By Pat Coleman
A new era is dawning for the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, hopefully. The seven-year host of the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl has never placed a team in the national title game. The ODAC has had only two postseason appearances in the 90s.
That will change this year, with Emory and Henry and new conference member Catholic expected to battle it out for the title and automatic bid. Catholic went 10-0 as an independent and lost in the first round of the playoffs 49-14. Emory and Henry went 10-0 but stayed home.
"I could have told you before they announced it," said Emory & Henry coach Lou Wacker, a former South region committee member. "Teams that went last year are going to be ranked 1-2-3-4 until one of them lost. I saw it coming with a couple weeks to go."
The Wasps will have their chance to avenge that snub Oct. 30 at Catholic.
"We had tried the previous year to get Catholic and (No. 3 seed) Western Maryland on the schedule. I know it's going to be awful tough, but if you're going to go anywhere (in the playoffs) it's going to have to be. I'm glad (Catholic's) going to be in the conference."
The Wasps return eight players on each side of the ball from last year's undefeated team, including the 1998 ODAC offensive player of the year, tailback Oliver Jordan. "I think we're going to be pretty good," said Wacker. "The only thing that really concerns me is that the conference has gotten a lot stronger and you might have to go undefeated. Teams like Catholic, Washington and Lee, and now Hampden-Sydney that throw the ball 60 times a game, anything can happen."
Emory & Henry has won 37 consecutive home games, a figure Wacker doesn't like to focus on, even to the point where he isn't sure of the exact number. "It sounds like a cliche, but we have tremendous support. I don't know which came first, the winning or the support. But you have to make sure to win road games as well to win the conference, because we play Catholic and Randolph-Macon on the road."
MAC heads to nine-game schedule
AQs are causing changes in the Middle Atlantic Conference as well. The 11 schools, split into Commonwealth and Freedom League, have gone to a nine-game conference schedule in an attempt to crown a true champion. Previously each division has crowned its own champion with no overall champ recognized. But no more.
"The reson was with the AQ was the MAC had to create a formula to select an overall conference champ," said Bill Klika, athletic director and former head coach at FDU-Madison and the chairman of the MAC football committee. "One of the ways we felt we could aid that was to increase the number of games played."
MAC teams previously played eight conference teams -- each team in its own league (the Commonwealth has six, the Freedom five) and rotated among those from the other league. Now they play everyone but one school.
In the event two teams finish at the top of each league who haven't played each other during the regular season, a tie-breaking system will be used. Mathematically that would be expected to happen once every 11 seasons.
But for this year, standings will still be kept by league games only, raising the possibility that the MAC might not be represented by its best team. Consider the following scenario, which is possible, if extremely unlikely.
Let's take a random Freedom League team, say, oh, Lycoming. Lyco wins its four Freedom games to win the Freedom title. Now, they've got games against five of the six Commonwealth teams. Say they lose four of those five, defeating only our hypothetical league champion, Widener. Now Lyco finishes 5-4 (5-4 against MAC opponents), but is the MAC champion, despite the fact that Widener could theoretically finish 9-1, 8-1 in MAC games.
"You would hope that you don't get into that situation," said Klika, who added that the entire conference champion decision process is up in the air for 2000. This leaves open the possibility that league championships might be based on all nine conference games rather than the four or five league games.
And let's not even discuss the theoretical possibility that the MAC could be sending a 4-5 team to the playoffs! Just imagine our hypothetical champ winning the Freedom title at 3-1 instead of 4-0. Also very possible.
Meanwhile, the change forced rejiggering in almost every team's schedule, as teams had to drop one non-conference game and add a MAC team. So why not just go to 10 conference games and eliminate the chance that the title will come down to a tiebreaker?
"The problem is with 10 conference games you need another week to the season," said Klika." I personally felt nine was sufficient. Plus you have traditional rivals. If Moravian and Muhlenberg couldn't play, we'd have two upset alumni associations."