The UW-Whitewater Warhawks will play the Mount Union College Raiders for the NCAA Division III title this Saturday for the second straight year. A nation of football fans who have been fooled into believing that only the Division I-A Bowl Championship Series matters will likely skip the nationally televised game in droves.
Here are six reasons they're wrong.
1. The Division III national championship game is called the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl. Stagg, who coached at the University of Chicago from 1892 to 1932, is credited with inventing such staples of the game as the huddle, uniform numbers, the Big Ten Conference and the lateral. In contrast, the Division I-A national championship, played on Jan. 8 in Glendale, Ariz., is named after Tostitos, a salty snack chip credited with getting the couch full of crumbs.
2. A season ticket for Whitewater's five home games goes for $25. Parking near the stadium is $3. And $5 buys two hot dogs and a hot chocolate. You could take in an entire season of Warhawks games for what a single Badger game costs.
3. Whitewater quarterback Justin Jacobs was just named the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference's player of the year for the second straight season. An alum of Sun Prairie High, Jacobs has thrown for 36 touchdowns and more than 2,800 yards in 14 games this season, for an efficiency rating of 154.28. (In 10 games, John Stocco's rating as the Badgers' starter is 150.31, and Brett Favre's is 75.5 over 12 games.)
4. Mount Union has won eight Stagg Bowls since 1993. Like Whitewater, the Raiders are 14-0 this season. They enter the game ranked number one in the nation; Whitewater is ranked number two.
In their playoff run, the Warhawks beat St. Norbert (ranked 18th nationally) and UW-LaCrosse (9th) in the first two rounds. In the quarterfinals, they faced St. John's (12th), led by the legendary John Gagliardi, college football's winningest coach, with a lifetime record of 454-122-11. After dispatching the Johnnies, 17-14, in frigid 20-degree weather, the Warhawks annihilated third-ranked Wesley in the semis last Saturday, 44-7.
Having survived this rigorous playoff system, there's no doubt Whitewater deserves a shot at the title. Meanwhile, in Division I, coaches are sniping at each other and the BCS system, which guarantees not that the best teams play, but only that the big conferences end up with enough money from companies like Tostitos to make them happy.
5. Mount Horeb native Ryan Kleppe, a senior defensive tackle for the War-hawks, is the team's star. According to Whitewater Chancellor Martha Saunders' blog, Kleppe has made the dean's list every semester of his college career and 'epitomizes the essence of a Division III student-athlete.'
He's listed at 290 pounds, an impressive number for an interior defensive lineman at any level. Whitewater fans have grown accustomed to watching Kleppe burst through the offensive line and chase down opposing quarterbacks 100 pounds lighter than he is.
Kleppe is one of four finalists for the Gagliardi Trophy, awarded to the Division III football player of the year. Referred to as the 'small schools' Heisman,' the award honors excellence in athletics, academics and community service. Maybe they should start calling the Heisman the 'big schools' Gagliardi.'
6. For the quarterfinal game against the St. John's Johnnies in Whitewater two weeks ago, Warhawk softball players sold me my parking pass and flagged me to my spot. Basketball players staffed the concession stand, and the announcer repeatedly thanked the baseball team for readying the field for play. The football team, I'm told, returns the favor by helping prepare the student center for big events.
The Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl can be seen on ESPN2 this Saturday at 3 p.m.
U.S. Soccer blows it
American soccer sank further into irrelevance last week when JÃrgen Klinsmann withdrew from consideration for coach of the U.S. national team. Klinsmann led the German national team to a surprising third-place World Cup finish by employing an aggressive and entertaining style of play. U.S. Soccer reportedly agreed to Klinsmann's salary demands, but refused to grant him the authority he sought over the team's operations.
My question: Which officials in U.S. Soccer know enough about the international game to trump Klinsmann, who played for the Germans when they won the 1990 Cup? This is the same group of soccer geniuses who assembled one of the most disappointing teams in this year's field.
Instead of Klinsmann, they've tapped Bob Bradley, coach of Major League Soccer's Chivas U.S.A., whose accomplishments include getting fired by Alexi Lalas. This could be the dumbest sports move of 2006.