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Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman has no illusions about what could happen to his Mocs on Saturday night when they play at Football Bowl Subdivision No.1 Alabama.
"I've told our kids, 'If we don't play ball, we'll get our brains beat out,'" he said during Tuesday's media luncheon. "Fundamentally, they're amazing. They're the best college defense I've ever seen on film."
It's also as good a atmosphere as there is in the college game. There will likely be 101,821 fans inside Bryant-Denny Stadium, nearly all of them clad in crimson, though UTC defensive back Lucas Webb expects those friends and family for whom he found 20 tickets to pull for the Mocs, even though his father Stephen played for the Crimson Tide from 1987 through 1991.
And when those fans launch into their trademark "Roll, Tide, Roll!" or the deep, gravelly voice of the late coaching legend Bear Bryant blares from the loudspeaker before the opening kickoff, well, in the words of Webb, "It's the big-time stage you want to play on."
But what if the Mocs -- ranked No. 11 in the Football Championship Subdivision coaches' poll this week -- weren't allowed to play FBS programs such as Alabama?
What if the rants of national media types such as ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit -- "I think FCS should play FCS, and I think the FBS should play FBS with the one exception being North Dakota State because of a pretty proven track record," he said a couple of years ago -- take hold?
What if those $500,000 paydays that so many FCS programs such as UTC count on to prop up their athletic department budgets become a thing of the past?
Have we become so selfish and elitist in the Power Five conferences that we can't reach down to lift up an otherwise major college program from time to time, if not year by year?
(And, yes, I know that technically, in the eyes of the NCAA, UTC is as much a major college athletic department as Alabama, Tennessee or Notre Dame. They've just chosen to play FCS football.)
"We're not going out of business without those games," Huesman said. "FCS football is not going to die without these kinds of games. But you would have to tighten your belt a whole bunch. It would certainly affect a lot of different things. Having these kinds of games definitely makes your budget more manageable."
It also makes recruiting much easier at the FCS level.
"Other than helping the budget, the most important thing this does is help recruiting," Huesman said. "You think a kid's eyes don't light up when you tell him we've got an Alabama, Tennessee or LSU on future schedules and he's going to play against a program like that? We use that all the time in recruiting, and it makes a difference.
"Just think of going into a kid's home in Alabama and telling them we've got Bama on the schedule. Every kid we recruit wants to play in a game like that."
Certainly not everyone embraces Herbstreit's general belief that "mixing the two (FBS and FCS) I'm not a fan of."
In a recent USA Today article, a quote from Miami coach Mark Richt while he was still the Georgia coach hopefully echoes the view of many at the elite level of the coaching profession.
Said Richt: "I think it would be horrible to have some of these programs not be able to play football because none of the FBS schools would play them. This is what I would do: Have the committee say we're going to take your best 11, or whatever you want to say, take 11 games as your strength of schedule and allow everyone to play an FCS school for the health of the game in America."
Here's a healthy perspective from Huesman about this game.
Asked if he'd be tempted to rest his best players rather than risk injury with the prospect of a probable FCS playoff berth just around the corner, Huesman said, "We're going to put our best foot forward. We're going to put our best players on the field. It's the right thing to do."
The right thing to do going forward is to push Richt's idea for the selection committee to consider only a team's top 11 games. It makes sense for everyone. UTC's level gets a much-needed money boost. The big boys get an unofficial off week, and all those FCS players get to experience for at least one week a year how the moneyed class lives.
Mocs senior offensive lineman Corey Levin saw another benefit for those FCS players who want to chase their pro football dreams.
"I get a chance to look like I belong out there," he said. "Scouts will watch that game. Maybe a couple of doors will open."
It's certainly preferable to closing doors to all those FCS folks who could use a little help.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com
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