Monday, November 6, 2017

Fixing Georgetown Football

On October 29, 2017, the Washington Post published an audacious wish-list of public policy improvements under the title "Fix This Democracy-Now". It wrote: "We asked dozens of writers and artists to look beyond the day-to-day upheavals of the news cycle and propose one idea that could help fix the long-term problems bedeviling American democracy. The result: 38 conservative, liberal, practical, creative, broad, specific, technocratic, provocative solutions for an unsettled country."

While the topics range from the practical ("Teach Critical Thinking") to the obtuse ("Require Everyone To Vote") to the downright silly ("Outlaw Private Education"), the essays are not meant to be solutions as much as they are to raise questions in a 24 hour cycle of news media where things get forgotten fairly quickly.

So too with athletics. It's easy to lose sight of questions which can serve to elevate the intercollegiate opportunities available to Georgetown students when people are otherwise distracted by Jack the Bulldog's Instagram photos or Patrick Ewing's social media account.

Few Georgetown sports are as distractible, so to say, than football. Students come and go, but Georgetown football has been mired in a rut that to the naked eye seems intractable. The numbers following this season's Homecoming game were especially grim: eight straight loses, 16 of its last 17, 24 of its last 28 in the Patriot League since 2011. One touchdown was scored in the last three games. The 7-0 loss was the first shutout at a Homecoming game in 25 years.

Georgetown has lost ten straight and 18 of its last 19 games. It's the second worst run in the school's history. Worse yet, the status quo isn't working. The October 28 game at Holy Cross went unnoticed as Georgetown's 100th all-time Patriot League game. It has lost 82 of them. In games since 2001 with Colgate, Fordham, and Lehigh, Georgetown is 3-46.

It's not enough to complain about football without understanding how it got here in the first place and what Georgetown University is prepared to do and what it is prepared not to do. It is vital, however, to raise the issues which Georgetown seems glacially slow to discuss, and ask instead how it can be elevated.

Ok, I'm asking. So should you.


Consider this table: below is the cumulative record of the 38 Eastern I-AA schools, from the 2001 season through the end of October. Georgetown sits 34th, and could drop to 36th by season's end.

2.James Madison136700.660
7.New Hampshire135770.637
16.Stony Brook99820.547
18.William & Mary104920.531
21.Central Connecticut87960.475
25.Holy Cross821020.446
26.Morgan St.731040.412
29.Robert Morris721060.404
31.Delaware St.691180.368
35.St Francis PA531270.294
36.Sacred Heart531270.294
37.Rhode Island511390.268
Georgetown's ability to win games is a direct reference to its schedule. Owing to the disparity in scholarships with the other six members of the Patriot League, the Hoyas' ability to compete in the Patriot League is prohibitive with the status quo. No one likes to say that, of course, but in two seasons of full PL scholarship football, GU is now a combined 0-12 against its league competition.

Were Georgetown to take a broader view, they would see competitive options beyond the Patriot League, but the administration has no need for this. The safe harbor of the PL provides Ivy-friendly opponents and nothing that would upset or offend the previously cited "ethos and culture of Georgetown", as if scheduling Towson would somehow stir up an academic dust cloud. 

What else is there?

Georgetown would jump for joy to play Ivy football, but this opportunity sits somewhere between slim and none. The Ivy League doesn't need nine teams when eight will do. Adding Georgetown to the company of Harvard, Yale and Princeton would be to the Brahmin what adding Fordham basketball would mean to the Big East. Short of becoming an independent and somehow scheduling every Ivy independently without joining the league (feasible if not altogether practical), it's not something to build a program around.

Maybe, just maybe, Georgetown should put this Ivy envy to rest. Georgetown could give notice to the PL and join the Northeast Conference (Duquesne, St. Francis, Wagner, et al.) but the NEC has scholarships and even less cachet than the Patriot League. Could the Hoyas compete there? Probably, but this arrangement rings hollow with the administration. 

How about the Big South? Monmouth already plays there, Hampton is moving there in 2019, and the rest includes the likes of such traditional football foes as Kennesaw State, Gardner-Webb, and North Alabama. Not happening.

