Redskins

Winston-Salem returns to D-II, rolls to title game

Winston-Salem returns to D-II, rolls to title game

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) Winston-Salem State's financial problems are one reason the Rams are playing for the Division II national championship this weekend.

The historically black university was on track to move to Division I when budget woes forced officials to abort the plan to join the Football Championship Subdivision a few years ago.

So, the Rams returned to Division II and made themselves right at home.

In their third season back at this level, they're 14-0 and preparing to face Valdosta State on Saturday in Florence, Ala., with their first national title at stake.

``I don't know if it justifies (the decision), but I know winning solves a lot of problems, and people like winners,'' third-year coach Connell Maynor said. ``If you win, that will make the people that wanted us to stay I-AA kind of forget about that and say, `You know what, this is all right. This is pretty cool.'''

The move back down a rung on the NCAA's ladder sure seems to have agreed with Winston-Salem State.

The alma mater of former NFL players Yancey Thigpen and Oronde Gadsden has twice won the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association - the nation's oldest conference for HBCUs - since rejoining the league in 2010.

That came shortly after school officials decided the transition to Division I - and the expenses that came with it - just wasn't worth it. All those road trips to Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference games in Florida and Virginia began to add up, and so did the increased expenses for scholarships to meet Division I standards.

School officials said that the athletic department ran a deficit of $1.8 million during the fiscal year before the move back to Division II. Chancellor Donald Reaves said at the time projected the deficit would grow to $15 million by this year.

For the fiscal year that ended in June 2012, the Rams had a balanced athletic budget of about $4.4 million - making them one of the bigger spenders in the CIAA.

``The biggest problem with that is money - you've got to fund 15-16 sports ... (and) those sports are traveling to FAMU, Bethune-Cookman, Norfolk State on a Wednesday night to play volleyball, that takes a lot of money,'' Maynor said. ``It takes a lot of funding. We've got some people out there that want to fund the money, I think it wouldn't be a problem to go back to I-AA. But everybody that wants to go back don't have (the) money.''

The Rams might not be playing a Division I schedule anymore, but they certainly have plenty of Division I talent.

``These are not your average CIAA guys, your average D-II guys,'' said running back Bryce Sherman, one of two transfers from South Carolina.

The school's roster includes seven transfers from Bowl Subdivision teams - including one from each of the state's four Atlantic Coast Conference programs. Defensive back Dominique Tate, a Wake Forest transfer, shares a Winston-Salem apartment with current Demon Deacons running back Josh Harris.

Seven more Rams came from FCS schools.

``Did we break a rule? We didn't? Oh, so we're smarter than you,'' Maynor said, directing his comments toward those critical of the high number of transfers.

``You've got to get the game plan and get out there and do the same thing we're doing,'' Maynor said. ``Get your program on the same level we are and quit complaining about the transfers we've got. That's how you win games.''

Nobody can argue with the results.

As a team, the Rams rank in the top 10 in eight major statistical categories. They're fifth in the division with an average of 42.5 points per game; are sixth against the run, allowing an average of 87.7 yards; and are fourth in turnover margin at plus-1.36.

Only three games have been decided by fewer than 10 points - and two of those came in the first two weeks. The third was a 21-17 win over Indiana (Pa.) in the Division II quarterfinals.

Now it's on to the title game and a chance to deliver the school's first championship become the first HBCU to win the Division II crown.

``We're still kind of in shock, but we're ready, though,'' Sherman said. ``We've been thinking about it since the summertime. Coach has been telling us about wanting to win a national championship. We all believe. It's here now. We've got to play hard. We're ready, though.''

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One thing doesn't make sense about Washington's dismissal of Alex Santos and Richard Mann II: The timing

One thing doesn't make sense about Washington's dismissal of Alex Santos and Richard Mann II: The timing

In a move that seemingly came out of left field, Washington fired two longtime front office members on Sunday -- Alex Santos and Richard Mann II -- just 16 days before training camp begins.

Sure, the team had its reasons for these moves. Only the people inside the doors of Redskins Park can explain. But what is a bit odd is the timing. Why now? Why in mid-July with training camp right around the corner?

