Monday, September 28, 2009

Week 4 Thoughts

Some post-game thoughts following Howard's 14-11 win Saturday:

Jim & Kevin. "Hey man, perception is reality,” the player said as he left the locker room. “We’re playing a team that didn’t stop anybody the first two weeks and we can’t get it going. It’s frustrating. a good man, but players don’t care about that if you ain’t winning.”

No, that's not talking about the Hoyas. It's a quote in the Associated Press about coach Jim Zorn and the wobbly Washington Redskins, which aroused the ire of Dan Snyder by losing to a Detroit Lions team that had dropped 19 straight (as an aside: congratulations Jim Schwartz.)  Snyder's legendary impatience is somewhat of a given in situations like this, and the loss firmly places Zorn,a  first time head coach, in the oft-cited hot seat.

Across town, there is rising discontent among fans with the Hoyas' losing ways, but there is no hot seat. Four straight, 11 of 12, 31 of 36, no matter. Let's face it, there is only one sport at Georgetown with a hot seat, and it's not football. Remember, the baseball program was put on three years NCAA probation for major violations and Pete Wilk is still its coach.

That's not to say people don't care, however. In 2003, Georgetown president Jack DeGioia spelled out his three expectations for men's basketball, a year before he pulled the plug on Craig Esherick, but the same issues apply to football. He said:

"For the coaches, you accept the commitments we ask of you. And here too, there are three:

(1) That each student we offer the opportunity in which to participate in this program - that each will accept the responsibilities entailed - and the first of those is to embrace the education provided here. The first commitment - that our students will receive our education and they will graduate; When I say our education, it means more than that they will graduate. It also means that they are prepared to live lives in which they will be leaders in their communities and businesses, lives in which they will be husbands and fathers, friends, and citizens. You accept this set of responsibilities that is grounded in our 214-year tradition of Catholic and Jesuit education here on the Hilltop.
(2) Secondly, that we do it honestly­, that we be above reproach - that we must set the standard for integrity in intercollegiate athletics. And we do;
(3) And finally, that we win. We keep score for a reason. Everyone has a better experience when we are winning."

#1? Check. 

#2? Check. 
#3? No.

While it's not to say that the future of the staff is a sure thing, Georgetown is not going to make this an issue in mid-season. Fans don't see the day to day of a team and instead see a team with a dual personality: a defense which comes to play and eventually wears out, and an offense that is without any visible direction, leading to the mess that the goal-line stand exhibited.

The offensive numbers are just awful, bearing a eerie parallel to the end of the Bob Benson years when the nature of the struggle between Benson and OC Elliott Uzelac was a concern. That was then. In 2009, the staff will do what they are paid to do, regroup and prepare for Bucknell, and worry about the big questions where they belong: after the season. Fans would be well advised to do the same.

The larger question is how the team holds together. How the coaches address this is a bigger concern than losing to Howard.

Who They Missed: Keerome Lawrence did not play in the game, standing along the bench with what looked like a soft cast on his wrist. Lawrence's loss was significant for an offense which needs all the help it can get.

Bad Offensive Stat #156: After halftime, Georgetown has scored 11 points all season.

Double-Take: Fans seem to be raising a stink about the sequence before each play where the offensive line sets, then everyone looks to the bench for a moment, and then resets itself. It reads as it's a check-off move, but fans think this is some kind of "So what are we doing now?" look by the players. It all comes across as a little unorganized, but in most cases I don't think the plays change that much.

Where Was Howard? The biggest surprise of the game was not running those quarterback sneaks (that was almost predictable, in a sad sort of way), but that Howard brought only a "friends and family" crowd, probably the smallest road crowd at MSF since Marist. Yes, the Bison came into the game losing eight straight, but the Bison fan base is big enough to fill the 800 seats at its disposal. It was generous to say that 300 were there.

GU Band: Thumbs Up. Yes, I would have liked to seen the Howard band Saturday, but Georgetown's band did its part. Contrary to reports, the Georgetown band did not leave early during the game. They were there right through the rain, and the band and cheerleaders deserve credit for keeping up the spirit when it was seriously lagging. With a lower turnout in sight for the Oct. 17 Colgate game (just 12 hours after Midnight Madness reasserts basketball in the student mindset), every bit of support helps.

A Hopeful Sign: Hard to find one at 0-4, but how about this: Georgetown has won its last two games at Bucknell, and three of its five PL wins all-time have been agaisnt the Bison. The flip side, of course, is that Georgetown's record against the other five current PL teams is 2-38, but that's for another column. Again, a quote from the Redskins game and its odd parallel to the 2009 Hoyas. Wrote columnist Thomas Boswell: "This loss, and the embarrassment that attended it, were not the culmination of any short-term trend or strategy mistake. For to come to pass, many tumblers had to click into place over many years. This dignity-robbing defeat, one that [they] will remember and hopefully reflect upon, took only three hours. But it was years in the making."

