The Times West Virginian

Opinion

March 15, 2013

Commitment must be strong for FSU athletics to become ‘elite’

How important is true commitment to Fairmont State University athletics?

Let’s go back more than five decades, to 1952, when Deacon Duvall came to FSU from Rivesville High School to serve as football coach.

His first team won all six games it played, but Duvall wanted to see the Falcons play big-time football against a full West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference schedule and show they could make a mark on the national level.

In 1967 it all became a “dream come true” as the Falcons capped an 11-0 season with a come-from-behind 28-21 win over Eastern Washington in the NAIA championship game at old Mountaineer Field in Morgantown.

There were lessons learned along the way.

In an interview a few years ago, Duvall recalled Fairmont going 9-0 in 1959 but not getting a single vote toward a berth in the NAIA playoffs.

“I thought our kids might be able to compete on a national basis,” Duvall said. “We tried Hillsdale (Mich.). I was wrong.”

Fairmont State fell to Hillsdale, 56-6, the final game in 1961.

“It took a much bigger program,” Duvall said. “A larger coaching staff. It had to be almost a year-round program to compete on the basis of what I thought we could do.”

With the help of Fairmont’s L.O. Bickel, whose son Bruce was a quarterback at the U.S. Naval Academy, Duvall was able to observe that institution’s summer program, and Fairmont State moved ahead in football.

“Finally, we developed almost a year-round program with our upperclassmen as well as freshmen,” Duvall said. “I thought we had a chance.”

The Falcons were 8-1 in 1964 and 1965, winning WVIAC titles both seasons and making the NAIA playoffs in 1965, where they lost to St. John’s in Minnesota. Two years later, Duvall and the Falcons brought a national championship to Fairmont with playoff wins over Northern Michigan and Eastern Washington.

Fairmont State didn’t lead the country in resources but had enough, and “our kids made up for it with work.”

Fast forward to today, with the FSU men’s and women’s basketball teams preparing to play in the NCAA Division II Tournament.

For the men, under first-year coach Jerrod Calhoun, it has been a fast turnaround. Last year’s team won eight games. This season, the Falcons’ number of victories has so far increased to 22. There has been a spike in attendance and interest in the program.

In addition, $145,000 was privately donated for the new men’s basketball locker room as well as $25,000 for a theater room where the men’s and women’s teams can watch video. The program also made use of a $15,000 contribution to introduce the concept of a VIP seating area with floor seats.

Calhoun and his staff, though, know they can’t be satisfied with a great one-year turnaround. Continued improvement of facilities is important, and fully funding scholarships is essential.

Currently, the FSU men’s basketball program has 8 1/2 full scholarships to divide among its players. That ranks fourth in the WVIAC, while other schools in the conference such as Alderson-Broaddus College, West Liberty University (which won this year’s WVIAC championship over FSU) and the University of Charleston have 10. A program that has 10 full scholarships to work with is considered a fully funded program.

For the 2013-14 school year, Fairmont State will be making the move to the Mountain East Conference with schools from West Virginia, Ohio and Virginia.

“When you’re fully funded it gives you a better chance to win because now you have 10 full scholarships to break up among your team,” Calhoun said. “It’s my goal to get us to be fully funded so we can take this program to an elite level.”

The Fairmont State Athletic Association (FSAA), the arm of the Fairmont State Foundation Inc., charged with raising money in support of athletic scholarships, must continue to play a key role. Assistance from the university is also critical.

To her credit, Dr. Maria Rose, FSU president, knows it, and she’s committed to doing all possible while balancing the myriad other needs of the institution with state budget cuts looming.

“We make sure we are in line with all of the other schools in the conference to make sure we offer a comparable number of scholarships in each one of our sports as the other teams in the conference do,” Rose said.

Rose said the addition of an athletic fundraiser, which is a component in the university’s strategic athletic master plan, will be implemented in the near future. That will enable the university to complement the work of the FSAA.

FSU will certainly see other universities have more resources, but its coaches and players deserve a commitment from the administration to the point where they have a fighting chance.

History shows, given that, greatness is not guaranteed, but it’s certainly possible.

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