Georgetown could join the Colonial Athletic Association (Villanova, Richmond, William & Mary, et al.), where the competitive level is roughly twice that of the Patriot League but without academic constraints. In four words: no scholarships, no chance. 

Georgetown could join the Pioneer Football League, a loose confederation of smaller schools (Davidson, Marist, Presbyterian, et al.) that have less than zero interest to a University who seeks to play peer institutions. The PFL is militantly non-scholarship, but ten of the 11 schools offer merit aid to athletes, which Georgetown won't do. It's one thing to lose in the Patriot, but to lose in the Pioneer would be short of unforgivable.

None of these are likely. In the end, Georgetown wants status quo, and the Patriot League provides this. For Georgetown to compete, however, it must reexamine the schedule; that is, the part of the schedule that they control. Three Ivy games a year look good for the school's collective consciousness, but they are not contributing to the bottom line. Georgetown's record versus the Ivy league since 2003 is 5-26, 1-13 versus Harvard, Yale and Princeton and 4-13 versus everybody else.

Much like the Ivies themselves, there needs to be some frank discussion about dialing back the non-conference to get the foundational wins in September. There's a reason Dartmouth is scheduling the likes of Jacksonville, Stetson, and Marist these days instead of New Hampshire, Maine, and UConn. 

And to be frank, it's the same reason they're scheduling Georgetown. Teams need games they can win.

Some discussion should be raised whether Georgetown should reduce the number of Ivy games to accommodate more competitive games, along with teams such as Butler and VMI from outside the Northeastern cohort, to begin to stabilize this situation. It doesn't mean Georgetown can't schedule "up", only that it does not schedule itself into a ditch entering PL play.

Which it has.


It's the original sin of Georgetown football--a campaign approaching its 20th year for a home stadium that has made almost no progress and continues to be kicked down the can so often the can is falling apart. 

A decade ago, with $11.9 million in pledges listed on its web site, Georgetown couldn't get it done. Three years ago, with a undetermined portion of a $50 million gift to finish a scaled down version of its 2003 vision, there seemed little doubt this was happening. 

Enter doubt.

As of last summer, University documents outlined a plan to begin construction on the since renamed Cooper Field in August 2017 with a 12 month timeline--aggressive as stadium projects go, but not insurmountable. 

What was done in August 2017? Nothing. Now, they say it's December, until they change it again.

We can no more expect competitive coaches and student-athletes to want to play football (and increasingly, lacrosse) at Georgetown with this institutional embarrassment of a field than we would expect scholars to teach at Georgetown with a bookmobile as its library. And yet, the lack of transparency continues unabated.

The latest word is that Georgetown wants to start in December. Yet, we've heard it before.

This site has written extensively (and without progress, I may add) on the subject for a decade. This excerpt bears repeating.

"On a cold and rainy Saturday not that long ago, I found my way across a mud-filled Harbin Field to a tent filled with alumni, parents, and assorted development officials. Speeches were made, shovels were cast into the dirt, and celebratory t-shirts were handed out. It read:


What I most remember wasn't the speeches or the plaudits, but one single remark. I forget to this day who said it to me, albeit in passing, but I remember the message, endemic of what this project has become. "The worst thing that can happen," he said, "is for people to be content with what they have right now."

That remark--and that t-shirt-- are reminders to me that not much changed since those shovels turned the dirt on Harbin Field, and we're all the lesser for it.

[It] has become a sad monument to Georgetown Football, from the temporary seats (that were being finished the morning of the home opener with Brown) that never went away, to the sand that piles up on its fringes from other construction projects more favorably blessed in the University's capital budget. The message this project has sent to prospective students and prospective opponents is an exceedingly poor one--it's the academic equivalent of setting up trailers on Healy Lawn and telling people that this is the library until we get the real one built. 

A Google search brings up all kinds of old articles about the place, some official, some less so. "The proposed design will feature permanent spectator seating for 4,652, a two-story press box with VIP seating, sports lighting and sound system, a digital video screen and scoreboard," reads

"Freshmen expect the typical autumn football experience, where you go watch your team win on Saturday, and that hasn't happened," the GUSA president told the New York Times. "But at the same time, no one wants football eliminated. We just want it to get better. But people are waiting and wondering." 

"The Multi-Sport Field," he said, "is a metaphor for where things stand at Georgetown."