Which is where this column started, I guess.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Week 3 Thoughts

Some post-game thoughts after Yale's 31-10 win over Georgetown Saturday afternoon:

Enter Isaiah Kempf. In the last four decades of Georgetown football, no freshman had the debut that Isaiah Kempf did: a 332 yard passing effort that, in any other scenario, should have been enough for an upset win. Yale had no real game film of Kempf outside the last series with Lafayette, but his inexperience in goal line series (a combined 3-12 for 19 yards inside the red zone) was evident as well. It's too early to tell if Kempf will start from this point onward, or is simply added into the soup mix of Brady, Darby, and Lawrence under center, but Georgetown fans have legitimate reason to be hopeful heading into this week's game.

Injuries. Every team gets them, but early season losses the Hoyas have faced to date will be a challenge. Chief among them: a leg injury suffered in the Yale game by Georgetown center Dan Matheny. However maligned the offensive line has been in recent years, the group has actually done a better job than many think given the size disparity it faces. Matheny, a four year starter dating back to when he was a 240 lb. freshman, will be greatly missed if his injury remains significant.

Running On Empty: If Georgetown doesn't revive the running game soon, it's going to really hurt them entering the middle of the season. With the team averaging just 26 yards a game on the ground, it not only minimizes the impact Charlie Houghton can have on the offense, but it allows opponents to dare Georgetown to win solely with the pass, which, unless you're Texas Tech or Hawaii, is not a way to win a lot of games. Injuries to the offensive line won't help things, but some level of rush against Howard is a must--the Bison are 107th in I-AA in rush defense, allowing 224 yards per game.

Good Fan Support: OK, a college crowd of 2,941 was among the bottom ten attendance figures last week, but when you've got 2,400 seats to go around, that's still a good number. A sellout Saturday would mark the first time the MSF has been full three straight games and given the local opponent, that 's probably likely. (Anyone know where the Howard band is going to be seated?)

It's an ongoing source of frustration to me that a lot of Georgetown, make that almost every Georgetown student, doesn't understand what a big football game would mean to campus life. However fun a basketball game at Verizon Center is, it doesn't compare to playing on campus, and similarly, a big football game beats a lot of average basketball games. A vibrant football culture would be a great addition to Georgetown life that wouldn't diminish the onset of basketball season, but actually enhance it.

Georgetown does not have to be Notre Dame to embrace a football tradition--I don't think people understand this. By point of contrast, take a look at this video--this was the opening game at Old Dominion three weeks ago, a school which hadn't even played football in 68 years before this season. They get it.

But sadly, no one under the age of 30 remembers when Georgetown was a consistent winner at home. Here's a review of home records in the last 20 years:

1989 through 1992: (Division III, Coach Scott Glacken): 10-15 (.400)
1994 through 2000: (MAAC, Coach Bob Benson): 28-9 (.757)
2000 through 2005: (Patriot League, Coach Bob Benson) 11-18 (.379)
2006 through 2009: (Patriot League, Coach Kevin Kelly): 3-14 (.176)

If the Hoyas can remind their fellow students and alumni what a big home game means now and for the future, perhaps they'll be back in three weeks for Colgate and even for Richmond on Nov. 14, with the basketball Hoyas on the road that weekend. Bottom line is that Geogetown has only one home game over the next six weeks, and this is absolutely the time to make a stand--a home stand-- that 2009 is not lost.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

MSF 5.0

While Georgetown is justly proud of its latest campus landmark, the Hariri Building, no one can say the same for the project down the hill.

September 17 marks the four year anniversary of the first game as what is still called by its temporary name, Multi-Sport Facility Field. The Hoyas did not fare well in that game, a 34-3 loss to Brown, and are suffering through its worst home streak (1-8 since 2007) in school history. But there appears to be better news ahead.

The MSF is a work in progress, to say the least. There have been at least five designs published to the public, and I would suspect there are a few more in a file cabinet at McDonough Gym. Among the designs, this one always stood out as a great look for Georgetown football. Imagine if the Lafayette game was played in a place like this:

Of course, the price got in the way, as it has with every design in the last ten years. The MSF stalled in the summer of 2005, with the last substantive construction taking palce in the weekend of that game with Brown in 2004. And here's what was left, or better said, left behind:

With the possible exception of the 20 yards of seats at the Butler Bowl, it's the smallest "facility" in Division I football, and an embarassment of sorts when Georgetown hosts a team like Yale. We all know Georgetown can do better. It may be about to to do just that.

In a recent letter to readers to, interim athletic director Dan Porterfield wrote:

"It is crucial that we complete the Multi-Sport Field, which hosts not only our football and lacrosse games, but also intramurals, club sports, and events such as the annual all-night Relay for Life, a major fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. The original design, which includes precast cement stands and a rebuilt foundation, has been an expensive proposition. Though improvements have been made to the field in the last few years, the project remains unfinished and still requires significant investment to complete.

