October 15, 2008

Hitting the road, seeing the sights

More news about: Cortland State

Cortland was a sea of red.
Photo by Matt Milless for D3sports.com

CORTLAND, N.Y. -- Packing list for this past weekend's trip:

Notebook and voice recorder? Check. Laptop with wireless connection capabilities? Check. The rest of the Division III world? Check.

It's Around the Nation's continuing mission to be the eyes and ears of the Division III fan who will never get to travel from NESCAC country to SCIAC country. So ATN routinely packs up its readers, figuratively, to come along as we peek in on ice-cold games in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio, then later bake in the Texas or Mississippi sun to bring the game to your computer screen. It's a tough job, watching all this football, but someone's got to do it.

Joking aside, New York had long been one of ATN's last unexplored territories, and with reason. Back in our lower-budget, more-thinly-staffed days, we always had volunteers stationed in or near the Empire State, which made it wiser for me to attend significant games in places other than New York, New Jersey or Pennsylvania (a tri-state area, as Trine might point out).

Thanks to your support of Kickoff, our advertisers and the like, ATN has spent the past few seasons crisscrossing the country to help fill in a portrait of the Division III experience, especially for those of you whose focus is trained on a single team or conference each Saturday. We've witnessed a Backyard Brawl in Mississippi, observed Frisbee players at Lewis & Clark in Oregon and driven readers through Baltimore on a windy day at Johns Hopkins. ATN pulled the two-games-in-one day trick in Wisconsin and in Illinois, and tried to pull the two-games-at-one-time trick in Iowa and Texas.

ATN had even seen New York teams play in other states, including the time South Jersey told the story of a Rowan-Cortland State overtime game.

But ATN had yet to take its readers on a trip upstate, and although the Rochester/Buffalo region still deserves a visit, giving the Finger Lakes a hand was necessary.

So off it was along the familiar Route 15 path out of Virginia's D.C. suburbs, where publisher Pat Coleman and I had long been based. Along I-81 in Pennsylvania are Lebanon Valley, King's and Wilkes -- only one of whom was at home on Saturday and functioning as the 'I'm never going to make it to Cortland in time' backup plan.

Fall's foliage season hasn't quite hit its colorful zenith, but the further north I traveled, the more vividly red and yellow the trees became.As stops on the highway go, Cortland is no match for nearby Binghamton, which is a clue about the city's stature. Barns, farm animals and tractor sales lots dot the landscape on the ride toward town, and the sharp-looking Victorian homes on Route 41 give no indication there's a state-college behemoth lurking just a right turn away.

I thought I'd been paying attention all these years, but someone should have warned me about Cortland State. After finally parking, I got out of the car like Dorothy when she first catches a glimpse of the Emerald City. I was completely and utterly in awe of the palace the Red Dragons have built.

Between the stadium's size and the red-clad walk up to the field, I felt like I was going to a Rutgers game.

Maybe that's pushing it, but there was a steady stream of SUNY-Cortland shirts on fans walking up to the gates, past where free coffee and donuts were offered to passersby. It was parents weekend, so I'm not quite sure if that was representative of every game, but I don't think I'd seen it before.

Where tickets are taken, you must declare which sport you're there to see. Headed to the football game? Keep left. Field hockey, which plays in the same complex on a parallel field separated by grandstands and a press box in the middle, had a game running concurrently. Those fans kept right.

Underneath the grandstand is a concourse, with several food stands that are likely bustling on Cortaca Jug day. A decent crowd (an estimated 5,000 in the 6,500-seat stadium) showed up, but imagining it full for the rivalry game provided an "I bet that would remind me why I love college football" feeling.

The press box was the fourth story of five -- one reporter used binoculars to check out the game action -- and provided seating for watching the game going on on either side. Short of coordinating the two national anthems to start at the same time, there's was little from a game-day operations side that appeared it could've been done any better.

It had been suggested, though Cortland State didn't seem interested from what I could tell, that the school apply to host a Stagg Bowl. And while the support staff in Salem is what sets it apart from anyone who would apply (trust me, the weather in the Roanoke Valley in December isn't so great that New York wouldn't have a chance), the stadium matches up favorably.

