SI Vault
For the Love of The Game
November 14, 2005
That's the main reason athletes and coaches compete--and thrive--in the backwaters of NCAA Divisions II and III, where there is little scholarship money and even less individual glory
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
November 14, 2005

For The Love Of The Game

That's the main reason athletes and coaches compete--and thrive--in the backwaters of NCAA Divisions II and III, where there is little scholarship money and even less individual glory

View CoverRead All Articles
1 2 3 4 5 6

A little more than an hour before kickoff the football team came together in a circle outside the locker room, which is across the parking lot from the stadium, and clasped hands for the pregame prayer, led by All-America defensive end Ryan Meredith. Then, with a whoop, the team fell into line and began one of Pitt State's grandest traditions: the long procession to the football field through the heart of the parking lot. Fans massed along the walkway, 10 deep in places. Little kids ran alongside the players, slapping high fives. Pitt State's 165-member band played, and the crowd filled the sky with rainbows of confetti. One middle-aged woman wore a number 11 jersey with I ? ANDY stitched on the back. Her shrill "Hey, Andy!" stopped Majors in his tracks, and the heartthrob quarterback couldn't help but laugh. Before he could take another step, two young girls ran out to give him a hug, each clamping onto a leg.

After so much buildup the game was almost a letdown, as visiting Panhandle State of Goodwell, Okla., offered little resistance. Junior tailback Germaine Race scored three first-quarter touchdowns for the Gorillas with barely a hand laid on him by the defense. In the second quarter the multitalented Majors got in on the fun, sprinting 41 yards for a touchdown and throwing for two others as Pitt State rolled to a 42-0 halftime lead. The final score, 70-0, was reminiscent of last season, when the 14-1 Gorillas scored 69 or more points six times, including a 91-27 squeaker at Missouri-Rolla.

For the Pitt State seniors, homecoming was the final regular-season game at Carnie Smith Stadium, and many lingered on the field in the embrace of friends and relatives. Majors knows there is no market at the next level for 194-pound option quarterbacks, but he has no regrets. "There are players on this team who could have played Division I, but it probably would have meant minimal playing time on a bad team," he says. "You come to Pitt State to win games, to be somebody, to have an experience you will always treasure. This place is like family. It never leaves you."

Being part of a family means passing along traditions to the next generation. Long after vanquishing Panhandle State, Majors was still on the field in his pads, throwing perfect spirals to young boys who were joyously diving into the end zone.

There are various criteria for competing in Division I, II or III, ranging from the number of teams a university must field to the minimum attendance its football team must attract. For student-athletes, the most salient difference from division to division is how scholarships are apportioned. In Division I athletes in the big-time sports enjoy a full ride. In Division II athletic scholarships exist but are capped at levels far below D-I's, meaning that few athletes get a free education but most get at least a little help. In D-III athletic scholarships are verboten, forcing students to cobble together tuition with the help of loans, grants, need-based financial aid and academic scholarships, to say nothing of Mom and Dad.

Few Division III jocks have been more successful at paying their bills than Cavan Sullivan, a 6'3", 240-pound backup defensive lineman at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Ill. How is he putting himself through a liberal arts school at which tuition is $15,500? By selling doe urine, of course. "Hey, whatever it takes," Sullivan says. "I love football so much, I wanted to keep playing. I knew I would have to find a way to pay for it."

To be fair Sullivan only dabbles in urine, which hunters use to attract bucks. His primary business is Sullivan Pheasant Farms, which he founded as a freshman with a $10,000 loan from his father. In four years Sullivan's operation has mushroomed into one of the largest pheasant farms in Illinois, with 75,000 square feet under net and three industrial-grade incubators. This year he will have raised 15,000 birds, selling Chinese ringneck pheasants for $1 apiece and bobwhite quail at 60 cents each. He also expects to sell 30,000 hatching eggs--50 cents each for pheasants, 25 for quail.

Seeking to diversify, last year Sullivan bought a local business named Buck's Deer Urine. He promptly changed the name to Timber Valley Fresh Scent, and the environmental-studies and biology major began experiments to more efficiently bottle his product. The 17 whitetail does in Sullivan's herd graze all day but return to pens at night. Sullivan designed a slatted fiberglass floor for each pen that collects the urine and channels it to a bottling facility. Two-ounce bottles sell for $6.50, four ounces for $7.75.

Sullivan rises every morning at 5:30 and puts in a couple of hours' work before heading off to an 8 a.m. class. Football practice and film sessions take up most of the afternoon, and after dinner he puts in another two or three hours tending to his businesses. To maintain his 3.3 GPA he studies until he collapses into bed around midnight. "It's a long day, but I can't complain," he says. "I've gotten to live my dream of playing college football, and when I graduate, I already have a couple of good businesses in place."

If wins and losses are the only things that matter in Division I, Sullivan is a reminder that at small schools there are many ways to measure success. Pheasants sold is one, to be sure.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6