"For that reason, I have asked colleagues in Athletics and the University to see if we can develop a cost-effective approach to completing the field. 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."

Readers to this column understand that Georgetown Football has a lot of needs, but any progress that can be made on resolving the MSF issue would be invaluable towards building the kind of program, not just team, that can make a consistent winner. Georgetown would not long tolerate having mobile housing classrooms or a tent city for student housing, but athletic facilities have been pushed to the side for years. A permanent facility for football and other teams would be a great step forward.

The key word there is "permanent". Much of Georgetown's facilities are, by default, temporary structures. The MSF has no permanent seats, nor does Kehoe Field or North Kehoe Field--fans see it, recruits see it, and opponents see it. It's not enough to put in more temporary seats or nail in what is there and call it "completed". The new MSF needs permanence in its design, in its construction, and in its presentation to the Georgetown community--obviously, a naming gift would be the first step. What else does it need?

1. More seating. If you take a look at the overhead shot, only about 40 yards of play are matched with seating, leaving vast spaces on the north side of the field without any spectators whatsoever. If Georgetown is going to get to a 5,000 seat capacity (and more is better than less), seats must be constructed from goal line to goal line, and even include some standing room in the north end zone as crowds allow. This would not only allow for better attendance but introduce a home field advantage that Georgetown has long lacked:

2. A video board. A new home needs a new scoreboard, preferably one built within the last 15 years. The current scoreboard is a legacy of the Harbin Field soccer days and has long since passed its useful life. This kind of hardware costs money, but a video board would not only be well received at football games, but serve as a resource for a number of University events where a large-screened prsentation would be useful, from student gatherings to commencement events. Well, how about it?

A smaller size would work, too...

3. Green space. What makes the MSF even more spartan is its barren surroundings. Somewhere in the budget needs to be trees and landscaping to give the new field a campus-like appearance and not part of the ever-increasing concrete jungle that Georgetown has become.

4. History. A new home should tell the great story of Georgetown football, including honoring the alumni who played the game. Whether on plaques, banners, or a ring of honor, names like Costello, Gilroy, Hagerty, Blozis, Lio and Ricca need to be displayed, as well as modern names like Dwyer, Morris,Corcoran, and Murphy,among others.

5. A flagpole. In the fall of 2001, the late Michael Dunne (C'56) introduced a resolution that Hoyas Unlimited construct a flagpole at the new facility in honor of Georgetown alumni who died at the World Trade Center collapse, including Joe Eacobacci. The funds were authorized but, owing to the MSF's incomplete timeline, a new flagpole was never installed at the site, with the older Harbin Field pole still ins service. When the Hoyas get a new home, honoring the 9/11 dead should be included in the plans, bearing in mind the quote, "No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.”

Like its temporary name, the Multi Sport Field is a stepping stone. Here's to a brighter future on the back yard of the campus.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Week 2 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Lafayette's 28-3 win over Georgetown Saturday:

The Giant Sleeps Tonight: There were no boos at Saturday's game, no invectives at the staff or the players, none of that. Georgetown took its 18th Patriot League loss since 2006 as it had the other 17, quietly. Sunday would be a new week, a new challenge, another chance to turn it around. Yet, I couldn't help but pause at the comment from a longtime Georgetown fan upon exiting the game. "If this was any other school..." he said.

Like the field it plays on, Georgetown appears to be a perpetual work in progress. Saturday's game had any number of symptoms (unimaginative play calling, mental mistakes, lack of execution, penalties, defensive lapses) but the prognosis was the same: when they fall behind, the Hoyas are not a comeback team. There are teams who see an opposing touchdown and it inspires them to battle back, but there are too many games where you can literally hear the groans from the bench when the Hoyas fall behind by more than a touchdown.

Losing is no sin--half of college football does it every week. But the expectation level on all sides of Multi-Sport Field has to step up soon if Georgetown is going to escape this ditch it's found itself in. Everyone knows GU can do better, and that includes opposing coaches. As long as the PL's "sleeping giant" stays that way, the losses will follow.

Will The Students Come Back?  A post on the HoyaTalk football board raises this uncomfortable question--have the Hoyas scared off another generation of fans?

From the post: "So Hoya Blue sends out the emails and the Facebook invites and such, and a sizeable (for Georgetown) group of students (mostly freshmen) respond. There's a tailgate--and if you saw it up on Harbin patio before the game, it was well attended. They even got one of the tricky things right they didn't always in years past--ending it early so people can get to the field in time for the game... Again, these are mostly freshmen--you can usually tell anyway, but if you've been around HB or football long enough, you know only freshmen are gullible enough.But they try their darndest. Never seen a whole section of students standing throughout at a football game--so that was new. They're into it at the beginning...cheering and chanting, the like."

