CARBONDALE, Ill. — Give the football coach and athletic director at Southern Illinois credit for speaking their minds. There's not enough of that in modern sports.
The question is whether what they are carping about is worth it. Methinks it might not be.
The Salukis are livid that Missouri Valley Football Conference teams quit this spring season midstream, leaving other teams — Southern Illinois first and foremost — hanging out to dry. And coach Nick Hill and athletic director Liz Jarnigan have left no doubt where they stand.
Are they speaking for other schools that don't have the wherewithal to say what Hill and Jarnigan are saying? Or is the Salukis duo the outlier? It will be interesting to find out.
Gosh darn right! This is football! 74% Nope, Southern Illinois needs to stuff a sock in it. 13% I hope Southeastern Louisiana beats the Salukis by four touchdowns this weekend. 13%
Do agree with Southern Illinois that the rest of the Missouri Valley Football Conference should be more vocally upset about some teams voluntarily opting out of the spring season?
Thank you for voting!
Gosh darn right! This is football!
Nope, Southern Illinois needs to stuff a sock in it.
I hope Southeastern Louisiana beats the Salukis by four touchdowns this weekend.
In an interview with a Carbondale radio station, Jarnigan said the silence from the rest of the MVFC when Illinois State, Western Illinois and most recently Youngstown State quit their seasons before completing their schedules is telling.
"Nobody's willing to talk about it. It's swept under the rug. We seem to be the only ones vocal about it," Jarnigan said.
Illinois State opted out when head coach Brock Spack said his team was short on available players, particularly on the defensive line. Western Illinois followed, citing player safety and a desire to begin preparations for the fall season. Youngstown State stopped its season this week, three days before a scheduled game against North Dakota, saying it wanted to look ahead to the fall.
Southern Illinois is particularly upset with Western Illinois, which opted out of its final two games against SIU and South Dakota. SIU really wanted to play Western, which would have been a probable victory. It also was scheduled to be played in Carbondale, which meant the game's cancellation cost Southern Illinois ticket revenue.
The Salukis are 3-3 in the league, 4-3 overall including a victory last fall, and sit in fifth place in the conference. Hill and Jarnigan believe SIU still has a chance to make the 16-team playoff field that will be announced Sunday, apparently based mainly on the Salukis 38-14 win over powerhouse North Dakota State on Feb. 27.
Southern Illinois was able to schedule Southeastern Louisiana of the Southland Conference for a non-conference game Saturday in Carbondale.
"The quitting for reasons outside of COVID don't match the agreement we all had back in the fall moving to a spring season and at the beginning of the spring season what our commitment to each other was," Jarnigan said. "We're vocally upset about it and it's frustrating to me that no one else seems to be."
After Western Illinois stopped its season, costing the Salukis a second straight game after Illinois State opted out, Hill issued a statement touting his team's willingness to play through difficult circumstances and injuries. He also — and this might be the key to SIU's loud protestations — noted the Salukis' playoff resume and said he hoped the playoff selection committee would notice that Hill's team played out the season.
The Salukis are clearly frustrated after narrowly missing the playoff field in 2019 and then not capitalizing after beating NDSU. Southern Illinois lost to Missouri State and was crushed at home by South Dakota State 44-3 to likely drop out of the playoff picture.
Jarnigan even took a shot at other Valley teams that tied for the conference title.
"We're looking at a three-way tie for first place, so I think there are several schools that are cool with how things have gone down," she said.
Missouri State (5-1 in the MVFC) and North Dakota (4-1) will join NDSU (4-1) or SDSU (4-1) as co-champions of the league. The Bison and Jackrabbits play this weekend and the winner will join the other two schools as co-champs.
All the teams in the title hunt had games canceled because of COVID or opponents opting out.
So between slashing teams that opted out of the season and denigrating the teams that will share a league title, Southern Illinois is pretty much throwing every team in the Valley under the bus.
No word on how the Salukis feel about Indiana State, which opted out before the season ... which in turn opened a date on NDSU's schedule because the Bison were supposed to play the Sycamores ... which in turn led to the Bison and SIU playing when they originally weren't scheduled to play this spring ... which in turn led to the biggest victory in Saluki football in more than a decade ... which in turn is the only reason Southern Illinois is in the distant discussion for a playoff bid.
Leaving scorched earth over this oddball spring season seems a strange way to go about things.
Is it worth it? Trashing in-state rivals Illinois State and Western Illinois might be a recruiting ploy. Trashing Missouri State, UND, NDSU and SDSU might be a tough-guy ploy. Combined, it might all be a ploy to appeal to the playoff committee for a spot in the field even though the Salukis have three losses and it doesn't seem logical they'd be chosen over numerous one- and two-loss teams.
It'll be interesting to see the league reaction to the Salukis when the spring season is finished. Jarnigan also suggested in her radio interview that teams quitting the spring might lead to them quitting the fall season if things aren't going their way. That seems utterly illogical because a) the Valley would have something to say about it because it will be a normal season and b) it would spell the end of any recruiting chances for those teams.
The Salukis aren't grasping the utter oddity and one-off nature of a spring season.
Yet Jarnigan was undeterred when asked about it.
"I certainly hope we go back to normal when the pandemic is done and we don't have any hangover from this 'quit culture' moving forward," she said. "I don't know that I'm concerned. I wonder. I've been told that won't happen post-pandemic, but I wonder. I have my doubts."
The Salukis don't seem to be getting much sympathy from the league office. Asked to comment on the Southern Illinois gripes, a league spokesman sent a statement from commissioner Patty Viverito.
"Everything this year is related to the pandemic, starting with moving the season from fall to spring and all the fallout that results from such circumstances," Viverito said.
She also included a link to an article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper in which Richmond coach Russ Huesman explains why the FCS is having such a tough spring with opt-outs and teams sitting out.
"Coach Huesman explains the challenges well in this article," Viverito said.
"Well, the FBS has 120 people on every roster. The FBS has 85 scholarship players," Huesman, whose team works with the FCS maximum of 63 scholarships, said. "In the fall, if we were out here in the fall, we’ve got our 90, 95 [players]. We’re in the spring. We came into the spring with about 64 players that could possibly play, and now we’re down from that.
"And it’s like that all throughout [the FCS]. I’m sure everybody’s having these issues."
In other words, everybody in FCS understood the spring was going to be messy. Some, including myself, believed the spring season should never have been played or should have been canceled altogether when COVID issues and opt-outs began climbing.
Programs were going to do what programs needed to do. There is a fall season upcoming. Some coaches and administrators made the decision that instead of limping through two seasons, they'd pull the plug early in the spring and try to be more competitive in the fall.
Most in FCS seem to accept that. Southern Illinois clearly does not. And the Salukis are willing to aim a flame-thrower at the rest of the MVFC because of it.