"The present hiatus in the construction process - albeit brief, we're sure - will minimize interference with game schedules and allow more time for fundraising efforts," wrote the HOYA in 2005. "The stadium, with seating for 4,500, will guarantee enough room for every Hoya fan. New locker rooms, video conference rooms and a training facility will be housed within the stadium itself."

"Students, faculty, administrators and alumni - and hopefully local community members - agree that the future of Georgetown relies on the betterment of existing programs. That future starts right now."

Or not.

Few great universities would put up a temporary building, do nothing with it for years and be satisfied with it. Georgetown would not have considered putting up temporary housing in the New South parking lot and calling it the Southwest Quadrangle. It would not have considered knocking out some drywall in the Ryan Administration building and hand it over to the fine arts department as its new facility. But where is the person that works outside McDonough Gymnasium that sees this monument to institutional inertia and expects something better?

"It is crucial that we complete the Multi-Sport Field," wrote interim athletic director Dan Porterfield... "Our goals will stay the same: To improve our teams' game-day experience, to make the venue more fan-friendly, and to construct an aesthetically pleasing facility. As we develop new options for this important project in the coming months, we look forward to sharing its details with our friends and donors."

The question is not what happened or did not happen ... but when there will be a visible and tangible move forward for the student, alumni, and donor community--not talk, not shovels, but actual construction. (As a point of disclosure, I'm one of these donors, albeit a meager one. In the early part of this decade, I made the largest gift to GU I had made to date, $1,000, to buy the equivalent of a seat in the new MSF that was to open in 2003, then 2005, then....well, whenever. In the intervening years, I've never received any correspondence from University Development as to what my $1,000 bought, if they want a second gift out of me, or even if there'll be a "seat" after all.)

The diminished returns with many Georgetown sports coupled with fading aspirations for the true promise of what a new facility can mean-- not just to Georgetown athletically but holistically-- may leave some bureaucrat to ask why it can't just be left as it is now, with a few pieces of wood here and some more gravel there, and spend the money on something else. 

What was true then is true now: "The worst thing that can happen is for people to be content with what they have right now." 
And if you think that's discouraging, consider this: this article was written seven years ago this month. What's changed?

You tell me.


Unbeknownst to a great majority of students and alumni remains the fact that Georgetown football, by virtue of its membership in the Patriot League, is subjected to an arbitrary and increasingly capricious form of admissions, namely, and let's call it what it is, the Ivy League Academic Index. (AI). Created in 1981 over the ivory tower's unease of seeing a school like Penn in the 1979 NCAA Final Four (for which there must have been something untoward), the AI creates a series of four bands of recruits within which schools cannot admit a certain level of players based on a factor of the recruits' GPA and SAT score--for example, and only as an illustration, Cornell may only admit two kids with a 1200 SAT and 3.4 GPA, but can sign four with a 1400 SAT and a 3.4. 

Does this have any correlation to success in college? Absolutely not, but it wasn't meant to do so. It was meant to assuage deans that "athletes" (and all that that connotes) were not coming to besmirch the Ivy League.

"The Ivy League has set a minimum AI of 176 for any student-athlete offered admission, corresponding roughly to a 3.0 GPA and an 1140 out of 1600 on the SAT I," wrote the Harvard Crimson in 2013. However, each team's AI must remain within one standard deviation (estimated to be between 12-16 points) of the average AI for the entire student body. Given that no Ivy League institution has an average AI below 200, no athletic program in the Ancient Eight approaches that 176 threshold."

"According to The New York Times, nationally an average student-athlete has an AI of 150-three or four standard deviations below the typical Ivy League sports team average. The AI limits the pool of potential recruits from the start, allowing, or forcing, coaches to focus their efforts on targeting high-achieving students."

The Index is conceptually fair, yet even in the Ivy it is not. At least twice since 1981, the Ivy leadership has allowed two year waivers to Columbia to recruit to the 176 level in an attempt to remedy its 50 years of futility as well as help stave off calls for Columbia to drop Ivy football, which was seriously considered in the 1970's and later in the 1980's. 

"The league saw it undesirable to have one school lagging so far behind, " wrote former Columbia dean of students Roger Lehecka, now retired. 