"And then they watch some of the game. By the third offensive series of the season, Georgetown has 12 yards of offense (15 via a that means -3 yards gained) and 1 first down (again, via the penalty). GU is down 7-0.The students who were into the game are still standing, but if you look at them, easily 50% aren't paying attention to the game any more. They're talking about whatever party they're going to later. There is one more last hurrah of cheering--Georgetown holds Lafayette on downs just past midfield on the next possession. Aaaaaaaaaaaand then turns the ball over on the next play. Many of the students sit down."

By halftime, easily half the student crowd is already gone. When the second half kicks off, a crowd of several hundred students is a few dozen. And for yet another year, Georgetown football loses any chance of any meaningful student support in less than a half of football."

The Drive For 100: It's surprising that in his three years at Georgetown, senior RB Charlie Houghton has topped 100 yards just once. Two years ago, he had 98 against Yale at the MSF, and stands a chance to top that against a Bulldog team that has its share of new faces on defense. Only one other Georgetown back has rushed for 100 yards or more in the Kelly era--RB Philip Oladeji--and both could be in the lineup Saturday.

Change We Can Believe In? Those fans who stayed into the fourth quarter (and most did) saw a spark of life from the Hoyas with the debut of freshman QB Isaiah Kempf into the lineup, leapfrogging past sophonores Scott Darby and Tucker Stafford into the lineup. He may be a valuable asset down the road but fans should not anoint him as the Next Big Thing after just two minutes against Lafayette's second team defense. Another encouraging sign was seeing the playbook open past the line of scrimmage--Floyd and Furlough have height and speed and these are two receivers worth watching.

No Fan In Allentown: Lafayette correspondent Paul Reinhard has no love lost for the unnamed Multi-Sport Field. "The place can be depressing, " he wrote on Friday in the Allentown Morning Call. "Ask the coaches or players about the visiting locker room -- and the home team doesn't have anything like Lafayette's Bourger Varsity Football House, either. [Editor's note: the home team doesn't even have a locker room during games.]

"Lots of high school facilities have better amenities," he said. "Even around the "stadium," the atmosphere of college football is missing." 

MSF 5.0: The letter last week from interim athletic director Dan Portfield has rekindled hopes that the on-again, off-again facility project may be on again, even with a different look and feel.

"It is crucial that we complete the Multi-Sport Field...The original design, which includes precast cement stands and a rebuilt foundation, has been an expensive proposition," writes Porterfield.  "I have asked colleagues in Athletics and the University to see if we can develop a cost-effective approach to completing the field. 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."

The night game was a good success from turnout's sake, but building a fancier 2,500 or 3,500 seat stadium won't cut it. One could only imagine if seats truly ringed the field (and not just 35 yards of it) and the excitement of a full house to rally the Hoyas team to victory--it would be a transformative step for campus spirit. And even if there were empty seats at games, a 6,000 seat facility provides seats for all students, not a place where students can't attend when the home stands are overrun. Reinhard's quote bears repeating: "The atmosphere of college football is missing."

Saturday's game was a glimpse into what it could be, not what it is. And here's a vote for more night games in the future. Because if this was any other school, you know...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wishful Thinking

With the home opener around the corner, I can't wait. Of course, I'm one of the few.

One of my ongoing frustrations with the football program is the lack of a gameday atmosphere that has developed (or more precisely, not developed) around the Hoyas. I fully realize that Georgetown is not Georgia Tech and the Multi-Sport Field does not remind anyone of a game at Virginia or Maryland, much less William and Mary or Richmond. There are a lot of contributory causes (lack of local fans, lack of parking lots for tailgating, few "traveling" fans for home and away games, etc.) but Georgetown simply can do better.

And I've never bought the "Georgetown is an academic school" excuse. Six years ago, while walking the Cornell campus in advance of the Hoyas' 42-20 win (probably the high water mark of the decade as wins go) , I ran into the Cornell band, which was embarking on a campus-wide march past dorms in anticipation of the game. Fans young and old followed the band as they sang along to the George M. Cohan inspired fight song of the Big Red, "Give My Regards To Davy". As the band turned the corner past the dining hall, out stepped the Cornell football team, wearing cardinal red blazers and carrying their playbooks, as the band led them down the hill to Schoellkopf Field...pretty impressive. It didn't take a Tennessee sized crowd to impart upon this visitor that football traditions aren't taught as much as they are learned, and this was part of the traditions which Cornell was justly proud of. The Big Red wasn't very good that year (as the score would indicate) but that Saturday morning in Ithaca was part of its campus fabric.

Atheltics hasn't been a part of the campus fabric at Georgetown in years. Basketball is parked off-campus, baseball, field hockey, golf and rowing are somewhere "out there", and football is not taken seriously for a variety of reasons, from the setting to the record. As I discussed in a 2007 column, excerpted below, there is room for improvement.