Long story, well, still kind of long, Cortland's stadium immediately replaced my long-time favorites North Central (I love the towering concrete grandstand) and Widener (also concrete, surrounded on three sides by trees) as my favorite facilities. St. John's and Linfield won me over the most in terms of game-day atmosphere (huge rivalry games not included, I suppose) and probably still hold the crowns in that department.

Cortland's team wasn't bad either, as it handed Montclair State its first loss, 23-17, while improving to 5-0. Given the Red Dragons' history -- especially after going 9-1 with an overtime loss to conference champion Rowan and not making the playoffs in 2006 -- taking control of the NJAC race was a gratifying step. Cortland State has beaten Rowan, Kean and Montclair State, the three teams with just a single NJAC loss, effectively giving the Red Dragons a two-loss cushion with games remaining against four 2-3 teams, then rival Ithaca.

Speaking of the Red Dragons' Cortaca Jug counterparts, though they were in Vermont beating Norwich 41-6, it only made sense to make the 30-minute drive to see the well-regarded Jim Butterfield Stadium.

For some reason, I'd always believed the view everyone raved about had something to do with mountains in the background. Ithaca's stadium is on a hill alright, South Hill, but it was the you-have-see-it-to-believe-it view of Cayuga Lake that was the real stunner.

Two New York fields in one afternoon, and I was blown away, then blown away again.

Though Downtown Ithaca, perhaps helped by the presence of Ivy League Cornell, appears far more developed -- with restaurants, shops and Saturday evening crowds -- the stadiums were the opposite. The contrast in the Cortland State/Ithaca rivalry is often state school vs. private. The contrast in their stadiums highlight the two ways Division III fields seem to emerge. Some places go for the best money can buy -- field houses, video boards, grandstands. Others might not have the fanciest setups, but emphasize natural features -- hills and valleys from which fans can watch the game or campus buildings which paint a stoic backdrop to the hustle of game day.

Doesn't mean there's a right or wrong way to build your particular football palace. The contrast between Cortland and Ithaca's top-notch stadiums drove that home.

First and Ten

Division III's low-budget limitations often help create some of the most unique settings a football fan will ever see. This week's first and ten is designed to give ATN readers a chance to highlight the most distinctive features, large and small, spotted on your travels. Let's talk about it on Post Patterns.

1. It's not worth trying to determine where Division III's "best" stadium is. With stadium features being a matter of preference, one man's dump, so to speak, is another man's palace. There are so many ways we could define 'best' anyway. Best game-day atmosphere, best facility, best natural surroundings, best use of what you're stuck with, etc. Baseball fans are very partial to their stadiums, but find room to cherish older Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, as well as newer PNC Park and AT&T Park. And then there's those who love Camden Yards and Petco Park, where old is incorporated into the new. Just as there's a mix of school sizes and ages and missions in Division III, there are fields and stadiums with their own special touches.

2. In my eight seasons writing this column, I've seen my fair share -- and I still have dozens of places yet to see, much less see during a game. The trip to Cortland and Ithaca got me thinking about where my favorite stadiums are, and the favorite features. I think I'm partial to concrete and brick grandstands, but appropriately sized for Division III. Millsaps and Mississippi College didn't look right playing in 60,000-seat Jackson Memorial Stadium back in 2003. I'm impressed by video boards and brand-spanking-new field houses, but families spread out on a hill or signs of support from cheerleaders and sororities give a personal feel that costs a lot less. I'm not terribly convinced that money makes an atmosphere special, but I'm also sure there isn't a Division III program that couldn't find something good to do with more of it.

3. Seems like a fair percentage of Division III fields are set along train tracks (Albion, Cornell, Catholic, Gettysburg, Hamline, Linfield, Randolph-Macon, Susquehanna) or backed up to a cemetery (Hope, Thiel, Wesley). Next time you visit a new field, take a look around and see if you don't find one of those things. Maybe it makes planning-commission sense to carve out a field in an area where no one was really clamoring for that land.

4. Among my favorite man-made features would be the ability to watch the games from a library or dorm window at Carnegie Mellon or Elmhurst, among others. Pomona-Pitzer and St. Thomas (small photo here) also fit the surrounded-by-buildings category, and I'm told RPI's '86 Field is much the same -- in fact, take a look at the slick campus tour on their website to get a feel for it. Top notch. You'll be able to check out Carnegie Mellon's digs when their homecoming game against Wittenberg airs on ESPNU in Week 8, or visit the Gesling Field page on their site. But if you leave, you have to promise to come right back to D3football.com!