"The fact is that an uncompetitive program is not a fair thing to do to students."

The Patriot League has maintained an AI since its founding to curry favor with the Ivy. An example from Soccer described it as follows:

Band 1: LOW-LOW: AI of 176 or just barely above. One recruit per recruiting class.
Band 2: LOW: AI that is 2-2.25 standard deviations below the mean AI achieved by non-athletes accepted into the school. Three recruits per recruiting class
Band 3: MEDIUM: AI that is 1-2 standard deviations below the mean AI achieved by non-athletes accepted into the school. Six recruits per recruiting class.
Band 4: HIGH: AI that is near but just under the mean AI achieved by non-athletes accepted into the school. Four recruits per recruiting class.

"In the Patriot League, to which Holy Cross belongs, each school calculates an academic index (AI) based on the SAT scores and high-school rank or grade-point average for each recruited athlete," wrote former Holy Cross president Rev.. Michael C. McFarland, S.J. in 2004, an article still on the PL's web site. "Both individual AIs and team averages are expected to be consistent with those of the student body as a whole. Each year the presidents review the results and hold one another accountable for any exceptions."

However one wants to slice it, the pool for available talent for the PL to allow Georgetown to recruit is thin and narrowing all the time. We wonder as fans why Georgetown can't get better every year--it starts with the Academic Index.

Were it up to me, and it is most assuredly not, I'd scrap the AI outright and trust the very same Georgetown admissions office that makes admissions decisions for the other 650 student athletes at the University, something that it does quite well. That won't pass muster at the PL offices, who must worry that the next Ezekiel Elliott is suddenly going to turn down Ohio State and end up on the doorstep at Lafayette.

As far as we know, Georgetown has shown no institutional will to call the PL on this issue--Jack DeGioia isn't going to threaten to leave the league over an index. Notwithstanding, the issue of an AI waiver for three to five recruits annually should be put on the table, for discussion if not for a decision. 

Georgetown need not ask for a blanket waiver from PL admissions--it won't fly, and it's not necessary given the level of competition. But with the school already miles behind the league on scholarships, the ability to stay competitive is neither unrealistic nor untenable for the good of the entire league. A waiver candidate isn't going to be the next Heisman Trophy winner, but it may be the kind of recruit who will fight and scrap to compete off the field, the kind of kid that is going to Villanova or Army right now because he can't get into Georgetown. 

Is it going to turn around Georgetown tomorrow? No. But as we've seen all these years, one back, one safety, one lineman can make the difference in a game or two, which is all Georgetown hopes for anyway, and if they graduate with their class, everyone wins.

Yes, the Patriot League can continue hold Georgetown to the strict standard and maintain the status quo, and Georgetown will be 0-6 in the Patriot League for the next decade. 

Let's revisit that quote: "An uncompetitive program is not a fair thing to do to students."


The issue of recruiting has both a subject and a predicate. Admissions means little if a school cannot enroll students. 

Georgetown is committed to meeting 100 percent of need for its incoming students, athletes included. Not all athletes have demonstrated need, of course, but for those that do, the average across all University channels tops $48,000 in scholarship assistance per applicant with need. 

However, the cost of attendance has topped $70,000. Per year. 

Financial aid is an art and a science. If you're an athlete whose grades can maneuver between the scylla and charybdis of the Academic Index, congratulations, but can you afford to come to Georgetown? 

Consider this example: a high school linebacker in Arlington, VA, the oldest child in a family of four, whose parents combine to make an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $100,000 per year. He's a high band recruit and is admitted. The Georgetown financial aid calculator will tell him that a parent contribution of $15,474, a student contribution of $2,000, and a low interest loan of $6,000 requires a commitment of $23,474 to attend. The football program buys back the student contribution, leaving his family $21,274 to find by August for a family making roughly $10,000 per month.

How much would he pay at Lehigh? As little as $0. Fordham? $0. Anywhere else in the Patriot League, Colonial, or ten other I-AA conferences? $0. That's what a full scholarship does and what it is meant to do. 

Putting aside the other issues ("We've got a great stadium here at Lafayette, son. Ask Georgetown when they're going to finish theirs...") How many people turn down a full ride at Holy Cross or Villanova or even Bucknell for that? Some, but not all. 

