Friday, April 16, 2010

Calling All Captains

With the announcement of Lee Reed as Georgetown's new athletic director, there are probably as many questions from the rank and file Hoya fan as any newcomer to the process. But when Wednesday's press conference opened the floor to questions at Riggs Library, only two questions were proferred.

Liz Clarke of the Washington Post asked about the oft-discussed but never funded training/practice facility. Reed's response was equal parts the response of a newcomer and one who wisely knows this issue has traction farther up the hill.

"Obviously a facility that will enhance practice opportunities for our student-athletes is something that is of importance," said Reed . " I need to get here and understand all that has gone on until this point to see where the plan is. I’ve heard about it. I’m excited about it, but there are so many other things that the university has that have put our coaches and student-athletes in a great place. That will be another piece, and that will be a critical piece. I’ll work with our senior management team and the fundraisers in our athletics program and advancement to move forward on raising the money that is necessary to build that facility. So yes, it is critical to us. I’m part of the team. I’m here to join the team and do what I can to bring the resources to our student-athletes and our coaches, as it relates to facilities and other areas."

Put another way, the ball's not in his court.

The second question came from Kevin Wessel of The HOYA, and among all the issues of interest to students today, from the shoddy condition of Kehoe Field to the growth of women's sports to better transportation to Verizon Center, his question was on a topic of no small frustration among the student body--the condition of the football program.

Reed's response did not sound like he was passing the buck upstairs.

"I’m aware of where the [Georgetown] football program is. I can’t wait to sit down with the coaching staff to kind of see where they are. I know it’s important to this community, so we’ll work with our coaching staff and we’ll work with the staff in place now to see what’s going on with the program."

One of the undercurrents to the 2010 off-season is the role of the athletic director in what is an uncomfortable topic: a 5-38 record since 2006. Other than Dartmouth and Indiana State, it's practically at the bottom of Division I. The coaching staff knows it is in a vulnerable place after last season, and it's clear football was a topic of discussion at Reed's interviews.

But Wessel's question only touched on a growing sense of anger by students that the program is in the ditch. No one walks in the door at Georgetown expecting to play Syracuse and West Virginia on a September afternoon, but a non-competitive program in an unfinished field lends itself to apathy and worse. The first year of the new director's role will be to get a sense of the hierarchy of sports at Georgetown, and where football fits into the firmament. A student body that slips from apathy to disinterest is bad for any sport. With spiraling costs and conference realignments forming a veritable scylla-and-charybdis for athletic departments over the next decade, increased support for any support outside basketball cannot be taken for granted.

A new voice in the athletic department offers a new opportunity for the football program to define itself and to assert its place in the fabric of campus and community life. Much of the last decade of GU football has been patterned on the sales pitch Bob Benson made to join the Patriot League in 2000, but it's now 2010 and if Georgetown wants to be something fundamentally better than what it is now in the next five or ten years, it needs vision, direction and support. The coaches will do their part, but it may be time for a largely silent group of alumni and donors to come to the forefront.

Since 1964, there are 125 living alumni who have served as a captain or co-captain for the football team. Doctors, attorneys, executives, a few coaches-- all sorts of men whose leadership skills on the field prepared them for leadership experiences off the field. As the new athletic director reviews and reshapes the department to which he has been entrusted, this is the group of volunteer leaders that need to be a visible, vocal, and volunteer-minded consituency that can show Reed and others that football is an asset on this campus, and as Georgetown considers growing the program, that it is an investment worth making, not merely a risk worth taking.

Some of these captains have been important volunteers and contributors in recent years, particularly among the club football era teams. Others, sadly, seem to have disappeared off the media guide. When DeGioia, Porterfield, Reed, et al. review the issues on the near-term plate for Georgetown football (from building the MSF to reacting to Patriot League scholarships), there needs to be a core leadership group among alumni ready to make the calls, twist the elbows, and fight for the program they helped build. These leaders of the past are a source of leadership for tomorrow.

And guess what? Tomorrow's here.