"At Georgetown, you have two things working against you," noted columnist Matt Dougherty, now a Patriot league official. "The football program doesn't have a history of success, so it's hard to get the alumni and even current students excited. And you are in a large metropolitan area where the Georgetown football game will never be the marquee event on a Saturday. So you have to play to the family that wants to take their kids for a fun experience at a reasonable price....You can hook people in September, and they'll be more likely to return in November if the team is in good position."

From the moment Georgetown gave up on Griffith Stadium and major college football in 1951, greater Washington gave up on Georgetown as well. Even in the days of 9,000 fans for club football, local fans were never much a part of it--Georgetown may be in the city, but it's never been the "city's" school, and for a variety of reasons never will be....but first, let's start with the core audience of intercollegiate athletics--the students themselves.

With few exceptions, the decline in student is generational across most Division I schools. Where 9,000 attended the 1965 Georgetown-Fordham game (a majority of which were students), the environment was certainly much different. To start, distractions were proportionately fewer. Riggs Library was perpetually overcrowded, and the idea of studying on a Saturday afternoon was anathema to many. If a student had a TV at all, there were only three stations to choose from, with one only game per week seen on channel 7, but no more. And with an all-male College, the opportunity to bring a date to the football game was an added plus.

That football still brings in students in the world of high tech and constant communication speaks well to the students and the sport, but Georgetown doesn't make it any easier for them. University bureaucrats continue to counter-program events against games, while University publicity efforts continue to ignore or otherwise downplay the games.

Student leadership remains noticeably absent around the sport at all. If students relied on GUSA for basketball tickets, they'd be sitting in the upper levels of Verizon Center by now.
The home grown success of Hoya Blue makes the student section a bonafide place to be for basketball season, but how do you translate that to football season?

"Many students at Georgetown are simply not football fans and if they are then they are
attached to the college team they grew up supporting," said former Hoya Blue volunteer Michael Segner. "Many hard core football fans will watch Ohio [State] vs. Michigan on TV rather than attend a Georgetown home game and NFL fans will get their work out of the way so they can watch games on Sunday. Inroads can be made with these groups but the most attractive target market are the casual football fans."

Of course, many students at Georgetown are not basketball fans either, and judging by the number of alumni who give to the Hoop Club after graduation support is a mile long and a few inches deep. But what drives students to return for basketball or even football isn't always the final score...though it doesn't hurt.

"Basketball games against teams like Duke attract the casual fans because they know there will be an intense and fun atmosphere, win or lose," Segner said. It is a social event to see people and recognize your part of something larger than yourself, the Georgetown community. This experience is what needs to be promoted [in football]."

A decade earlier, this site had a familair refrain:

"Tailgating has never been understood by most Georgetown alumni, since many of them have not been regular followers of college football. Beginning in the mid-80's, and through 1994, tailgating was a series of loosely organized events at Homecoming which were basically all-you-can-drink affairs without the mix of food and football that tailgating requires. The situation was so ill-defined that most tailgaters skipped other Homecoming events to sit in the parking lot all afternoon to drink. To sit in a half-empty Kehoe Field while 1,500 or so people could be heard whooping it up in a parking lot below seemed a complete waste of what Homecoming was all about. The pattern of drinking (much of it underage) set off alarm bells at Student Affairs, which de facto banned tailgating after the 1995 season and instituted a series of litigious rules for cars entering the parking lot for games. "

Well, at least one issue doesn't apply anymore--most of the parking lot is gone. But how do you tailgate without a parking lot?

McDonough parking lot has been used in recent years as a meeting point, and it is, well, a failure. The Gridiron Club generally hosts a pre-game event, but most fans entering the game never see it, leading it to become a small group of parents and athletic department staffers. The other half of the lot is often taken up with, well, cars, and any tailgating is literally tail-gated between the cars. Students stop at the field and never veer past it.

Tailgating is an art form of sort at places like Mississippi, where "The Grove" is a tree lined party where the generations meet and greet before home games. And it's not just beer, either. "It is pimento cheese sandwiches and silver trays, candelabra and fried chicken tenders, button-down shirts, rep ties and khaki shorts, pearls, expensive sunglasses and flip-flops in your purse for when your high heels become history," wrote the New York Times."Cars have been kept out since a rainstorm in 1990 that reduced the Grove to  a rutted swamp, and tents replaced them. With the tents began a dance of real estate that kicked off the rules and regulations, and like a ball in play, the interpretations of them, that characterizes the party in the Grove today."

Of course, schools like Ole Miss maintain a social order that even Georgetown's best fashionistas would be hard pressed to duplicate--Hoya fans don't dress up in their finest on Saturdays for anything, much less football. While Copley Lawn could, in theory, become a Grove-like site for pre-game mixing, chances are most fans would simply stay there and not go to the game. Maybe it's best to start off simple--a place within view of the game, easy access, and a place people will go to and not away from. OK, then, here you go.  It's not The Grove, so let's call it "The Gate".

