For many teams, an 8-2 season would be a highly successful season with the likely chance to play in a bowl game. The Montclair State University Red Hawks football team was left out of the bowl game picture, and many were shocked to see teams with worse records and weaker schedule strengths get invitations to bowl games.
This is the case simply due to the fact that Montclair State is no longer a part of the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC), a conference that sponsors bowl games and other post-season tournaments for sports, such as football and basketball.
Montclair State was once in both the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) and the ECAC but decided to become a full-time NJAC member several years ago.
Most member schools don’t consider the ECAC their main conference but are affiliated with the conference in at least one sport. This gives them a chance of playing in some kind postseason game/tournament if they don’t qualify for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament.
According to players, such as sophomore offensive lineman David McDevitt, being in the NCAA tournament is the main goal.
“Playing for the national championship is something that we work so hard for in the offseason,” McDevitt said. “We want to try and get in every single year.”
Montclair State once had the benefit of being able to compete for both a national title and ECAC bowl game. According to Robert Chesney, interim director of athletics at Montclair State, the athletic department cited the need for better competition, and they later became a full-time member for NJAC in the mid-2000s.
The departure from the conference basically prevented them from making any bowl games since the NJAC does not sponsor them. However, the benefits of being in the ECAC clearly outweigh the negatives.
Although it is well known that teams that usually compete in the ECAC bowls aren’t exactly top-tier teams, leaving the ECAC only took away another goal the team could potentially accomplish in making a bowl game. By giving these guys another way to be a part of the postseason, it could only motivate them more.
With the current landscape of the NJAC conference, the only real way to make it to the national tournament is to win the conference. The conference has only gotten tougher throughout the last couple of years, with teams such as Farmingdale State College and Salisbury University dominating.
Next season does look promising for the Red Hawks to win the conference, with several returning starters on both sides of the ball. Even though they may not win the conference every year, the team should be at least be rewarded with a bowl bid if they have a decent record.
Players, like freshman offensive lineman Michael Abraham, believe the team was overlooked all season long, particularly when it came time to the postseason.
“You can ask anyone on this team and they’ll agree we deserved to be in the national playoffs or even a given a bowl bid,” Abraham said.
By rejoining the ECAC, it could also give the fans something to look forward to as well. I know plenty of Montclair State football fans would make the trip down to watch their team play in the ECAC bowl games, which are dispersed across the mid-Atlantic region of the country. It would not only give the players something to be excited for but also the best football fan base in Division III.
While I do understand the hefty financial costs of being in a bowl game – game fees, hotels and food – we also need to take into account how hard the football team has been working to bring the team back to prominence. The funds needed for the bowl games could be raised through the athletic department and the university itself. Money should not be an issue when it comes to the bowl games, considering the team regularly sold over 1,500 tickets for their home games this season.
From spring camp to the last game of the season, the program has really worked its tail off and has revitalized a program that was once stuck in mediocrity. Unfortunately, this year’s 2018 Red Hawks will have nothing to show for their terrific football season and that is simply unfair.