Take the case of Karl Douglas, who is in the process of wiping out all of Randy Johnson's records at Texas A&I. Both Houston and Oklahoma State, which travel by plane, were after the 6'2", 210-pound Douglas. So were the top black colleges. As a recruiting contest, it wasn't hard to pick an underdog: Texas A&I travels by bus.
"But Houston came to me," Douglas reflects, "and said: Can you catch? I said yes. They said: Are you fast? I said yes. They said: Can you play defensive back? And I said yes, but I'm a quarterback. They said they'd evaluate that when I got there. I said I wasn't going. Then Oklahoma State came to my house and said they just recruited by talent, not by position. By that time I had heard that so much I helped them out the door. I just wanted a chance. And if the only chance I got was in small-college football, then that was what I'd take."
So while Douglas may be pretty big, Texas A&I is pretty small, although all small-college football is not played by little colleges. Southern Illinois plays small-college football but has an enrollment of 21,000. And major college football is not played only by large schools. Dartmouth, with an enrollment of only 3,000, plays in the NCAA University Division, even as Michigan and Ohio State—and is just as undefeated.
All this is slightly less complicated than it might seem to be. In the NCAA the strength of a team's schedule determines its classification. To be considered major, a school must play most of its games against major schools. Any team that is not major is placed in a college division. The NCAA has two of these, I and II, and again the distinction depends upon strength of schedule. Then there is the NAIA—mini-mini, if you like—and it has two divisions as well.
The real fun comes in the weekly polls. Before last Saturday's games Tampa was No. 1 in the UPI NCAA college poll, Arkansas State No. 1 in the AP poll, Texas A&I was No. 1 in the NAIA Division I ratings and Westminster of Pennsylvania was No. 1 in Division II. Which makes four times as many people who are ranked No. 2 unhappy. Like North Dakota State. Like Montana.
But none of this bothers Wittenberg, a delightfully small Lutheran school located less than a mile from downtown Springfield, Ohio—and 45 miles west of Ohio State—which has become accustomed to going unbeaten and often un-ranked in the top five. When you are 126 years old and have won 109 of your last 133 games you do not need a poll to confirm that you are good. The 109th victory came last Saturday, 21-14 over Baldwin-Wallace, making it six straight for Wittenberg this year and just about wrapping up another Ohio Conference championship, which is not bad for a school with just 2,542 students.
Just as the fans at Texas A&I have come to expect victory, so have the people at Wittenberg. Last year—Dave Maurer's first as head coach—the team went 11-0 and won its eighth conference championship in the last 13 years. And Wittenberg is not a mini-football factory. Scholarships go only to students who need the help.
"Our winning shouldn't shock anyone," said Maurer, a former quarterback star at Denison. "In a small school they want to win just as much as at a big one. And football is the same game, big or small school."
But there certainly is a difference.
"Sure," said Maurer. "Kids can have a lot of fun here, and that sometimes gets lost in big-time football."