5. Stadium architects (and I'm not even sure a lot of these places were that carefully planned) must work with the plot of land they are given. Incorporation of trees to surround the stadium (as at Widener and St. John's) and natural hills/valleys (McDaniel, St. John's, Hampden-Sydney) are wonderful. Sometimes the challenges are a little tougher. Back in the mid-90s, before the upgrades to Washington & Lee's Wilson Field, teams had to walk across a bridge from the locker room.

6. Sharing a field with a municipality, as is the case at UW-Eau Claire's Carson Park and Hope's Holland Municipal Stadium, can sometimes be a way to share costs with a city while still getting a pretty good home stadium out of the deal.

7. Sometimes what you aren't makes you what you are. My alma mater, Randolph-Macon, is home to some of the least-fancy facilities you'll find, but like most places has its own you'll-never-see-this-anywhere-else uniqueness: Only a sidewalk separates the football field from a semi-busy town street and the apartments and "motel dorms" on the other side. Students can park their cars and/or gather on the other side of the street to catch point-after kicks and field goals, some of which have been known to hit moving cars if they aren't careful. (Sure, R-MC could spring for a net, but this is way more fun.) Also, because there's no track team, the brick stadium is about as close to the sideline as possible, which brings the game-day experience of hearing coaches chew out players (at least under previous regimes) directly to the fans.

8. As far as unique goes, no one can beat the Claremont Consortium's two fields on one campus. Pomona-Pitzer's field is surrounded by a library (or building of some sort, it's been a while; see photos here), while the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps is more of a concrete grandstand in an open space. But passing an outdoor water polo practice drives home the California aspect of the campus as much as towering palms on Redlands' campus do.

9. Often, game day is enhanced by the people on hand. While Bridgewater's legendary Stone Station and the Stiftungsfestivities at St. John's are among the gold-standard Division III tailgates, sometimes more subtle things give an experience its touch. At Linfield, couches lined up on one end zone make for a great spot to see the game. Hardin-Simmons (which also has an outdoor pool by the field), takes a similar scene a step further. In the end zone are empty trash barrel-drums used for pumping up the crowd. UW-Whitewater fires a cannon after each home touchdown. And I'm sure I'm forgetting a sing-songy chant from someplace or another. (Wabash maybe?) I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the pep bands, cheer squads and dance teams. Facilities can only do so much; A great game day starts with lively fans.


Dominic Livedoti played at Olivet in the 1960s and is the head coach now.
Photo by Keith McMillan, D3sports.com

10. Sometimes I think I'd make a fine football coach, if only because I've had the chance to hold court with greats like Larry Kehres, John Gagliardi and Frosty Westering. If I were able to steal from them the right ideas about motivation, program-building and developing character (forget X's and O's), I'd be better off than most first-year coaches. Pipe dreams aside, I sometimes think as Division III programs we're all in this together, or at least for the right reasons. If we could all pick each other's brains on how to build a great stadium or enhance a program through tradition, what would we share? I've included two photos from trips I've taken in the past few months as a couple examples. At Olivet, which I visited while seeing my wife's family in nearby Battle Creek, Mich., over the summer, they've created a tradition where former players can stay linked to the locker they had as a player. A few months later, leaving Salisbury, I saw what I assume is Christopher Newport's equipment truck, which cleverly had the team's schedule on the side and acts as free advertising every moment it's on the road.


Want to know when CNU plays? Check the truck.
Photo by Keith McMillan, D3sports.com

My list is not an end-all be-all; I can't even remember all the cool things I've seen or the places I've been. And I probably have still seen less than half of Division III's stadiums. Above, I didn't even mention Wabash, DePauw and the Monon Bell, or game-day atmospheres at other rivalry games, or sharp new stadiums at Beloit, Shenandoah, CNU, etc.

The only way to really begin to create a list of the most innovative facilities, traditions, etc. is to pool our ideas. Here's the thread on which we've traditionally discussed Division III stadiums and their features, plus largest known crowds. Join the discussion.