Let's move forward on reviving these ties among the football community. There are stories across the football landscape of key alumni and former captains coming through when a sluggish or faltering program most needed it; conversely, the I-AA graveyard is littered with alumni that could never quite get its act together when opportunity called and wondered what might have been. Let's welcome these captains back into the fold and get them back on the front lines to build Georgetown football for the next decade.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Here's Your MSF

  Yes, I still have the t-shirt. No, I'm not going to wear it at John Carroll Weekend.

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 five years ago, and we're all the lesser for it.

"The Field With No Name" 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,” GUSA president Ben Shaw 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," wote the HOYA in 2005. "The stadium, with seating for 4,500, will guarantee enough room for every Hoya fan. New locker rooms, videoconference 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.

And yet, two hours south of campus, there is a construction project that bears more than a passing resemblance to the MSF, in form as well as function. Welcome To the University of Richmond.

There are numerous photo galleries available on the project, which began in 2006 after the University received approval from the City of Richmond to leave city-owned UR Stadium (capacity, 21,750) to renovate its track stadium (First Market Stadium) and build an on-campus facility of  about 7,800 seats by the 2009 season.

"The expanded Robins Stadium will be a permanent multi-sport venue [emphasis added] serving the University's football, lacrosse, soccer and track programs," writes a UR fact sheet. "The current off-campus facility used for home football outdated and does not meet the needs of our growing football program in 2008....The Robins Stadium expansion has been carefully planned to minimize impact on the surrounding communities, and to further enhance the University's national reputation for having one of the most beautiful campuses in America."

Beginning this fall, UR students and fans will experience an on campus facility that provides year-round use for teams, coaches offices, concesssions, box seating, and modern scoreboard amenities. In a nod to student versus alumni seating patterns, the lower level of seating is reserved for students but built so that if students want to stand, it doesn't block the more sedentary fans above them. It will not be the biggest facility in its conference, but serve as a showplace to the program and a source of campus pride among the university and its community.

This is not to say that the Richmond project enjoyed smooth sailing--progress stalled in 2008 until the Robins family, stalwart supporters of that university, agreed to fund the remainder of the project to see it to conclusion, with the new facility opening in 2010, a year behind original plans. Ironically, Georgetown was scheduled to be among the first opponents to play in Robins Stadium before the parties cancelled the series late last year. Who will be the first opponents in a completed Multi-Sport Facility, no one knows.

And while one can make a case that a smaller school like Richmond has more major donors at its disposal than Georgetown does (a dubious argument, but one nonetheless), Robins Stadium is under construction now because it is a priority--not just for UR Football, but for the university as a whole. Richmond could have easily moved the football program on campus and put up temporary bleachers and be done with it, but at what price, and at what cost? Never mind what it will do to the fan experience and recruiting (two things sorely lacking at Georgetown in its current setup), Robins Stadium will be a visible statement that UR is committed to doing what is right for its campus and for its students.

Few great universities would put up a temporary building, do nothing with it for five 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 five years later, where is the person that works outside McDonough Gym that sees this monument to institutional inertia and expects something better?

Well, Dan Porterfield does, but few others have said as much publicly.

"It is crucial that we complete the Multi-Sport Field," Porterfield wrote seven months ago in September, the last official mention of the project. "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 what happeed over the last seven months or the last five years, 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 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 for Hoya football in the Kevin Kelly era 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 in 2005 is true in 2010: "The worst thing that can happen is for people to be content with what they have right now."

And five years later, there's far too much contentment going around. Maybe I'll pack the t-shirt after all.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Coming Attractions

Bill Parcells' caution to coaches is part of the football lexicon: "You are," he said, "what your record says you are."

But a corollary to the Parcells Principle might just as well be: "You are what your schedule says you are."  So if people are surprised that the 2010 football schedule looks like something out of 2000 rather than 2009, maybe they shouldn't be. It is Kevin Kelly's best chance yet to turn back the clock and turn around the record.

