FERRUM — The last time a Ferrum College football campaign featured 11 games was in 2005, the last year the Panthers earned a berth in the NCAA Division III playoffs.
The upcoming season could include 11 games even if the Panthers are unsuccessful at claiming an NCAA berth, either the Old Dominion Athletic Conference’s (ODAC) automatic bid or an at-large invitation.
Last week, the ODAC announced that one of its nine football teams will have the opportunity to compete in the inaugural Virginia Beach Neptune Bowl against The Apprentice School at the Virginia Beach Sportsplex, Saturday, November 23 at 2 p.m.
Tickets for the game went on sale Monday.
“It’s a plus-one game for the team that’s not the (ODAC) champion,’’ fourth-year Panthers head coach Rob Grande said of the contest. “You’ve got to declare in preseason if you are going to participate.
“[The ODAC bid] will always go to the second-place or the highest-finishing team that’s declared it wants to participate,’’ Grande said, noting what might would happen if the ODAC were to be awarded multiple Division III playoff berths.
“…There is a lot of local support (in the Virginia Beach area) that going to make the game a reality and this fall will be the first year,’’ Grande said.
As a head coach, Grande said he’s in favor of the game, but whether Ferrum opts to declare its intentions to play would not be his decision alone.
“I like to play games. I think our kids deserve as many games as they can play; they work hard enough for that,’’ Grande said.
“As an institution, we have not had those conversations (about declaring) on what we would do yet. I can’t tell you we are going to declare. I would support it as a coach, but we as a school and as an athletic department have not discussed it,’’ Grande said.
Grande said he didn’t know if the cost for the team traveling to play in the game is “factored into the Neptune Bowl’s expenses or if it’s a cost that falls on the visiting team.
“Last year, to play [The Apprentice School] on the road, we traveled the night before and got a hotel,’’ Grande said.
The ODAC has had a past relationship with The Apprentice School. Two years ago, the independent school filled the vacancy created by Catholic University’s departure from the league. Catholic was a football-only member of the conference prior to Ferrum’s arrival as an all-sports member.
“I think it was a natural fit to try and get something generated (with The Apprentice School),’’ Grande said.
“To have the experience to play a plus-one opportunity benefits your team moving forward because there is a lot to be done with scheduling. It’s a short week to turn around and go play a game,’’ Grande said. “Playoff teams will tell you that if you haven’t been and if you’re new to it, it’s a process in and of itself beyond the opponent your are playing. You’ve got to defeat that week before you defeat the opponent.’’
FUTURE SCHEDULE: Grande said Monday that the upcoming season would be the only one in the current contract cycle in which the Panthers would be open in the first week.
In 2020, Averett University moves into the week one date, followed by a non-conference contest between the Panthers and Greensboro (North Carolina) College. Week three is open, followed by eight consecutive weeks of ODAC play.
This year, Ferrum opens at Greensboro on Saturday, Sept. 14. If the Panthers opt to play in the Neptune Bowl, they would play 11 straight weeks of football.
Ferrum and Averett could not play in this year’s season opener because the Cougars had one more year on a four-year agreement with Hampden-Sydney College, Grande said.
PRESEASON WORKOUTS: Ferrum’s players are scheduled to report to campus Wednesday, August 14, Grande said. The Panthers open preseason practice Friday, August 16.