Photo: KSTP/Frank Rajkowski
Photo: KSTP/Frank Rajkowski
September 03, 2017 06:46 PM
Nobody comes away from a game like the one St. John's and St. Scholastica played Saturday in Collegeville feeling good about the outcome.
The Johnnies beat the overmatched Saints 98-0, and the final score could have been far worse.
The 98 points was a record in a game between Division III opponents, one more than the 97 put up by Concordia-Moorhead in a 97-6 win over Macalester in 1977. And it wasn't far off the overall Division III record of 105 set by Rockford (Ill.) in a 105-0 win over then-NAIA Trinity Bible in 2003.
Those seeing only the final result might understandably question whether St. John's ran up the score.
But the Johnnies were deep into their reserves by the third quarter and threw the ball just five times after halftime – all those attempts coming on their first two possessions of the second half.
Thirteen players had touchdowns. Only one scored two, that being sophomore Will Kleinschmidt, who isn't listed anywhere on the team's two-deep at the skill positions. Fourteen different players carried the ball and St. John's used five different quarterbacks.
Seven of the Johnnies' 12 offensive scoring drives covered 41 yards or less, largely the result of 13 three-and-out possessions by St. Scholastica. And St. John's scored two defensive touchdowns on turnovers in the first half, as well as another on a botched punt that put the Johnnies at the Saints' 13 in the first quarter.
The vast majority of the 180-man roster saw playing time. And short of simply falling on the ball starting in the third quarter, or purposely going out of bounds before the end zone (both which seem - at least to me - more disrespectful toward the opposition), there wasn't much else St. John's could have done to mitigate the final outcome.
Which begs the question some were raising on social media Saturday: Why even play the game at all?
It's a fair point to raise. And in light of the final score, a hard one to argue with.
As someone who covered St. John's football for 17 seasons at the St. Cloud Times before coming to KSTP in March, though, there is some background.
The game was first scheduled as the second of a future two-season agreement in 2014. Kurt Ramler, the head coach at St. Scholastica and a former All-American quarterback and assistant coach at St. John's, had just taken the job after one season as the Johnnies' offensive coordinator.
Ramler, who also was a former head coach at Carleton, took over the offensive coordinator job from Jim Gagliardi in the aftermath of Jim's father John's retirement as St. John's head coach following the 2012 season. A sensitive situation, though one both seemed to handle professionally.
And when Ramler elected to rejoin the head coaching ranks (and Gagliardi returned as the Johnnies' offensive coordinator), he and St. John's head coach Gary Fasching agreed to schedule one another in 2016 and '17 (and have since agreed to play the next two years as well).
St. Scholastica plays in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference, a league certainly nowhere near the far more established MIAC in terms of competitiveness.
But in Division III, where 25 conferences have automatic NCAA postseason bids in a 32-team field, the UMAC first received one in 2011. And since then, St. Scholastica has largely been the league's top dog – winning conference titles and advancing to the playoffs from 2011 through 2015.
That included Ramler's first season in 2014 when the Saints were matched against St. John's in the first round – a game that ended in a 35-7 Johnnies' victory. The first regular-season matchup between the two teams last season resulted in a 49-7 St. John's win, during a season in which St. Scholastica slipped to an overall record of 7-3.
Neither of those games could fairly be described as competitive. Though neither could be described as embarrassing either.
All of which is to say no one foresaw Saturday's game ending as lopsidedly as it did. Nor do I believe there was any 'bad blood' that influenced the outcome. Indeed, with the Saints currently on board for two more seasons, it would be silly for the Johnnies to do something to purposely embarrass them.
But the game wasn't likely to provide a significant challenge either. So why not attempt to schedule a more competitive opponent instead?
It's again a fair point, though established programs like St. John's can sometimes find scheduling nonconference games challenging.
I'd still argue it's better all-around to avoid if possible scheduling teams from leagues like the UMAC, or even an NAIA opponent like Presentation (S.D.) whom the Johnnies face next week. Though that game was added only this past spring after a long search for a 10th contest.
But the system being what it is in Division III, it's also hard to ask teams to play one fewer game, or schedule the type of matchup that puts themselves in a position which makes their postseason aspirations more precarious. An 8-2 record many times won't cut it when it comes to earning one of the six available at-large bids, no matter whom the losses came against or how competitive the games were.
I'd personally prefer a system in which playoff bids were based solely on regional rankings. That way a team wouldn't necessarily pass up a challenging nonconference game, and in fact might actually be rewarded for taking one on.
Yet such a system means teams from leagues like the UMAC would – at least for the foreseeable future – start the year knowing there was virtually no chance of making the postseason. Especially since the kind of established powers they'd need to schedule and defeat to change that fact might avoid scheduling them if it meant hurting their own ranking.
I still think it would be a better way, though I understand why non-scholarship Division III operates the way it does.
Another solution would be splitting Division III into two divisions, though deciding which teams or leagues moved down could prove challenging. And it wouldn't be surprising to see traditionally-struggling programs in more established conferences wanting to drop to the lower division, viewing it as a better fit.
Which could create its own scheduling issues, or break up some of the tradition a league like the MIAC prides itself on.
For now, though, the current system remains. And it lends itself to an occasional matchup like the one that occurred Saturday. Which wasn't a good situation for either St. John's or St. Scholastica.
Even if neither program envisioned or intended it to arise.
Created: September 03, 2017 06:46 PM
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