Thursday, November 5, 2009

Low Tide

The clocks have swung back and the days grow short for the 2009 season. Georgetown still has three games left, three games to make a stand, but for a lot of fans, the bright lights of September have all but gone out for this team.

The Old Dominion game said as much. Georgetown's cheering section was a family and friends affair, and despite a distance to the game not unlike that to Lehigh or Lafayette (200 miles), there was nary a Hoya Blue shirt or a local alumnus to be found. More than one person at the game asked me if my son was playing out there, as I was one of the few non-parents to make it to the game itself.

The absence of local alumni should be a cause for concern. There are a few hundred alumni in the Tidewater region and more in the Richmond area; granted, not a hotbed for Hoyas, but enough that should have been reached out to to offer tickets. (The alumni population at Georgetown seems to stop at the Alexandria city limits.) Georgetown does not enjoy a reputation as a "traveling" school, even in basketball, but the only way you're going to get more fans motivated in the program is to see it up front. OK, maybe this season isn't the best light to show them, but the dedication of the team is as strong as ever and we shouldn't forget that.

The absence of students, well, can only be solved by winning. Georgetown student support has been spotty for a number of years now; outside the first two games of the season, it seems students cannot focus on any team other than men's basketball these days. To see an attendance of just 1,013 at the Big East men's soccer quarterfinal aginsat DePaul is another example of an increasingly indifferent student sports populace.

Then again, it beats the 191 that saw Villanova to lose to Providence. (191?)

The 0-8 Georgetown record is not alone among underperforming programs locally. Everyone knows about the seemingly wobegone Redskins ("where never is heard a discouraging word, and signs are not allowed all day...") and their growing fan discomfort.  But they are not alone. How about these teams?
  • Maryland (2-6): The Terrapins may talk about a rally to earn a bowl trip to RFK Stadium (Eagle Bowl tickets, anyone?) but don't count on it. With N.C. State (away), Virginia Tech, Florida State (away) and Boston College, the Terps might finish dropping three or four. And with only one Div. I-A win this season, this could be the worst season at Byrd Stadium since Ron Vanderlinden finished 3-8 ten years ago. These are not good days for his successor, Ralph Friedgen, and unlike more polite Georgetown fans, Maryland fans don't mind telling him so.
  • Virginia (3-5): Atterndance is off by an average of 15,000 a game since the opener, and losing to Duke last week has set off alarm bells in Charlottesville. And it probably doesn't help that the recent Associated Press story titled "Virginia AD casts ominous cloud over Groh’s future" strongly suggests Al Groh will be called to account at season's end  for his 29-28 mark over five years. These days, a 29-28 might be enough for tenure at Georgetown.
  • Towson (2-6): The CAA's most recent entrant has posted only two winning seasons since leaving the Patriot League in 2003 and has lost 16 of its last 24. 2009 looks to be more of the same. After a 42-14 loss to Richmond last week, it gets no easier for Rob Ambrose and the Tigers: at William & Mary, Villanova, and at James Madison to close the season.
  • Howard (2-6): Remember the Bison? Since their 14-11 split decision over the Hoyas at Homecoming Weekend and a 7-3 win over Division II-bound Winston Salem State, the Bison have dropped four straight, scoring an average of eight points a game, most recently a 41-6 rout at the hands of  a .500 Norfolk State team. The Bison need a win in either of its final two home games to avoid going winless in the MEAC for a second consecutive year.
  • Catholic (1-7): Across town in Division III, the Cardinals are heading for one of the major collapses in local football history: from a 9-2 mark in 2008 to a one win team in 2009. Two games remain against a 2-6 Guilford team and the 6-2 Bridgewater Eagles.
  • George Mason (1-5): This is shaping up to be the worst season in the Patriots' 17 year club history. After opening with a 28-14 win over a club team at Walter Reed Medical Center, the Pats have been outscored 62-34, 67-13, 55-7, 60-0, and 51-12, and cancelling two of its last three games due to injuries to a depleted roster. Local sports fans might remember that a decision for Mason to join Division I-AA in 1998 fell short by one trustee vote, and they've never been as close since. As Old Dominion football has taken off and George Mason is getting clobbered by lesser teams, once recalls the most painful four words in sports: what might have been.
However struggling these teams are, and they are, they've all won a game this season. All but one, that is.