Since last December, the Burgundy and Gold have made several organizational changes. The team's current staff has few holdovers from 2019.

Longtime team president Bruce Allen was fired on Dec. 30, and head coach Ron Rivera was hired two days later. Head athletic trainer Larry Hess, who had been with the organization for 17 years, was let go, too.

Washington has yet to announce a formal replacement for Allen, but Senior VP of Player Personnel, Kyle Smith, has served as the de facto acting general manager. Smith, along with Rivera, spearheaded Washington's 2020 draft, and the head coach had plenty of praise for Smith following the three-day April event.

Eric Schaffer, the team's VP of football operations, who spent 17 years with the franchise as the organization's respected salary-cap guru and general counsel, was let go in January as well. Rivera brought in Rob Rogers from Carolina to replace him. 

Doug Williams, one of the Burgundy and Gold's iconic players, was even reassigned from the pro personnel department to the player development department this offseason. 

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All of these moves had one thing in common that these recent dismissal doesn't: the timing makes sense. 

Allen's firing in December was, by all accounts, overdue. He had spent 10 years with the organization, and during that span, Washington made the playoffs just twice with no postseason victories. Rivera's hiring in January was customary for when teams replace head coaches. Schaffer's dismissal came a few weeks after Rivera was hired in January, as the head coach was working through the process of which staff members he wanted to hold over.

But for Santos and Mann? The timing, on the surface level, just doesn't make sense. The team had months to make changes at their respective roles.

Should they have been let go in January, that would have made sense. Rivera would still have been in his first few weeks as head coach, figuring out how he wants to build his staff. Or maybe after free agency? That's when their jobs at the pro level would have been complete. 

Should this move have occurred in early May following the draft, that would have also made sense. Many front office staffers are let go across the NFL following the draft, as teams don't want to waste a year of their work by dismissing them prior to the draft itself. There are still priority undrafted free agents to sign and work to do. But, especially in 2020 when the ongoing coronavirus pandemic wiped out rookie minicamp, OTAs and veterans' minicamp. there was an easy gap to make changes. 

But once again, why now? July is usually a dead period in the NFL, as teams have one final break before gearing up for training camp and the upcoming season. Major personnel moves are rarely made in July, if ever.

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Last year, the New York Jets got plenty of scrutiny for firing then-GM Mike Maccagnan in May, just a few weeks after the draft. That was in May, and the organization received major backlash.

Washington didn't get rid of a general manager on Sunday - Rivera is firmly in control there with Smith assuming more power - but it did dismiss two important members of its front office with training camp arriving soon. Those roles will have to be filled and it's not an ideal time to find candidates. Most prospects would have employment by now. Maybe there are internal hires the organization likes? 

With training camp just over two weeks away, the timing of Santos and Mann's dismissal is just plain odd. And with the team's potential name change still at the forefront, these moves will only add to what will likely be another crazy week in Ashburn.

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Capitals release 34-player roster for Phase 3 training camp

Capitals release 34-player roster for Phase 3 training camp

The Capitals released a 34-player training camp roster on Sunday for Phase 3 of the NHL's return to play plan. Training camp begins on Monday. The roster consists of 20 forwards, 10 defensemen and four goalies.

No notable names appear to be missing from the roster so presumably, no one has informed the team if they intend to opt-out of the postseason. The deadline to do so is 5 p.m. on Monday.

In addition to the regular NHL players, this roster includes a number of notable black aces: Forwards Shane Gersich, Philippe Maillet, Beck Malenstyn, Connor McMichael, Brian Pinho, Daniel Sprong, defensemen Alex Alexeyev, Martin Fehervary, Tyler Lewington and goalies Pheonix Copley and Vitek Vanecek.

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For Phase 3, teams are limited to 30 skaters and an unlimited number of goalies. That number will have to be trimmed down to 28 skaters and 31 total players when the team departs for the hub city of Toronto.

The team has been divided into two squads for training camp with the first practice starting at 10:50 a.m. on Monday. All practices are closed to the public.

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