With only one of the four gates to the facility actually completed by Georgetown, the fencing adjoins a two lane road created as a result of the Southwest Quadrangle project, connecting the McDonough tennis courts with Harbin and Village C, which form the southern boundary of the still unnamed field. Without going into too much detail right now, let's make it simple: close the road immediately adjacent to the field on game day. Open it up to the Gridiron Club and the football parents, who can set up tents or tables and give it a place of distinction for pre-game, halftime, and post-game activity.

And not just at Homecoming, either. The opening game is traditionally the Kickoff Weekend reception, which could be set up there. A week later, Yale comes to town and the crowds along the gate would even be larger. [Sep. 26] is Homecoming, and the location sells itself.

And what about the students? Adjacent to the road is an archway under Kennedy Hall that opens to the Southwest Quadrangle, facing south to dining hall and the Potomac. Fans coming up from the garage or from the dining hall would be greeted with music, grills, balloons, pick-up games...and most of all, people. Rather than confine students to a section of the roadway, let them develop the quadrangle as their own.

All roads lead to The Gate, so to speak. March the team in pre-game workouts through the archway, and onto the field. Let the band and cheerleaders set up there before the game. The activities end on time before each kickoff, and you then bring the people to the game. Bringing people together--that's what it's all about.

"If there are groups of people tailgating, socializing, laughing, and throwing the Frisbee around chances are people will enjoy attending games," said Segner. "A camaraderie can be built among the fans which can last no matter what the score or record of the team. Give students the impression that attending football games is the fun/social thing to do and it will become a reality."

"There are better and more visible places to hold a campus-wide tailgate (which is what is needed, IMO) than the McDonough parking lot," added alumnus Rob Daniel. "This accomplishes several things: first, it establishes links between the alumni and students, necessary for a true fan base. Second, free food and [drinks] build a lot of goodwill among students. Third, by establishing a central Gridiron Club or University sponsored tailgate, the University could control alcohol consumption to a certain extent.

"Tailgating is central to college football, and Georgetown currently does it very poorly. Make the tailgate before the game a destination, and the game becomes a destination."

It bears repeating: Give alumni and students a chance to make tailgating the kind of event that families feel comfortable in attending. Let's move away from the theme and consider a variety of foods and that would be befitting of an international university. A tray of hamburgers here, some quesedillas there, maybe some souvlaki a few tables down...why not? Such an event would be a great way of building interest among local and out of town alumni to make the game something special. Whether your taste is brats, barbecue, or even chablis and brie (for the prep school crowd, of course), the college football experience sets the stage for an afternoon of good times for everyone.

Either way, students need to rediscover the college football experience. A tailgate is a start, and a good view of the game only adds to the experience. And Georgetown needs to get going sooner rather than later to get this area reserved, get ground rules set, promote it, and build a tradition around what we have, not what we lack.

Getting students back to the games is the first step in making a Saturday afternoon in Georgetown a destination again. Few schools have the wealth of activities outside its doorstep that Georgetown students enjoy, yet the ability to follow and support intercollegiate athletics has its own place in college life as well. If the recent success of men's basketball has taught anything, it is that such shared experiences follow Georgetown's alumni/ae for many years beyond college. Maybe there's another shared experience around the corner, this time on the gridiron.

Two years later, little has changed. The Gridiron Club will hold an event in the McDonough parking lot, students will wander over with little spirit, and the band will not march through campus, but file into the MSF a half hour prior to game time and set up their instruments with no great enthusiasm. But maybe the students and fans will see this game, this first night game, as an opportunity to turn the corner and give Georgetown football something it has lacked for years--not a new stadium, but a new attitude. And with a spirited fan effort, perhaps the team could do its part and bring a home a win, the kind of win that can have more than 100 kids singing the fight song at game's end, but a couple thousand. Yes, winning does make a difference, but support does too. The stadium promised so many times by so many people remains unfulfilled, and as long as the lights stay on and the scoreboard doesn't go off, fans might have something to remember and a program might find something to build on.

So here's to a great night of football.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Week 1 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Holy Cross' 20-7 win over Georgetown to open the 2009 season.

The transitive property does not apply to college football. Some people will tell you that since Georgetown usually gets throttled by Holy Cross, but only lost by 13, Georgetown must be better than expected, right? Well, that's a logical fallacy. A basketball analogy: if Chris Wright shoots 2 for 8, Greg Monroe is in foul trouble and the basketball Hoyas defeat American University by eight points instead of 28, are the Eagles suddenly a Big East-caliber team?

Georgetown's defensive sets and its ability to close off the long ball was an early roadblock to HC, but the low score was more a matter of Crusader mistakes than anything else. In three quarters, four HC drives ended inside the Georgetown four yard line, with only six points to show for it. Yes, Georgetown's defense gave them a great effort, but a veteran HC team probably could have converted a fumble at the one and a missed field goal to touchdowns--all of a sudden, a 34-7 outcome doesn't look as promising. Bottom line, seven points doesn't win a lot of games no matter how good the defense.