Second and Five

Although it's taken me half the season to really explore it, and therefore mention it, if you haven't seen the NCAA's new statistical interface, you should (follow the link on the left-hand rail to get there). All the things we argue about -- strongest schedules, attendance figures -- are there, many of them in sortable, downloadable reports. Being a Division III "expert" is less about knowing everything than it is knowing who to ask and where to look, so I hate to reveal my sources, but this is too good to keep to myself.

All the streaks and non-conference records I had been tracking by hand are now done for me. In light of that, I thought I'd have time to throw out a bonus item to show you how much one can glean from the new stats package. There's a link on the left-hand side of this page.

1. The length of the average made field goal in Division III this year is a shade over 30 yards. So maybe ease up off that guy who's so often wide right from 47, okay? The average missed field goal is from 34.40 yards, so coaches are well aware of their kickers' ranges. Nationally, Division III kickers are just 1 for 12 from 50 yards or beyond this season, with last week's make by Beloit (see Clyde Hughes' Around the Midwest) the only successful attempt.

2. More from the third phase of the game! Just 57.8% of the field goal attempts this year have been made, but what gives special teams coaches ulcers: 100 attempts so far have been blocked. Youch. Let's tighten up those splits, boys.

3. Average game length of the 1,222 games reporting so far: 2:49, which is surely longer than those blurs we called games a few seasons ago when rule changes eliminated several plays from each game.

4. UW-Whitewater (9,108) and St. John's (8,398) lead the nation in average attendance as one might expect, but Plymouth State, Coe and Utica top the charts when you sort by percentage of capacity filled. Behind St. John's, which has four of the top five single-game crowds, in average attendance is Baldwin-Wallace (7,142), Mount Union (5,445) and Christopher Newport (5,016).

5. Concordia-Moorhead has had the nation's toughest schedule to date, at least by won-loss record. The Cobbers' opponents are 15-2 so far. Teams from the MIAC and CCIW, which had by far the best non-conference records, fill the top 10 by toughest schedule, either to-date, upcoming or combined. La Grange, on the other hand, is in the playoff hunt despite having the 186th-toughest schedule (7-15 so far, 16-26 overall), and that's not including the 34 schools the NCAA filters out because they play fewer than nine Division III opponents.

Poll positions

Insight on the ballot of a D3football.com top 25 voter, and the teams who are on the fringe:

After a Week 6 with so many key clashes, there were quite a few key questions, like what to do with Capital, who was No. 4 but lost 49-7 to No. 1 Mount Union. On the one hand, the Crusaders weren't expected to beat the No. 1 team according to their poll position, so why would they move down to No. 9 (coincidentally, exactly where I dropped them to)? For starters, a 21-point first-quarter deficit and 42-point margin of defeat doesn't inspire much confidence. Mount Union might regularly outplay highly-ranked teams to such a degree, but it also makes a voter wonder if Capital is really better than the top two CCIW teams, or comparably successful teams out East who have not played Mount Union.

And speaking of taking on the Purple Raiders, what to do with St. John Fisher, which has its third loss but by playing No. 1 Mount Union (5-0) No. 17 Salisbury (5-1), Hartwick (3-1) and handing Ithaca (4-1) its only defeat has played four better team than anyone on No. 10 Washington & Jefferson or No. 15 Case Western Reserve's schedule. The Spartans outperformed the Cardinals against a common opponent, Rochester, but a philosophical argument for rewarding a strong schedule remains. Then again, the Presidents and Spartans can only play the teams they have lined up, and voters have to be sure not to unfairly punish them because of it.

What else to do with, say, Montclair State, who drove to the 26-yard line with 22 seconds left before Cortland State held on for a 23-17 victory? The Red Dragons are now 5-0 and ranked 13th. The Red Hawks are 4-1 and the seventh team also receiving votes. Are 26 yards and a PAT really worth 19 spots in a poll? The answer might well be yes, but you have to ask.

In any case, this week's discussion is in full swing on Post Patterns, an if you're a poll-watcher and you skip the fan observations there, you're really missing out. Guys are putting together charts and dissecting the varying voting philosophies. It's good stuff.

Pool B watch

As listeners to ATN’s Monday podcast and readers of The Daily Dose already know, the NCAA has corrected the distribution of the 32 playoff bids to include a third for Pool B. This was the right number all along, but given that the Northwest Conference’s automatic qualifier makes 23 of those (The defunct IBFC’s bid went with five of it its teams to the Northern Athletics Conference), the third Pool B bid leaves just six for runners-up in those conferences.