Georgetown played three scholarship teams in 2009, and lost all three. The 14-11 loss to Howard was a winnable game, but a tragedy of errors on both sides, and if Howard acted to end the erstwhile D.C. Cup, it was not for enmity of Georgetown, but to wash its hands of a series that seemed to bring little out on either side.

In contrast to Howard, the ending to the Georgetown-Richmond series was not unexpected. Conceived in more hopeful days when Bob Benson saw Georgetown as a legitimate contender by the end of the decade, the Hoyas caught the Spiders ascendant while its fortunes had fallen. The Hoyas turned the ball over in each of its first three possessions in last seasons game and the 49-10 finish was only due to the generosity of UR coach Mike London.

The Hoyas' 31-10 loss to Old Dominion was more problematic. Playing a first year team, one that had lost to Monmouth and Fordham earlier in the year, Georgetown was embarassed to the point that the Monarchs called off the dogs in the second quarter, up 28-3. ODU was getting better every week, Georgetown wasn't, and it showed. By 2010, ODU didn't need Georgetown anymore, and waived a chance at potentially three more wins through 2012 to further upgrade its schedule.

No one will be surprised in a few years when London, now coach at Virginia, will make a call to ODU's Bobby Wilder to have Old Dominion open the season at Charlottesville. That call will most certainly not come to Kevin Kelly and Georgetown.

But however painful the outcomes, these games showed the ability of Georgetown to at least aim higher than from where it was. There was no shame in losing to the I-AA national champion, at least in comparison to lose to Marist. And had it added North Dakota State, a likely loss with a guarantee fee, at least you could say the Hoyas were "playing up" against someone on its non-conference schedule. There's no "playing up" like that in 2010.

The Hoyas have traded in Howard, Richmond, and Old Dominion (combined 2009 record: 22-13) for Davidson, Sacred Heart and Wagner (combined 2009 record: 11-20). So long, Foreman Field (capacity 19,782), hello Campus Field (capacity 2,000). And outside of a few misguided folks like me that would still rather see 12,000 in the stands at Villanova on the schedule than 1,500 at Sacred Heart, you can look at the Hoyas' record over these past four years and ask, well, maybe this is all they can handle right now.

And that's what it's come to.

The web site known as the College Football Data Warehouse studied the records of 238 Division I teams over the last ten seasons, ranking Georgetown 232nd in win-loss record and 232nd in strength of schedule. (Wagner and Sacred Heart ranked 234th and 235th, respectively, but such is the fate of low-scholarship football.)  And maybe it's fortunate Georgetown was able to pick up these games at such a late date, because universities like GU cannot long tolerate the recent seasons that erode more than Kevin Kelly's record, but his standing at the University.

I mentioned the 2000 schedule, the interregnum between the soft success of the MAAC and the harder ground of the Patriot. Georgetown's schedule that year was a hodge-podge of opponents: five MAAC teams (Duquesne, Marist, and defunct programs at Fairfield,. Iona, St. Peter's), three Patriot teams (Holy Cross, Fordham, and Bucknell), two Pioneer (Davidson, Butler), and one Northeast Conference team (Wagner). The Hoyas finished 0-3 against the Patriot, and 5-3 against everyone else. If the Hoyas could carve out a winning record like that against Yale, Davidson, Wagner, Sacred Heart, and Marist,'s not much but it's a start. The problem is, of course, that this is the kind of schedule better suited for 2000 than 2010, and really doesn't prepare the Hoyas for a move up the PL standings. After ten years, the Hoyas seem no more capable of dominating conference opponents than it was in 2000.

But the contrary scenario isn't a pretty one, either: if Georgetown can't  win against these five schools (combined 2009 record: 22-30), then what does it say? Excepting I-AA newcomers Campbell and Old Dominion, Georgetown is among seven low-rated I-AA schools (Columbia, Dartmouth, Indiana State, Savannah State, Southern Utah, and St. Francis) with a combined record of 57-241 (.191) over the past four seasons. For these schools to get out of their mess, they must start winning, plain and simple.

So sometimes a step back allows you a few steps forward.