Eddie, not Charlie. The Cross stumbled early because, in part, they had not yet identified a legitimate rushing option when Randolph's passing was held in check. Well, they found it in freshman Eddie Houghton. It used to be that signing brothers was a common practice at Georgetown, be they names like Paulus, Craft, or Barbiasz, among others. Instead, he's the player HC, not Georgetown, can build around in the years to come. Only the coaches know if the younger Houghton was a legitimate target for the Hoyas or had already decided otherwise, but in either case he'll be a name to watch in the post-Dominic Randolph era in Worcester.

A Big Number. Georgetown may be better than some of the woeful predictions out there, but allowing 519 yards is bad under any circumstance. It's the first 500+ yard game surrendered since the 2007 season and the tenth since 2001, nine of which were on the road. To no surprise, GU is 0-10 when giving up this kind of yardage.

Same old offense? Well, not quite. A Holy Cross radio announcer commented that Georgetown seems to change its strategy every year, as Georgetown is now a pass-intensive operation, despite the fact that the receiver corps is perhaps the thinnest it's been in over a decade.

What is a cause for some concern is that the offense remains very transparent, and this should be a concern as game films begin to be dissected by opposing teams. Last year, Keerome Lawrence could be counted upon to run (119 carries) as much as he threw (103 pass attempts), while James Brady (37 carries, 142 pass attempts) and Scott Darby (8 carries, 35 attempts) quite the opposite. Teams began to key their defense based on who was under center.

In Saturday's game, Georgetown quarterbacks combined for four rushes and 40 pass attempts, and teams will adjust to this. Georgetown's QB doesn't need to be a running back but in the absence of running, he needs options downfield, and game one relied on line-of-scrimmage and short passes to GU's ulitimate detriment. Only three passes on first, second, or third down were completed for more than eight yards. Georgetown was 3-13 on third down passing and that leads to punts...11 of them.

Of course, I'm waiting for Tucker Stafford to get this offense going, but that's just fan talk.

If Georgetown has speed in the receiver corps, it's likely still on the bench. Kenneth Furlough and Brandon Floyd may have that speed, but with a tight end and two converted QB's as primary receivers, a conservative game plan will play into the hands of defenses that can crowd the line and give Georgetown all the four yard yard pass plays they want.

Three home games. If history is any indication, Georgetown needs to win two of the next three games at home or this season could run aground by October. For a team with only three wins in three seasons to schools not named "Marist College", that would seem a daunting task. Maybe, but the time is now.

After the homecoming game with Howard, Georgetown has only one home game over a six week period: a Colgate team it has never beaten in PL play (0-6). It becomes hard to envision a strategy where a beaten down Georgetown team catches a second wind in October. The Hoyas need early wins.

The next three opponents in September are difficult but not unbeatable: Lafayette will be shaking the off-season rust away in their first game of the season, Yale begins the season Sep. 19 at GU with a lot of new names in the lineup, and Howard is a program that, like Georgetown, can get overmatched in games when they fall behind.

A Georgetown program that has lost 28 of its last 33 games needs a run of confidence and this may, I repeat, may be the opportunity. Two of three wins takes the Hoyas to 2-2 heading into October and that's cause for some hope, even with a rough stretch on the road. A 1-3 mark isn't much better than last year, and, well, 0-4 starts another slippery slope where seniors fall off the two-deep, the siren call of the "youth movement" begins anew and students start counting the days until basketball season. This team can do better, and it frankly has to start doing so.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


On the eve of the 2009 season, every Division I team in America (save Indiana State, who already lost a week earlier) has reason for hope, for expectation. Not everyone will make it to the finish, but it's the race that counts.

So it's with some degree of concern that it seems that the expectations for the 2009 Georgetown Hoyas are set as low as they've been in the 16 years I've been closely following the team.

Not by the team of course, nor even the University. Senior Henry Bowe has already found his way onto some Holy Cross bulletin board with his hopes for a big upset Saturday, and with 19 (formerly 18) returning starters, one can't help but think that Kevin Kelly's fourth year team is its most experienced in years. So where's the expectation that this is the start of something big?

A decade ago, the late Dan Allen remarked "The misnomer around here is that people think we should beat Georgetown. Early on, we didn't respect Georgetown as much as we should have, for whatever reason. You have to respect a program that's beaten you two years in a row. We're at that point right now. Georgetown is as good as any team we play this year."

No one is expecting Tom Gilmore to second the motion this week, but which current PL coach would? Public comments notwithstanding, does Frank Tavani or Dick Biddle or Andy Coen really worry anymore about Georgetown? Eight years after joining the PL, the Hoya football program engenders neither fear nor anger among opponents. It's a win, isn't it?

