Teams in transition
Teams in transition
Teams in transition meet at Bragg Stadium
By Ted Hutton
Posted October 30 2004
The call came at 1:30 a.m. Sunday, about six hours after Florida Atlantic suffered its first loss of the season.
FAU offensive lineman Chris Shepherd was still stewing about Louisiana-Monroe's 17-13 upset victory when he answered the phone.
On the other end of the line was Florida A&M running back Paul Sharpe, who had grown up with Shepherd in Apopka and played with him in high school.
"I'm already mad, and then he's saying, `You got six more days, and it's going down,'" said Shepherd, smiling and shaking his head. "You build relationships, and then you get to compete against your friends."
A lot of friends will be facing off today, when FAU (5-1) plays FAMU (3-5) at Bragg Stadium in Tallahassee at 4 p.m.
Both rosters are loaded with Florida players, many of whom crossed paths as teammates or opponents in youth programs and high school.
Bragging rights are the only thing at stake in this game, since both teams are in a self-imposed purgatory, with no chance to win a title or play in the postseason.
FAMU is on its way down from a disastrous decision to try to move up from Division I-AA to I-A, and FAU is forging ahead in its move to I-A despite the Rattlers' cautionary tale.
"It turns out we were not ready to make the jump," FAMU coach Billy Joe said about the decision to go back to I-AA after going through the first year of the two-year transition to I-A.
It was June 2003 when FAMU announced it would apply to the NCAA to move up starting that fall. A TV deal had been signed that was supposed to bring in millions of dollars that would fund the cost of the move.
But problems popped up immediately. About a dozen players were transferring into FAMU, but since the Rattlers were now I-A, those players were required to sit out a year.
Most bailed out and went to other I-AA schools where they could play right away, and FAMU lost a lot of talent. The Rattlers also had to become an independent and leave the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
To compete at the I-A level, FAMU needed a big upgrade of its athletic facilities and the ability to pay teams to play in Tallahassee, since as an independent it could not rely on conference games.
A year after deciding to make the move, its main proponent, then-President Fred Gainous, decided to abort. But it was too late for FAMU to get back into the MEAC.
Gainous has since been fired after FAMU came under state scrutiny for budget deficits.
The result is that FAMU is playing a schedule this season that includes four I-A teams and two teams making the transition to I-A: FAU and Florida International.
With I-AA teams limited to 63 scholarships to the 85 allowed for I-A teams, it's not surprising that the Rattlers have struggled.
"We are at a disadvantage," Joe said. "That is why we were so eager to go I-A."
Although FAU has adequate funding for its move to I-A, FAMU has the one thing FAU needs badly: fans.
FAU needs to average attendance of 15,000 at home games to qualify for I-A, and FAMU had 24,163 at its homecoming game last week.
FAU is also an independent this season and will join the Sun Belt Conference next year. As a transition team, it is ineligible for a bowl.
FAMU will be back in the MEAC next season.
Wide receiver Roosevelt Bynes did not make the trip for personal reasons, the school said.
Bynes, the Owls' second-leading receiver with 407 yards and two touchdowns, will be replaced by senior Brittney Tellis in the starting lineup.
Tellis has played in every game and has 114 yards and one touchdown.
Copyright ? 2004, South Florida Sun-Sentinel