The Michigan football program can take some solace from getting smacked between the eyes by the state of Appalachia last Saturday.
Though being smitten down by the massive-underdog Mountaineers was quite humiliating, at least the Goliaths, er, Wolverines didn't lose to a I-AA team.
Not officially anyway.
Appalachian State, Weber State, Southern Utah and the other 119 teams that used to play in Div. I-AA now compete in what's known as (take a breath) the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I Football Championship Subdivision.
Otherwise known more simply as: (Formerly I-AA).
Or the Football Championship Subdivision. Or the FCS. Or even The NCAA Football Division That Actually Has a Playoff and Crowns a Real Champion. You pick.
And the mighty Mountaineers, ranked No. 1 in the FCS FYI, can't boast about beating a so-called Div. I-A powerhouse a fact that has nothing to do with how good (or lousy) Michigan's football program is this season.
That's because the 120 teams that used to be Div. I-A such as Notre Dame, Florida, BYU, Utah, Louisiana-Lafayette and, yes, even Utah State are now in the NCAA Div. I Football Bowl Subdivision.
Or the FBS, which, keep in mind, includes the BCS and was supposed to be superior to the FCS until ASU (not the one from the AZ) made Michigan look like it was MIA (not to be confused with MI-AA). So, did the AA really stand for Acronymics Anonymous? LOL. Don't worry. It might clear up by Y2KX or so.
"It'll take some time to get used to. It'll probably be accepted in three or four years from now," said Brad Larsen, the assistant athletic director for media relations at Weber State. "It's taken me a while."So far, though, the change has created more confusion and sarcasm. Larsen understands that. Still, though he was fine with the Div. I-AA label, he much prefers FCS over being erroneously called Div. II (that's Dixie State's league), Small Colleges (hello, Westminster) or even Mid-Major, a derogatory label that he says "drives me crazy."
To confuse matters more, the Football Bowl Subdivision is technically subdivided even further. And for most members, the prize is playing in one of the 32 bowls, not playing for a national championship.
Half are with the FBS "haves" the ones who belong to Bowl Championship Series conferences (ACC, Pac-10, Big East, SEC, Big 12 and the Big Ten+Notre Dame) and are automatically included in the national title equation.
The other half are with the "have nots " the non-FBS-BCSers (MWC, WAC, Conference USA, Mid-American, Sun Belt, non-Golden-Domer independents) who apparently either have to be coached by Urban Meyer or play on blue turf to be invited to play in a Big Bowl but not the REALLY BIG ONE.
But let's leave the debate over the intricacies and injustices of the BCS system for another day and concentrate on the other pigskin perplexity du jour.
For some more confusing fun, consider that programs in the FCS, which has a 16-team playoff and no bowls, now all have a shot at winning an outright Division I football championship.
Which means in the Div. I world (minus the As, mind you), Appalachian State owns bragging rights over Michigan (for obvious reasons) and Florida (because the Gators won the BCS last season but were not officially crowned D-I champs). The FCS name change officially kicked off on Dec. 15, 2006, when App St. beat the University of Massachusetts in the inaugural D-I football championship game.
"We're really happy they let us use 'championship' (in the subdivision name). We like that," said John Casper, the Big Sky Conference's assistant commissioner for media relations. "We're the highest level of a true championship of NCAA football (with) a true playoff. The BCS can't say that. We have a true champion in Div. I football."Take that FBS-BCSers. Now back to sorting out what subdivision everybody lives in and how they got there ...
WHY THE CHANGE?
School presidents and conference commissioners in (Formerly I-AA) didn't push for the change because they were sick of their league sounding like a medium-sized egg. (At least not publicly.)
The impetus behind the new nomenclature the fancy word they all use to say "classification" was to help people (sports writers, potential recruits, etc.) realize that Div. I only had separate levels for football. In all other sanctioned NCAA Div. I sports from basketball to field hockey to fencing the I-AA football schools compete with the UCLAs, Dukes and Alaska-Fairbanks of the world. Sometimes they even win (see George Mason, 2006).
"It was done less for football than other sports," said Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton, who played a key role in the process that was approved last year.
The problem, he pointed out, was that some media members and coaches from Div. I-A football schools would call or treat the Div. I-AA football schools' entire athletic program as being either I-AA or Division II. At the same time, those schools dropped the "-A" off of their football label and simply referred to themselves as Division I. Basketball was the biggest culprit, but it happened in many sports.