A full need applicant will get full need almost anywhere, and a low need (high net wealth) applicant is going to have to pay anywhere a scholarship isn't offered.

So what about the Ivy?

Assuming that Georgetown can sell what it has against an offer to play at Yale or Princeton, Georgetown's family contribution is not competitive against that offered by the Ivy League. It's complicated, but let's discuss it as this: with more endowment, Ivy schools can reduce the parent contribution, and offer a no-loan, no work option to applicants with demonstrated need. Patriot League schools can't match that, but they don't have to. Except Georgetown.

So let's revisit that linebacker in Arlington. If we plugged in to their respective Ivy schools the same financial information submitted to Georgetown's financial aid calculator, how do the schools compare in the net cost of attendance?

Princeton: $7,510
Yale: $7,925
Cornell: $8,075
Harvard: $12,600 
Brown: $13,803
Columbia: $14,155
Dartmouth: $15,634
Pennsylvania: $17,500
Georgetown: $21,274

This is just an example and, as they say, your results may vary. But Georgetown's parent contribution alone is higher than the overall family contribution of seven of the eight Ivy schools and GU is the only one which still offers loans as part of the calculation. 

It's a bigger problem than just football, of course. Georgetown loses a lot of good kids regardless of athletics on cost; yet, the value-add of Georgetown makes it remarkably competitive, retention-wise, against Ivies not named Harvard, Yale, or Princeton.

This is where the Gridiron Club comes in.

Largely focused as a parents club in the last couple of years, the Gridiron Club once raised a substantial amount of support for the football program. As late as 2012, the club raised over $300,000 a year. 

Where does it go? Georgetown doesn't say, only that it supports the program budget. But here's a thought: what if the Gridiron Club raised the first $250,000 each year for scholarship support; namely, to reduce parent contribution to 20 partial and low need recruits annually? 

Reducing the parent contribution for those 20 incoming freshman by $12,500 changes the chart above to:

Princeton: $7,510
Yale: $7,925
Cornell: $8,075
Georgetown: $8,774
Harvard: $12,600 
Brown: $13,803
Columbia: $14,155
Dartmouth: $15,634
Pennsylvania: $17,500

If Georgetown is to truly compete against Patriot League schools, it must have football scholarships. It shows no interest to do so. If Georgetown is to compete alongside Patriot League schools and maintain an Ivy-friendly posture, it must have comparable aid to the Ivy league schools that, for now, can stay competitive. 

Without a level playing field to admit and enroll athletes, we should expect little more from Georgetown than what we are seeing right now.


Facilities don't win championships. People do.

Or so Georgetown has said, because if you don't have the former, don't sell it. But without the people, without the coaches who can drive and develop an 18 year old prospect into a 22 year old star, Georgetown will never reach its potential. We need the best coaches to develop these young men. To Georgetown's credit, there are many good ones. 

But you don't need to look at the weekly NCAA statistics to see that Georgetown is in serious need of assistant coaching support on offense. Over the last 15 years, the run of offensive coordinators from Elliot Uzelac, Jim Miceli, Dave Patenaude, Vinny Marino and Michael Neuberger have been among the least impactful coordinators in the nation, save Patenaude. 

The points per game by coordinator (updated at season's end):

Patenaude (2010-11): 23.0
Marino: (2012-13): 19.9
Uzelac (2004-05): 16.3
Neuberger (2014-17): 15.3
Miceli (2006-09): 12.3

The season records by coordinator:

Patenaude: 12-10 (.545)
Marino: 7-15 (.318)
Uzelac: 7-15 (.318)
Neuberger: 11-33 (.250)
Miceli: 5-39 (.113)

And where did Georgetown finish in NCAA statistics in 2017? Among 123 schools, at or near the bottom.

Scoring Offense119th12.5
Points Allowed71st26.4
Rushing Offense120th59.5
Passing Offense84th182.6
Total Offense118th242.1
Rushing Defense55th147.5
Passing Defense83rd230.4
Total Defense70th377.8
Turnover Margin89th-5
3rd Down Conversion Pct123rd18.2%
4th Down Conversion Pct83rd31.6%
Net Punting77th35.1
Punt Returns95th5.58
Kickoff Returns29th21.7
First Downs Offense122nd126
First Downs Defense109th242
Time of Possession123rd24:39
Recruits, injuries and player development all play a part. Offensively, Georgetown will never improve if it cannot play better but Georgetown has been wholly lacking in offensive leadership for quite a while.