On Post Patterns, the Pool B watch has been in full swing for a while. Here’s what we’re looking at for the three bids:

Case Western Reserve is way out in front at 5-0 and not having an opponent it will be an underdog against. Unbeaten gets them in, a loss makes things interesting.

The Wesley/Salisbury winner is in good shape, but the loser is in big trouble. The losses by both against Delaware Valley won’t look as bad if the Aggies (4-0 vs. Division III teams) win the MAC. They’ll both finish with strong OWPs, but will struggle in the in-region record criteria. Salisbury’s games against Division II Lake Erie, provisional Geneva, playoff ineligible Newport News Apprentice and out-of-region St. John Fisher and Becker will have minimal impact. That means the Gulls can’t afford a second loss among its five in-region games. Wesley, which had a game with Christopher Newport canceled, plays NNA and has non-divison games with Iona, Webber International and Lake Erie, is in the same predicament.

The SLIAC, whose automatic bid doesn’t kick in until 2010, has two teams in pretty good shape. Huntingdon is 5-0 but faces 5-0 Hampden-Sydney in Week 10. LaGrange, which hosts the Hawks in Week 11, is unbeaten against Division III teams and could steal a bid if it wins out. The schedule won’t help, but unbeaten teams tend to fare well.

Northwestern (Minn.) is 5-1 with a 9-6 loss to Simpson, and needs someone above to fall. They also finish the season against St. Thomas, which is 4-1 now.

At 3-1, Chapman is in the mix, but must still face Occidental, Redlands and Cal Lutheran.

Streak Watch

Since the NCAA now does a lot of the work for me (though not all their numbers and mine agree), I’ll bring you more lists, but less depth. If you’re curious about the date of each team’s last loss/win, for instance, visit the NCAA’s stats page.

Monmouth breaking St. Norbert’s 29-game MWC winning streak is probably the week’s major occurrence in this department.

Longest winning streaks: 18 games, UW-Whitewater
9, Monmouth
7, Millsaps and Trine
6, Cortland State, Curry, Hampden-Sydney, Huntingdon, Trinity (Conn.) and Willamette.
12 are tied with 5

Longest losing streaks: 14, Cornell
11, Buffalo State
9, McMurry, Maranatha Baptist
8, Colorado College, Defiance
7, Earlham, Lawrence, Mass. Maritime

Longest conference winning streaks: 28, Curry (NEFC Boyd wins only)
25, Mary Hardin-Baylor (ASC) and Mount Union (OAC)
24, UW-Whitewater (WIAC)
21, Washington & Jefferson (PAC)
13, Franklin (HCAC)
12, Wabash (NCAC)

Longest conference losing streaks: 56, North Park (CCIW)
24, Cornell (IIAC)
23, Lewis and Clark (NWC)
16, Norwich (E8)
11, FDU-Florham (MAC)
10, Buffalo State (NJAC)

Longest home winning streaks: 29, Trinity, Conn. (Jesses/Miller Field)
26, Mount Union (Mount Union Stadium)
19, Curry (Walter M. Katz Field)
18, UW-Whitewater (Perkins Field)
14, Trinity, Texas (E.M. Stevens Stadium)
13, Wabash (Little Giant Stadium)

Longest home losing streaks: 14, Hiram (Henry Stadium)
14, Lewis and Clark (Griswold Stadium)
10, MacMurray (Freesen Field)
8, Kenyon (McBride Field) and Cornell (Ash Park)

Longest road winning streaks: 63, Mount Union
18, Washington & Jefferson
8, Millsaps
7, Case Western Reserve, RPI
6, UW-Whitewater, Monmouth

Longest road losing streaks: 13, Juniata
11, Illinois College
10, Hanover
8, King’s and Menlo
Six are tied with 7

Five games to watch

The Week 7 slate has nothing on that tremendous Week 6, but there are a few key games out there which will change seasons.

No. 6 Wabash (5-0, 3-0 NCAC) at Wittenberg (4-1, 3-0): No surprise that the Little Giants and Tigers meet again with so much on the line. Wittenberg’s got the seventh-ranked defense in the country, while Wabash brings in the No. 3 total offense.

