and Kim Kardashian pretended to be husband and wife. That’s longer than Donovan McNabb pretended to be the Minnesota Vikings’ starting quarterback. It’s certainly much longer than Chris Paul pretended to be a Los Angeles Laker.
The 19 days left before NDSU plays Sam Houston State for an FCS national championship on Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas, does indeed seem long. But listen to two guys who experienced this semester break when the FCS debuted its three-week layoff last season.
“I’ll be honest, I was initially in the camp that thought it was too long,” said Eastern Washington athletic director Bill Chaves, whose football team won the first FCS championship played in Frisco. “But once I got into the game I realized, ‘Wow, I’m glad we had those three weeks to prepare.”
It allowed fans enough time to purchase tickets, flights and motel reservations. It allowed the two championship teams to take some time off for the holidays and to heal up. It allowed coaches to properly prepare for their biggest game of the season.
“It really gave you time to take a deep breath and realize ‘hey, we’re going to play in a national championship,” said Delaware head coach K.C. Keeler, whose team lost to Eastern Washington in last year’s championship game.
If the Bison contingent heading to Frisco is worried about a bad experience, don’t.
Frisco, a suburb located north of Dallas, is one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities that is “very progressive” according to Keeler and an area where “everything is brand new” according to Chaves. New stores, new roads and new venues like Dr. Pepper Ballpark, home of the Class AA minor league baseball team Frisco RoughRiders; Dr. Pepper Arena, home of the Texas Legends of the NBA Developmental League, the Texas Tornado of the North American Hockey League and the practice facility for the Dallas Stars of the NHL.
Then there’s the eight-year-old, $80 million Pizza Hut Park, where the Bison will play their first FCS national championship game. It was built for soccer and is the home of FCDallas of the Major Soccer League. It has 18 luxury suites and a private 6,000-square-foot stadium club.
It also has one level of seating in a U-shaped design with video boards in each corner.
“It’s got great sight lines and there’s not a bad seat in the house at all,” Chaves said.
And it seats more than 21,000 – enough to house the 10,000 Bison fans NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor expects to show up at Pizza Hut Park.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s more than that,” Taylor said.
In last year’s championship game, Delaware had about 10,000 fans – including alum Vice President Joe Biden. Eastern Washington had about 4,000 fans show up.
“I thought what they did in Frisco was off the charts,” Keeler said. “For it being there for the first time, it was a definite A-plus.”
Keeler has experienced eight FCS championships, either as a player or as a coach. His 2003 Delaware team won an FCS championship in Chattanooga, Tenn. – where the title game was held from 1997 to 2009. That team, like this year’s Bison, won its semifinal game at home.
“Winning at home was really cool,” Keeler said. “Our fans were unbelievable. They ended up tearing down the goal posts. It was almost as big as the national championship game.”
That was back in an era when FCS teams had one week to prepare for the title game. In 2007, Keeler’s team won a quarterfinal game at Northern Iowa before it got stuck in a blizzard. The next week, his team won a semifinal game at Southern Illinois.
“We got back home on a Tuesday and then we had to play in the national championship game the next weekend,” said Keeler, whose team lost that game to Appalachian State. “Now, with the three-week break, you can get guys rested and you get a chance to actually prepare.”
Even though his team lost in last year’s championship, Keeler remains a staunch support for the three-week layoff.
“I know a lot of people think teams can get rusty not playing a game for that long,” Keeler said. “But we did not go into the game stale.”
In fact, Delaware jumped out to a 19-0 lead before Eastern Washington – the team that rallied to beat NDSU in overtime in last year’s quarterfinals – scored 20 unanswered points to win the game. Despite the devastating loss, Keeler remains a staunch supporter of the three-week layoff.
“It was phenomenal,” Keeler said. “The holidays were even more special for our playing knowing they were going to be playing in a national championship game.”
“It gave you a chance, honestly, to almost enjoy it,” Chaves said. “To be a part of a game like that, it will only happen for the first time once. So experience it and enjoy it.”
Maybe three weeks isn’t that long after all.