As Christopher Newport University left the field Saturday after celebrating in the wake of victory and claiming the USA South title it was the end of an era. Many will not miss the Captains all that much. The conference’s only public school with an athletic budget that has dwarfed the rest of the league has never been a good fit in more than geographic terms. The difference in tuition costs, admission requirements and facility funding have only been aggravated by the success and titles that CNU accumulated year after year.
The conference has changed with membership shuffles and the geographical ties are strained and weaker now. It makes a certain sense for CNU to look north rather than south.
But that’s Division III athletics. The landscape is much larger than that seen on any give channel during the weekend. In some sports two and three times as many teams are competing in D3 than those in D1. The have and have not turmoil of the power conferences wanting their own rules, though more publicized, is really a much smaller disparity than D3.
Christopher Newport’s relationship with the other USAC schools is merely a microcosm of the larger disparity and differences.
The Captains other sports left for the Capital last season, football stayed until an agreement could be reached that would give football a conference home with enough teams to put the winner in the playoff scenarios.
That gave CNU a chance to take one last title, which the Caps did with the 37-27 win that knocked Maryville out of it. MC outgained CNU, bottled up CNU offensively most of the cold afternoon and found it could throw almost as well as it could run against CNU’s defense. Two mistakes on kickoffs changed the game and that happens. A 50-yard field goal sealed it but could just as easily have opened the door for MC to complete its rally had it missed and that happens too.
I’ll be in the minority that will miss the Captains and coach Matt Kelchner. The last 10 seasons I’ve often compared the architect that built CNU football to Steve Spurrier, not for his coaching style so much as his gamesmanship with a microphone. There’s a confidence bordering on arrogance in his public persona and a whit that produces some of those same kind of Spurrier-esque quotes that sportswriters love. There’s timely respect for opponents but often with that but-we’re-still-better touch to it.
Over the years during media days, phone calls during game weeks and the gameday activities I found a respect for what Kelchner’s created up at Newport News, Va. I’d like to think that by our conversations off the record the coach found a bit of respect for our paper, which has been one of the few to consistently make many of those media days and ask for space in the press box at POMOCO Stadium. I’m no more certain that we did than I am that I ever saw more of true Kelchner than he wanted us to see.
So CNU football moves on and just like has happened with the other sports, watching the void that’s left be filled will be almost as entertaining. Maryville’s trip to Methodist today doesn’t carry nearly the weight it might have on the larger stage, but it could next season. And hopefully someone will eventually step into the space Kelchner vacates among the coaching personalities of the USA South. Methodist skipper C.J. Goss has potential. So does LaGrange’s Matt Mumme.
But if and when they do, much like the SEC in those few seasons Spurrier was away in the NFL, it won’t be quite the same.
So best of luck to you, CNU, in the new digs, you were always good for a great line.
Marcus Fitzsimmons is sports editor at The Daily Times, who enjoys reading comments posted to this column at thedailytimes.com