It's not easy being a coach at Georgetown-- the cost of living precludes many candidates, and the talent pool isn't what every coach may want to be associated with from a resume perspective. Coaching is a profession, and younger coaches want an upward trajectory.

Let's provide it. Georgetown should seek to provide promising assistant coaches the compensation, the leadership skills and the support to be the best on the field. Where appropriate, coaches' salaries should be supported by more active Gridiron Club fundraising. If the club can raise funds to reduce the family contribution of a player, it ought to do the same for its coaches. The average salary for an assistant coach at Georgetown is $58,108 per year. Even a $50,000 annual fundraising club effort could provide a bump to one or more coaches, not an inconsequential number for an up and coming assistant.

Also where appropriate, the opportunity for coaches to pursue a master's degree through the University's Sports Industry Management program should be encouraged. Georgetown's program is one of the best of its kind and should be a stop for any rising coach to develop their leadership skills in the industry. The next Nick Saban or James Franklin may not be walking through Rob Sgarlata's door, but each got their start at smaller programs--Saban at Kent State, Franklin at Kutztown State. 

It's not easy being a head coach at Georgetown, either.

For the first time in many years, the student press is casting a harsh view on Sgarlata, who is now 11-33 in four seasons, the lowest winning percentage of any Georgetown head coach entering his fifth year not named Kevin Kelly. Sgarlata made a change with dropping Neuberger after four seasons, but students apparently want to see more.

"Sgarlata's recruiting tactics have been lukewarm at best..." wrote Aidan Curran of The HOYA. "If the Hoyas want to resurrect this program and stop being the bottom-dwellers of the Patriot League, further changes must be made, or else Rob Sgarlata could be the next man out."

Rob Sgarlata gives 110 percent to this program, but fans don't measure effort, they measure wins. Is there a coach on this staff who can make an impact at Georgetown? Since 2005, just one former Georgetown assistant coach has even been named a head coach in the college ranks. That man is Rob Sgarlata.

The perception that coaching is akin to tenure at Georgetown is neither accurate nor fair. Yes, Georgetown wants coaches committed for the long run, but not at the expense of their ability to teach, motivate, and serve as a role model for their players. 

Back to the aforementioned Post article. You don't need 38 things to "fix" Georgetown football, let's start with five: 

1. Revisit the schedule.
2. Commit to a facility plan.
3. Fix the academic index.
4. Make financial aid competitive.
5. Drive accountability for coaches.

Why is this important? So many have lost hope in Georgetown football that it has become, in many quarters, not a "who's who" program, or even a "who's that", but a "who cares" program. You don't rebuild that reputation with plaudits or platitudes, you don't rebuild it with promises unkept or dreams deferred, you do it by winning.

It's difficult to see where those wins come from in 2018. The Hoyas lose 27 seniors from a one win team and the schedule isn't forgiving. In fact, it's nearly a mirror image of 2018.

Georgetown's only win from 2017, Campbell, will convert from a non-scholarship Pioneer team to a 63-scholarship team as they move into the Big South Conference, and likely aren't going to be a "W" the second time around. The Hoyas then travel to Marist, where they have dropped three of four, and then play two Ivies on the road (Dartmouth, Brown) and Columbia at home in as many weeks. No favors there.

And then it's back to the Patriot. Three of its first four PL games are on the road, with a home game against Lehigh in October, where the Engineers have won 17 straight in the series. GU ends at home with Bucknell and Holy Cross, but isn't likely to have many in the stands if they're 1-8 or 0-9. 

Will fans see progress in 2018? Or will they see more of the same? 

"With other Patriot League schools offering scholarships, Georgetown is placing itself at a clear competitive disadvantage by not following suit..." writes Curran. "It is not fair to expect Georgetown football fans to continue to support a team that is not exhausting all its options to improve."

In challenge, there is opportunity. There are always opportunities in college football. Ask Army, or even Columbia. For Georgetown's sake, let's show some progress. And soon.