Fresno State is set to serve up its first training table meals to student-athletes on Monday, a significant forward step in remaining competitive in the rapidly changing landscape of college athletics
But before any lean proteins or vegetables on those first menus are even prepared, the game again is changing, becoming more expensive and more challenging for the Bulldogs' athletic department.
Boise State from the Mountain West Conference and the Mid-American Conference on Tuesday committed to providing student-athletes with a full cost-of-attendance stipend if approved by the NCAA in January, which could cost athletic departments anywhere from $500,000 to more than $1 million per year depending on the amount of additional scholarship money is provided to student-athletes.
"Our intent is to provide the resources available not only for football, but for each of our 20 sports, to not only win conference championships but to compete with any program on a national level," Boise State Athletics Director Mark Coyle said in a statement.
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That will mean greater challenges for Fresno State and its next athletic director.
But Fresno State President Joseph Castro reaffirmed his commitment to the welfare of the student-athletes in all sports that represent the university.
"Fresno State is committed to ensuring that all of our student-athletes have an opportunity to thrive," Castro said in a statement through a university spokesperson. "We will review proposals to enhance support for student-athletes considered by the NCAA at its upcoming meeting and make a decision in January regarding any changes that we will implement for Fall 2015."
And football coach Tim DeRuyter expressed confidence that Fresno State would find ways to keep up with Mountain West schools into the future.
"Athletic departments and universities are deciding that student-athlete welfare is important and if you want to play in Division I, there is a new price to be paid and there are going to universities or conferences that are going to step up to that and others aren't," DeRuyter said. "Hopefully when we get our new (athletic director) in here we'll have that discussion and I feel confident that whatever our league standard is we’ll go ahead and attempt to match that.
"I feel confident with the direction of what (Castro) has done. I know he's going to bring someone in here who has a vision for the future of our athletic department. I think it's shown in what we've done with nutrition for all of our student-athletes and if that's the next step that everybody is going to, I feel confident that we're not going to be left behind."
At the Mountain West Conference football media days in August, Commissioner Craig Thompson said it likely would be left up to member institutions to determine what, if any, additional benefits would be offered to student-athletes rather than adopt conference-wide guidelines.
That could create competitive disadvantages between schools in a conference where there is a $40 million difference in athletic department revenues top to bottom.
But schools or conferences can find ways to keep up — the Mid-American Conference includes schools with some of the lowest athletic department revenues in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
All 12 in the MAC reported revenues last year less than Fresno State, which was $33.7 million. Buffalo, at $28.9 million in athletic department revenue, led that conference.
"The MAC is dedicated to supporting our student-athletes in the classroom, the community and on the playing field with the ultimate goal of graduating and having a great collegiate experience," MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said in a statement.
For Boise State, that commitment could provide an immediate impact on national letter of intent signing day in February.
"I think so. I think that's clearly why Boise State and the MAC are announcing that, they're saying that, 'Hey, we’re committed to making it a great student-athlete experience and we're going to cover what we can for the student-athletes that go out and labor every single day,' " DeRuyter said. "I think it's a great bonus for the student-athletes and hopefully everybody will follow suit."
Sounding it out
Defensive coordinator Nick Toth said the physicality in their bye week practices would carry over to game week and it did as the Bulldogs prepare for a Mountain West Conference matchup against Wyoming — it was a fairly loud practice, with some solid collisions.
"Right now we are leaving nothing to gray area in terms of finishing plays, and our scouts have been phenomenal," Toth said. "We’ve had as physical a three weeks, starting with Boise, and then the last two weeks, there have been physical days. That's who we are. That's who we better be here at Fresno State, right? You better be some tough suckers.' "
Freshman QB tuning up, tuning in
DeRuyter on the progress of redshirt freshman quarterback Zack Greenlee, who will be making his first career start on Saturday against the Cowboys: "I think he's getting more and more comfortable, getting more comfortable with the timing with the receivers, seeing the coverage and knowing where to go with the throws. He's been getting better the last month and a half and he's continuing with that."
The rundown on the run
Fresno State will be defending another power run game, but Wyoming is similar in some ways to San Diego State and Boise State.
The Bulldogs did a solid job against the Aztecs' Donnel Pumphrey, holding the leading rusher in the Mountain West Conference to 94 yards on 24 plays, a season low 3.9 yards per play. And they had a handle on the Broncos' Jay Ajayi until he broke off a 54-yard run late in the fourth quarter that set up a field goal that made it a two-score game with only 1:41 remaining. Ajayi had gained 102 yards on 27 plays (3.8 ypp) before breaking that big run.
"This head coach (Craig Bohl) does a great job of coaching attitude. He wants those guys to be tough suckers and you know they're going to run it, they know they're going to run it," Toth said. "There are elements of Boise with some motions and shifts and some of the same type of running game with tight ends and wings and fly motions and stuff like that. We've seen versions of this offense probably twice. How they do it, there are some nuances of how they run power. They're running some of their run schemes slightly different. But it's not crazy different than some of the other things that we've seen."