published Friday, December 24th, 2010

FCS finalists like waiting

Delaware football coach K.C. Keeler has time to think, time to plan and time to take a brief holiday break before trying to win his second national championship.

“We’re just so exhausted that we need to get away, and mentally and physically I think it was good to get a break,” said Keeler, whose third-seeded Blue Hens (12-2) will face No. 5 seed Eastern Washington (12-2) in the NCAA Division I Football Championship game in Frisco, Texas, on Jan. 7.

Unlike the old FCS playoffs format, in which the title game was played the Friday after the semifinal weekend, the new schedule includes a three-week break between the semis and the championship game.

It’s a welcome respite for the players and the coaches, Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin said.

“I think it’s going to benefit both teams,” he said.

The last time Delaware played in the championship game, in 2007 at Chattanooga’s Finley Stadium, the Blue Hens were in a constant rush. After winning its semifinal game at Southern Illinois, Delaware had six days to prepare for Appalachian State.

It was the Blue Hens’ third straight road game, and they were having to squeeze in video study and practice between flights.

“The experience was great, but having it the week right after the [semifinal] game, that was pretty stressful on the players and the coaches,” Delaware senior safety Anthony Bratton said.

Keeler guided Delaware to the 2003 title at Finley Stadium and lost to Appalachian State in 2007. He said the old format didn’t hurt his team in ’03, but it did on the Blue Hens’ next trip to Chattanooga.

“In ’03 we didn’t need it. We played every [preceding playoff game] at home, we were fresh and we were ready to go,” he said. “In ’07, we couldn’t handle it. We got really banged up in the playoffs, we had a very strange travel schedule [because of a snowstorm] ... and we were exhausted. We slept in our own beds like six of the last 16 nights, or something crazy like that.

“This year, we do appreciate the extra time because we got pretty banged up against New Hampshire and Georgia Southern.”

The coaches will have plenty of time to draw up game plans, the players will have a chance to rest and get healthy and there will be ample practice time. The schedule also gives fans more time to figure out travel options, rather than having to rush to purchase plane tickets at the last minute, when prices tend to be higher.

It remains to be seen if the three weeks between the semis and the title game will lead to more fans making the trip. Delaware’s campus is more than 1,400 miles from Frisco and EWU’s is nearly 2,000 miles away.

Reaching the championship game is much more expensive for the finalists than in the past.

Delaware and Eastern Washington were both off for all or part of this week, and the players will return next week after brief trips home. With the campuses essentially shut down for Christmas break, that means the athletic departments must bear the expense of keeping the players around.

When the NCAA announced the expansion of the playoffs from 16 to 20 teams and the subsequent change in the title-game date, Montana athletic director Jim O’Day said his staff had projected those expenses to be as high as $100,000.

Because Eastern Washington is on the quarter system, the Eagles already have been out of school for several weeks.

“It’s well worth it, though,” Baldwin said. “You deal with those type of expenses when you’re able to be in this situation.”

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about John Frierson...

John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...

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