CHICAGO (STATS) - STATS, the world's leading sports data and technology company, announced an agreement Thursday that will allow it to hand out a quartet of legacy NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) awards tied to some of the biggest names in the subdivision's history.
Just prior to the FCS postseason concluding in January, STATS will present:
- The FCS Walter Payton Award, given to the FCS' offensive player of the year;
- The FCS Buck Buchanan Award, given to its defensive player of the year;
- The FCS Eddie Robinson Award, given to its coach of the year; and
- The FCS Jerry Rice Award, given to its freshman of the year.
Founded by Mickey Charles of The Sports Network, the annual honors date back to 1987, when the Payton Award was presented to running back Kenny Gamble of Colgate. Since then, names of future NFL stars like Steve McNair, Brian Westbrook and Tony Romo have been called up to accept the hardware. Last season, Cooper Kupp - who became the FCS' all-time leader in receiving yards and touchdowns this season - was the winner. The Robinson Award also began in 1987.
"I've always considered the storylines of the FCS to be just as important as the rest of Division I college football," Charles said. "And lacking a Heisman of their own, what better choice than in the name of a football legend, Walter Payton? I am pleased to pass on three decades' worth of history to STATS for custodianship and expansion at this time."
The same national panel of sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries who select the STATS FCS Top 25 poll - numbering over 150 voters - will choose the winners. Those awards join the STATS FCS Doris Robinson Scholar-Athlete Award, created one year ago to honor the wife of Eddie Robinson and her service to community and academics.
These awards will be presented to the winning athletes during the end-of-season banquet that will take place Friday, Jan. 6, 2017 - the night before the FCS championship game in Frisco, Texas - at the Embassy Suites Dallas-Frisco Convention Center. Last January, almost 200 attendees representing a cross-section of FCS roles came together for STATS' inaugural awards ceremony.
The Buchanan Award goes back to 1995 and includes such notable alums as Dexter Coakley and Jared Allen, while the Rice Award was created in 2011.
"Coming from an FCS school, I'm proud to lend my name to such a distinction, and to help STATS expand its national coverage initiative," said Rice, a Mississippi Valley State graduate who is almost universally recognized as the greatest wide receiver of all time and was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2010.
Prior to last season, STATS expanded an initiative to serve the FCS community with staples such as a pre- and postseason All-America team, weekly Top 25 poll, national players of the week, award watch lists and season-ending awards.
In addition, STATS created a dedicated FCS website - www.fcs.football - featuring breaking news, real-time scores and other unique content that combined the strengths of STATS' data, editorial and product expertise. Launched prior to the 2015 season, the site has accumulated close to two million page views over the past 12 months.
"We laid down a strong coverage foundation last season and, in the process, developed incredible relationships with the schools and the conferences," said Brian Orefice, STATS' director of news. "But we want to ride that momentum into even better content and broader exposure. Thanks to Mickey, inheriting these awards and all they represent can only help us achieve those goals as we try to maintain the legacy of the FCS' rich past while pushing forward toward its promising future."
The FCS competes at the NCAA's Division I level, and is home to 125 schools in 13 conferences across the country. About 150 FCS players are on NFL rosters annually, including current stars like Romo (Eastern Illinois), Joe Flacco (Delaware), Carson Wentz (North Dakota State), David Johnson (Northern Iowa), Josh Norman (Coastal Carolina) and Julius Thomas (Portland State).