By Bob Fulton
On the evening of this past November 2, viewers from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Ore., from the Rio Grande to Grand Forks, witnessed an event rarely aired on television: an IUP football game.
College Sports Television, which has nearly 15 million subscribers and agreements with distributors such as Adelphia, Comcast, DirecTV, and Time Warner Cable representing more than 52 million homes, placed IUP on its 2006 broadcast schedule along with such Division I heavyweights as Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, and BYU. For the first time ever, Miller Stadium was the setting for a game beamed coast to coast.
“It’s not often at the Division II level that you can get on national TV,” said Frank Condino, IUP’s director of Athletics. “It was a great opportunity to reach out to fans and alumni all across the country. An opportunity like this only comes along maybe once in a lifetime.”
The CSTV telecast effectively elevated the university’s profile from sea to shining sea. Had Slippery Rock not held off a late threat to post a 21-17 victory—time ran out with IUP perched on the SRU two-yard line—the evening would have been a rousing success on all fronts.
Despite bone-chilling temperatures, the largest crowd of the season (6,432) packed Miller Stadium. Fans enthusiastically shook crimson thundersticks that were distributed at the gate, applauded tuition and textbook giveaways, and were treated to booming fireworks after every IUP score and at the game’s conclusion. For one night, at least, a festive Division I atmosphere prevailed at Division II IUP.
“We had tremendous support from the Student Cooperative Association and from senior-level administration in preparation for the game,” Condino said. “I don’t think we could’ve had any better support from our students and the rest of the university and the community. It was a perfect environment to host a national TV game.”
Of course, IUP’s time in the national spotlight wasn’t limited to a three-hour telecast. Fact is, each of the university’s fall sports teams took a bow on the national stage. Consider:
- The field hockey team advanced to the NCAA Division II semifinals before losing to eventual national champion Bloomsburg. Coach Rutger Wiese’s squad finished 15-6, three of those defeats coming in overtime and all six coming to opponents that qualified for the NCAA tournament. IUP climbed as high as third in the STX/National Field Hockey Coaches Association rankings.
- The soccer team, which ranked as high as thirteenth in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll, celebrated the program’s first NCAA tournament victory and finished 15-7, the second-best win total in school history. Forward Sarah Romasco also made an individual impact nationally: She ranked ninth in Division II with an average of 2.62 points per game.
- The football team climbed as high as eighteenth in the American Football Coaches Association poll and finished 8-2 after upsetting nationally ranked California on the strength of a last-minute ninety-eight-yard scoring drive. Moreover, record-breaking tailback Chris Morgan was a regional finalist for the Harlon Hill Trophy, the Division II equivalent of the Heisman.
- The men’s and women’s cross country teams each qualified an individual for the NCAA Division II meet, with East Region champion Nicole Blaesser finishing seventh at nationals to earn All-America honors. The women’s squad was ranked as high as seventh in the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association poll.
- The volleyball team overcame a 2-4 start to qualify for the NCAA tournament for the seventh consecutive year. That’s a streak no other varsity program on campus can match.
All told, the autumn sports season at IUP was nothing short of sensational, highlighted by appearances in national tournaments, in the national rankings, and on national television.
“We had a great fall,” Condino said. “It’s a credit to our coaches and our student-athletes, to their hard work and preparation in a very competitive environment. It shows that if you give student-athletes good coaching and support them with scholarships, they can certainly achieve. And they did.”