Friday, January 29, 2010

Savannah State should drop back or drop kick football

Imagine for a moment if Congress only accomplished 15-percent of what was best for the country. Okay, bad example. We seem to send most of those jokers back to Washington repeatedly regardless of what they do. Let's instead say that your daughter came home from school to tell you she had only answered 15 questions correctly on a 100 question English exam. You would tell her, naturally, that you can't accomplish much in the world if you have a success rate of 15-percent. Someone desperately needs to deliver that message to Savannah State University when it comes to its football program.

Robby Wells resigned this week after just two years at the helm of the Tigers. His win-loss record: 7-15, good for a winning percentage of .318. How sad it is that winning 32-percent of the time, something that is only acceptable to a major league baseball hitter, was considered wildly successful at Savannah State. This is a program, after all, that hasn't had a winning season since 1998. SSU was a Division Two school back then, and judging by its lack of success since moving up to Division 1-AA (now known as FCS), it should either drop back down a division or perhaps just save the money and not play football at all.

Since becoming a full-fledged member of 1-AA in 2002, Savannah State's record on the gridiron is 13-73, good (good?) for a .151 winning percentage, almost as low as John Edwards's latest approval rating. The Tigers won only six games in six years before Wells was hired prior to the 2008 season. Why the lack of success after the change in divisions? At this point, who cares. The bottom line is that the record shows eight years of failure, with very little if any chance for improvement, and the only place where someone would tell you to keep doing the same thing after eight years of failure is Washington D.C.

Some will say that other schools have gone through similar football swoons and have emerged successfully. You would, however, be hard pressed to name one such school with the athletic budget and ability to tap alumni for donations, or lack thereof, such as Savannah State. Also, with one of the most successful FCS programs in the country in Georgia Southern just up the road, it is clear there is not enough talent available for the Tigers to be competitive. Drop down to Division Two, and that changes. Indeed, the Tigers' only football playoff appearance in the school's history came as a D-II school in 1992 (full disclosure, SSU was blown out in the first round by Jacksonville State, and the author was a student at JSU at the time).

Sadly, since it is 2010 and we should have moved on by now, one can't help but wonder if skin color played a role in Wells's tenure. You may recall that there were some not-so-subtle protestations from some alumni when SSU hired its first white football coach and, five months later, its first white athletics director in Bart Bellairs. Some believed that the historically black school had betrayed its heritage. Both Bellairs and Wells are now gone; Bellairs resigned in November just 18 months after he was hired. While they both officially left SSU on good terms, only those behind the scenes know the true story. The timing, though, is fishy considering that most thought the football program was still making progress under Wells despite going 2-8 last season.

The true story should be that Savannah State has nowhere to go but up. But unless SSU has it's own version of T. Boone Pickens ready to properly fund a Division One football program, it's record on the field has shown that it has no business trying to compete in that division. There is no shame in competing in Division Two; ask Armstrong Atlantic State if it hurts them. But if Savannah State is more ashamed of dropping down a division than of a 15-percent success rate, the school would set a much better example for its students by spending its money on them rather than football.

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