Not everyone is writing off the Hoyas, however. CSN sports columnist Chuck Burton wrote in his Lehigh blog that "The Hoyas may have the best college football fans in the entire nation. It's one thing to root for a team that routinely wins conference championships, bowl games or FCS playoff games. It's quite another to root for a team that hasn't done better than 5-6 as a member of the Patriot League and not even coming close to a Patriot League championship. Add to this the fact that the DC media largely doesn't even know they exist, and they've been playing in a half-finished stadium for the last three years - the fact that the small, but strong, Hoya faithful have stayed loyal to their team all these years says volumes about their fans."

"But there's real evidence that Hoya fans have ceased to be patient with coach [Kevin] Kelly. It's his fourth year as head coach. This group is, in every way, his team. The staff has largely been intact from last year's last-place 2-8 finish. And the talk of teams like Fordham changing the Patriot League financial aid landscape is forcing Hoya fans to ask some uncomfortable questions."

We've talked about Fordham before, but Burton's aside on Kelly is an undercurrent that will unfortunately be there all year if the Hoyas don't show some visible on-field improvement. At almost any other Division I school, posting a 5-27 record is a one way bus ticket, but Georgetown shows a well known loyalty to its coaches, in good times and bad (Ask Pete Wilk.) In fact, unless your name is Craig Esherick, it's hard to remember any Georgetown coaches in recent years who were publicly pushed out of a job.

Kelly has set high standards for his team, withstood some departures, but raised team grades and has maintained morale in difficult times. The wins have not followed, but the 2006 team was not his, they said, the 2007 team was too young and 2008 was a MASH unit. What to make, then, of 2009, and what will we say three months hence?

Fans and alumni don't expect playoff bids, but they expect competitive play: over the last three years, there has simply not been enough of it . Georgetown has won five games in three years, four by the margin of a field goal and one by a touchdown, 7-0. The other 27 have frankly not been close. Save for a missed assignment by a Howard defender and two missed extra points by Marist, Georgetown fans could very well have seen a winless 2008 season. In 2007, a winless season was averted by a 38 yard field goal with 10 seconds left at Bucknell, which has inexplicably seen as many PL wins for the Hoyas (two) as has its own home field. And if you believe some of the PL writers foreseeing the 2009 season, Georgetown can start 18 returning players and still be a 1-10 team before it is all over. What breaks this cycle?

The structural impediments to success have been well chronicled: the budget gap, the ever-tightening recruiting window, the unfinished promises of the MSF. But facilities don't make first downs, and budgets don't block--it's up the coaches and players to make the difference. This team and this staff must commit to better on-field performance, win or lose, and do so in a more cohesive way, and accept the results of those expectations.

Similarly, the University must commit to a better off-field expectation. Ten years ago, Bob Benson could go on for a half-hour discussing his vision for Georgetown football. He even wrote about it in a essay covered on the site: "Play peer institutions," he said. "Build a new facility with all the tradition of the past in mind. Place it in the center of campus. Create a new school spirit among our students, faculty, and the community, and bring an environment with a wonderful aura of history and tradition to the Georgetown campus. "

That may (or may not) be the vision today. In 2009, with Fordham's scholarship demands putting the PL on notice and the perceived decline of the PL as a whole, what is the vision going forward?

Kevin Kelly has never been asked to articulate a vision, that belonged in Bernard Muir's hands. Two years ago, he told the New York Times that "We don’t have all the football pieces in place yet, but in time we will, and it will be a good experience for Georgetown." Unfortunately, Muir's putting the pieces together in Delaware, not DC. Without an athletic director for 2009-10, maybe the vision thing, like the MSF, uncomfortably stays on hold. But that's exactly when the expectation for success must be in front of these AD candidates--Georgetown is committed to sustained competitive excellence in the Patriot/Ivy model and you, as a candidate need to understand and support it. If they don't buy in, why should anyone else?

Vision and expectations go hand in hand. Speaking for myself, that there are eight--count em', eight--games from which a prepared and well-executed game plan could mean a win for the Hoyas. (I'll leave it for you to guess the three games this won't apply.)

Win all eight? Not quite, but just split the eight and you've got a 4-7 season. Great? No. Progress? Yes. Anything less than four raises more questions than I'd like to raise at this point.

And, yeah, there's also something to be said for the adage, "shoot for the moon, settle for the stars". Georgetown's academic peer, Duke, knows all too well what consistent losing does for a program. Its second year coach David Cutcliffe has no small aspirations, however. A 4-7 season won't cut it for Cutcliffe. He wants to see the Blue Devils in a bowl. That would be like picking the Hoyas to challenge for the PL title, wouldn't it?

"This team should be a bowl team," Cutcliffe said. "I've been doing this a long time. It has the ingredients. It has enough experience in the right places. If the coach puts them in the right position, then we'll get there. I know people look at me sometimes like I'm crazy. I just say what I really believe, and I don't have a problem with doing that. I just like to say the truth."

The season begins, and the truth is not far behind.