Mary Harrison, Campus Carrier sports editor
The University of Georgia became back-to-back national champions in college football for the first time on Monday, Jan. 9. The Bulldogs defeated Texas Christian University (TCU) by a score of 65-7, the largest winning margin in nine-year history of College Football Playoff (CFP) games.
This win by the state’s flagship school does not directly benefit Berry’s athletic department, but UGA fans at Berry find it natural to celebrate their team’s football championship since 1980 with fellow Vikings.
While the Dawg’s win boosts the morale of fans nationwide, it does not create a recruiting or monetary benefit for the Berry College Athletic Department or football program due to the different divisions of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) sports.
The CFP is a competition for the organization’s branded National Championship trophy between teams in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Series (FBS), the highest level of college football.
The Football Championship Series (FCS) is the other level of play for NCAA Division I schools, of which South Dakota State University won the 2022 season championship and took home the NCAA’s trophy.
FCS and FBS are the only subdivisions in the entire association. All other sports compete at one of three levels, based on the amount offered in athletic scholarships: D-I, D-II or D-III. Berry and other D-III schools are not allowed to offer any scholarships to students specifically for playing sports.
Jason Hanes, Berry’s director of sports information, said the NCAA subdivides D-I football due to the amount of money generated by elite college football games.
Live sports games are one of the only televised programs that lose their magic when not viewed in real time, Hanes said. Because of this potential to charge big bucks for ads, companies shell out money to NCAA sports conferences for contracts to televise games, who in turn pay the NCAA.
“There are no spoilers for live sports as they happen,” Hanes said. “If you miss it, you miss it. The vast majority of America is not [recording] the one o’clock football game. They’re sitting down to watch the one o’clock football game.”
Smaller schools like TCU, the smallest school in its conference with just over 11,000 students, compete at the Division I level because of tradition and because it is more lucrative for the school, Hanes said.
Offering the maximum amount of scholarship money makes it more likely to recruit higher-ranked players that compete at an elite level and draw the most views when televised.
Division III schools, including Berry, only get about 3% of the NCAA’s total budget in total, with 90% of funds feeding back into Division I programs.
A smaller enrollment can create a challenging dynamic when clashing on the gridiron with state schools with massive enrollments, like UGA’s roughly 40,000 students, Hanes said, although, in theory, a football program’s success depends more on coaching philosophy and recruit performance than student body size.
“[People said that TCU] didn’t deserve to be [in the national championship] because they were a small school, but you should have said that before the game, too, because they beat [the University of] Michigan,” Hanes said.
When it comes to recruiting, UGA’s prestige also does not directly impact Berry, which Vikings’ Football Defensive Coordinator Joel Elliott also chalked up to divisional differences.
However, Hanes said having a flagship school known for preeminence in college football does create a reputation for Georgia being a great state for football in general.
This generic sense of pride could also be compounded among Berry students and athletes, many of whom hail from north Georgia and could share alma maters with someone on the field, Hanes said, whether football player, band member or cheerleader.
Sophomore Lilli Sams shares in this increased morale based on proximity. Sams grew up in Athens, and both of her parents graduated from UGA; all of her grandparents also attended the university.
Sams said that she has always been an enthusiast for UGA sports, especially football, and she remembers her father celebrating when the Bulldogs made the top 10 rankings. Although she chose to attend Berry instead of UGA, she said that the Bulldogs still hold a special place in her heart.
“Growing up I just loved Georgia because it was Georgia, but not because we were a winning team,” Sams said.
However, Sams said she finds community not just among other Vikings who are also Bulldogs fans, but also among friendly banter with fans of various teams, which she would not find at UGA.
“It’s just a fun environment, I guess because nothing’s really at stake,” Sams said.
Julia Barnes, chair of the world languages and cultures department, also attested to a less intense fan culture at Berry than at Georgia, where she earned her doctorate and later taught.
Barnes said she forgot to ask her students if they would be watching the national championship game, a slip of the mind that would have never happened at UGA, where teachers rearranged homework to accommodate students on home football game weekends.
As a lifelong Bulldogs fan, Barnes said she enjoys the state’s piqued excitement, although she feels the excitement of Bulldog fans that she observed when living in Athens stays steady regardless of a season’s outcome.
“I would have thought that we were winning [national championships] the whole time,” Barnes said.