Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The season, like the road ahead for the football program, is a long one

The long road ahead of the Dutchmen looks a little better after Saturday's win.

The Flying Dutchmen proved a lot of things in their scintillating 24-17 upset of James Madison Saturday. But the teams shared the most important lesson to come out of the game: It’s a long season, a lot longer than it appeared just two weeks earlier.

Such a concept sounds much more positive to the Dutchmen than it does the Dukes. The Dutchmen appeared headed for another long season of the unfortunately familiar variety when they lost to top-ranked Richmond 47-0, but a schedule that seemed so unforgiving in the aftermath of that defeat—consecutive games against Western Michigan, a Division I-A opponent, and James Madison—is suddenly much friendlier.

The Dutchmen host Maine in Homecoming this week before visiting perennial doormat Rhode Island. We’re not trying to get ahead of ourselves here—OK, maybe we are a little bit—but it’s not all that outlandish to imagine the Dutchmen winning both games and having an opportunity to establish themselves as a legitimate playoff contender against New Hampshire—the current no. 5 team in the country and the preseason CAA North favorite—at Shuart Stadium Oct. 24.

The more the Dutchmen win, the less that loss to Richmond jumps off the page. The season appears a lot longer when a loss like that occurs in September as opposed to November.

James Madison, meanwhile, appears in danger of enduring the type of seemingly endless season the Dutchmen endured last year, which had to be unimaginable a month ago for a program that spent most of last season as the no. 1 team in the country, entered this season ranked sixth and lost in overtime to I-A Maryland in its season opener. The Dukes are 2-2 and their next three games are against Richmond, Villanova and William & Mary, who are first, second and eighth in this week’s coaches poll.

“We’re running out of wide receivers,” James Madison coach Mickey Matthews said after the game. “We’re going to have to pull some redshirts off some guys, because we’re out of wide receivers. Everybody’s hurt.”

Such rapid rises from valley to peak (and vice versa) are a regular occurrence of every season in every sport, but the ability to recognize that and take the long view even during the most extreme moments is what separates the head coaches, managers and players from riffraff like us.

Fortunately—or unfortunately—seven consecutive playoff-less seasons have rendered Dutch Nation (snort) pessimistic, so nobody is scrambling to change Thanksgiving weekend plans in the aftermath of the win over James Madison. But let’s not allow one win and a favorable-looking next few weeks to diminish the concern over the program’s long-term fate. This win was like exceeding by several hundred dollars the minimum payment on a credit card bill in the five figures (not that I know anything about that): Nice, and needed, but not the solution in and of itself.

Look, I’d be thrilled if five or 10 years from now, we’re still talking about Hofstra as a core member of CAA football and all laughing at my suggestion that the school should have downgraded the program. I’d love to be wrong (cue the wife: “You should, you have lots of practice!”)

But the idea of Hofstra joining a non-scholarship league wasn’t borne out of one loss, or even several losses, or even anything that happened since this season started—rather the stark realities, financial and otherwise, that have faced the football program for several years and will continue to do so. One win, as invigorating and exciting as it was, doesn’t change that. It’s a long season—and only the beginning, as well.

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