No. 9 Capital (4-1, 3-1 OAC) at John Carroll (4-1, 3-1): The Crusaders/Blue Streaks winner stays alive in the chase for an at-large playoff bid behind Mount Union.

DePauw (4-1, 2-1 SCAC) at No. 18 Trinity, Texas (5-0, 2-0): In the annual clash of the Tigers, DePauw has a chance to force the SCAC towards a three-way tie, but the Trinity defense has looked so solid (two shutouts, including last week by Rhodes) it might not happen.

Monmouth (6-0, 5-0 MWC) at Ripon (5-1, 5-0): If not for a failed conversion in the Red Hawks’ 14-13 loss to UW-Oshkosh, we’d be talking a battle of unbeatens here. As it stands, its still the first MWC defacto title game that doesn’t include St. Norbert in as long as we can remember. And the Green Knights, who lost to Monmouth last week and go to Ripon next week, are suddenly big Red Hawks fans.

Luther (3-2, 2-1 IIAC) at Buena Vista (4-1, 4-0) With wins over the other two IIAC teams with just one conference loss, the Beavers can really put some distance between themselves and the pack with a win.

Also keep an eye on: No. 2 UW-Whitewater (5-0, 3-0 WIAC) at UW-Oshkosh (3-1, 1-1), Carthage (3-2, 1-1 CCIW) at No. 8 North Central (5-0, 2-0), No. 20 Hampden-Sydney (6-0, 3-0 ODAC) at Washington & Lee (4-2, 1-1), No. 24 Occidental (4-0) at Chapman (3-1), Alfred (4-3, 2-1 E8) at Utica (2-3, 1-0), Concordia-Moorhead (3-2, 2-1 MIAC) at Augsburg (4-1, 2-1), Franklin (4-1, 2-0 HCAC) at Anderson (3-2, 2-0), Wash. U. (3-2) at Wooster (4-1.

Check Friday morning's Daily Dose for Pat, Keith and Ryan Tipps’ ‘Triple Take' primer on Week 7 games.

Who are those guys?

Tracking Division III's performance against teams from other classifications:

It’s the usual suspects this week, first-year Division II Lake Erie against yet another ACFC team, and NAIA independent Southern Virginia at independent Gallaudet.

With the help of three ACFC teams, Division III played four road games last weekend against three classifications and went 3-1.

vs. Division I, FCS (1-0 in Week 6, 4-5 in 2008)
None

vs. Division II (0-1 in Week 6, 2-5 in 2008)
Lake Erie at No. 17 Salisbury

vs. NAIA (2-0 in Week 6, 24-10 in 2008)
Southern Virginia at Gallaudet

The Press Box

Overnight update: Since the first version of this column posted Wednesday evening, Pool B watch, Five Games to Watch, Streak Watch and Who are Those Guys have been added.

Sports Information Directors: Around the Nation is interested in contacting Division III's all-time and single-season leading rushers and passers to ask them one brief question for a future column. Any help you can provide in reaching them would be appreciated.

Not to mention it's a little misdirection play, checking to see if anyone reads this final department anymore.

Around the Nation thrives on reader feedback, and keeps a running board on Post Patterns (under general football) to discuss issues raised in the column, and we'll share feedback and answer questions there. E-mail correspondence can be directed to Keith@D3football.com or submitted with our feedback form.

Keith McMillan is available to discuss Division III football with print, radio and Internet journalists. To set up an appointment, e-mail Keith.

Sports Information Directors: As always, Around the Nation appreciates help in covering your school or conference this season. For more information, contact Keith McMillan at Keith@D3football.com, or snail mail to D3football.com, 13055 Carolyn Forest Dr., Woodbridge, Va., 22192.

Links to online media guides are preferred over mail. In addition, please do not add my e-mail address to your regular release lists, but instead use our news release capabilities to have your information posted on D3football.com's front page and your team's page. For more information on how that works and how we can help each other, contact publisher Pat Coleman at info@d3football.com. Thank you.

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Keith McMillan

Keith McMilllan, who has been a columnist for D3football.com since 2000, has provided color commentary on D3football.com's national broadcasts of the Stagg Bowls. He played at Randolph-Macon in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference for four years and covered it for two more.

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