That was a Double Whammy for the Double-As.
"That came back to haunt us in recruiting," Fullerton said. "We needed to describe our level of play that could not be described in anything but football. ... Whether they like it or criticize it, we have to point out that our basketball is Division I just like everybody else. That alone really is one of the goals we're to get done get people to realize that there is only one Division I basketball."
In other words, they hope people can grasp the concept that the Wildcats can chew gum and be a Football Championship Subdivision school and a Division I basketball program at the same time. That point has apparently gone unnoticed by some ever since the NCAA created I-AA in 1978.
"We've been battling the label thing forever," Casper said.
Timely now, an example Fullerton likes to use deals with Appalachian State. After the Mountaineers won the first of their two straight football championships in 2005, a graphic crawler on the bottom of the TV screen informed viewers that it was the school's first-ever I-AA national title in any sport.And while (Formerly I-AA) programs are trumpeting their new title, the same enthusiasm isn't exactly sweeping (Formerly I-A) schools. A BYU athletic spokesperson said the new FBS dubbing "hasn't been a large topic of conversation" at the Provo campus. The Cougars aren't discrediting it, he said. They're just busy frying other fish.
AN UPHILL BATTLE
It was recently made clear to Big Sky officials that not everybody has gotten the naming stuff down. Just last month they opened the Signpost Weber State's student newspaper and read how the Div. II Wildcats were taking on Div. I Boise State in the season opener. For the record, the Wildcats from Abilene Christian University are Div. II, the ones from Weber are (Formerly I-AA).
When asked their opinion on the name change at practice, Weber State's two kickers looked as puzzled as they would if Ron McBride had just told them to attempt an 87-yard field goal.
"They changed it to Football Championship Subdivision? Wow. Why?" responded sophomore punter Mike Snoy.
"That's just weird. It doesn't make sense," added junior placekicker Conor Foley, who thought it sounded derogatory. "It doesn't bug me, but I think if you told that to the whole team, 95 percent wouldn't know that they changed it. That's how much it means to us. It doesn't change anything for us. It's just a name."
Shortly after the most incredible upset in the history of the FBS or FCS, national media mostly referred to Appalachian State as a I-AA team. The Sporting News' Web site accentuated that with the big front-page banner headline: "Grade AA Upset." (Which probably flows off the tongue better than Grade FCS Upset anyway.)
The USA Today's Sagarin Ratings still lists "A" and "AA" teams. The Mountaineers' head coach, Jerry Moore, referred to his team as I-AA on a live ESPN interview before correcting himself. Even the NCAA's official Web site mentions ASU being No. 1 in the "preseason I-AA poll."
And then there was ABC sports broadcaster Brent Musburger, who talked about a mysterious third group: the Football Playoff Subdivision, which could be an exclusive gated community very few know about.
"It's going to be hard," said Fullerton, whose Big Sky offices are located in Ogden. "I understand how hard it is to change over. ... It takes a long time."
Case in point: He still struggles to call the former Senior PGA Tour by its rightful name, Champions Tour. Or is it PGA Tour Champions Subdivision?
Fullerton was encouraged that a lot of media mentioned FCS in some way while reporting on the Appalachian State victory. In that sense, the Mountaineers became the poster children for the name switch with a win-win situation on and off the field for (Formerly I-AA).
Before worrying too much about the media, though, Fullerton and other FCS conference commissioners first have to break old habits at home. Big Sky officials talked at length in summer meetings and in private, he said, about "how important it is for coaches to get the nomenclatures straight."And after they cleared up confusion about what the word nomenclature meant, they started tackling the whole confusing (Formerly I-AA) scenario.
Div. I Football Bowl Subdivision conferences
WACIndependents (Notre Dame, three others)
Other possible names for I-AA (or maybe not):
The "Prince League:" The Division Formerly Known as I-AA
The "We Own Michigan Conference"
The "Short Division" (I-A is Long Division)
The "We're Not Little Brother (Except in Football) Division"
The "We Are The Only True D-I Champions!" League
The "U.S.A. Conference" (Unheard-of States of America: Appalachian, Weber, Morehead, Sam Houston, etc.)
The "Egg League" (Grade AA, of course)
The "New AA" (Acronymics Anonymous)