Following a 48-41 loss at New Mexico, San Jose State Spartans football is now 1-4 (0-1 MW), for the worst five-game start in the Ron Caragher era. Sure, San Jose State did beat the 11-point spread. However, fans saw the same lousy run defense and other mistakes that have been guaranteed to pop up in every season under Caragher, as site publisher Jackson Moore pointed out in his instant analysis on Saturday. This loss puts Caragher’s future as head coach of the team in question. Not only that, but the future of the program itself becomes a concern.
Before you say “this New Mexico team went to a bowl last year” or “Bob Davie was coach at Notre Dame,” keep in mind that this year’s New Mexico team came in with a 1-2 record, the one win being against FCS South Dakota and losses to New Mexico State (a perennially bad team in FBS) and Rutgers (who was 4-8 last year). Similarly, the previous opponent Iowa State had an 0-3 record prior to facing San Jose State, including a loss to FCS Northern Iowa, yet beat San Jose State 44-10. (Most recently, Iowa State led #13 Baylor for much of the game before losing 45-42 on a last-second field goal, so maybe Iowa State is not as bad as the 0-3 start indicated.)http://www.scout.com/college/san-jose-state/story/1714216-video-englishs...
The 11-2 record in 2012 suggested that a new dawn had come for San Jose State football, following nearly two decades of non-stop losing seasons. Not only was the program making noise in the mid-major world, but Spartan Stadium was finally going to get long-overdue facility upgrades, known as the North End Zone. Yet four years after that magical 2012 season, the North End Zone remains only an idea on paper. The belief that the team could win games has turned back into expectations to lose. Many students who were there for 2012 graduated or should be close to graduation this school year, so institutional memory of that season is quickly fading on campus.
I remember attending the home game against BYU in November 2012, when San Jose State entered with an 8-2 record, and seeing a packed, loud student section. Now, student interest has dwindled, as many leave games early. Case in point: the student section emptied out after halftime in the home opener against Portland State.
That was nearly a week after students waited for hours, even cutting class in some cases, for a free concert by rapper YG, hosted by Associated Students to celebrate the completion of the new Student Union building. My tweet got over 50 retweets and 100 likes, but beyond basically feeling the same way I did, I cannot explain people’s motives for the retweets. Are they proud of what happened? Do they wish things could be different? Did they just hit retweet because they thought I was being funny? In contrast to the ghost town of a CEFCU Stadium student section, here’s what the Event Center floor looked like before YG took the stage:
Contrary to what some fans of certain football programs in the Central Valley or Southern California will tell you, San Jose State can be a winning program. Doing so takes the right coach who can recruit and make game plans. The 2006 season (under Dick Tomey) and 2012 season (under Mike MacIntyre) are two recent examples, as are many seasons from 1986 to 1992 under Claude Gilbert and his successors, Terry Shea and Ron Turner.
With regular national media exposure on CBS Sports Network and the ESPN family of networks, San Jose State football has been afforded a great opportunity as a member of the Mountain West to promote the university brand. San Jose State deserves to be a destination school, not safety school, for both students and sports coaches. MacIntyre’s move to Pac-12 school Colorado and long, painful trip to a hot start this season shattered any notions that San Jose State is a career killer (Fitz Hill the most prominent example, as well as too many basketball coaches to list). Students should see San Jose State as a school where they would love to attend, as opposed to being simply a place to get a degree after being rejected from a UC. A successful football program can help cultivate that belief.
Furthermore, while the team’s 1-4 start might remind some fans of the Fitz Hill years, at least the football program does not have to deal with the academic deficiencies from the Hill era that reduced scholarships for many years until MacIntyre became coach. Back in the 2003-04 school year, the combination of poor grades and on-the-field performance by the football student-athletes sparked a movement by some faculty for San Jose State to drop down from Division I-A (now known as FBS) status.
Today, while academic performance for not just football but most sports at San Jose State has vastly improved, the football program here and at mid-majors in general could be in danger more because of money. As Paula Lavigne reported last month for ESPN’s Outside the Lines, athletic departments in the Power Five conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC) made $6 billion, while all other Division I programs made just $2 billion combined. Already this decade, two schools have decided to withdraw from the FBS level. UAB announced in December 2014 that football would be cancelled immediately, but that decision was reversed in a matter of months, and UAB will return to FBS competition in 2017. This year, Idaho decided to drop its football program to the less expensive FCS level. UAB and Idaho should be cautionary tales for any FBS mid-major that fails to remain competitive and financially solvent.
With the way the team is playing now, its future is very much in doubt. It seems that much of the progress made from 2006 to 2012 has gone down the drain in the past few years. That is especially damaging in the era when Division I college football has become a financial arms race, one that San Jose State is losing due to poor attendance and no realistic prospects at facility upgrades. Athletic director Gene Bleymaier knows what it takes to build a mid-major powerhouse, as during his nearly three-decade tenure at Boise State, the football program rose from Division I-AA to Division I-A with regular ten-plus-win seasons and national rankings. Thus, we at Inside the Spartans extend an invitation to Bleymaier to articulate his vision of the future of the football program. We would love to hear from him and are more than happy to publish his response in a crucial period for Spartan athletics.
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