Monday, September 27, 2010

Week 4 Thoughts

Some quick thoughts folloing Georgetown's 17-7 win over Holy Cross Saturday:

Two Words. Chuck Burton's columns at Lehigh Football Nation often sum up the prior week in one word titles. For Georgetown, I'll go with two: well done. The outcome of the game was just one of a series of events around Homecoming Weekend worth commendation, from the Alumni Association hosting over 400 students in a career services reception at Alumni House, to the numerous lectures, social events, and class parties held. The staffs in Athletics, Alumni Relations, and Advancement don't get paid by the hour, but they certainly put in some overtime to ensure the success of the weekend. And at least this year, you weren't hearing any snide comments about trying to move Homecoming to a weekend in February.

Or maybe the weekend could be summarized by an old 1950's jazz song written by Steve Allen: "This Could Be The Start of Something Big". There were as many positive feelings coming out of unnamed Multi-Sport Field after this one as any Georgetown game in two decades. Students were upbeat. Faculty were upbeat. Even frequent Georgetown foil John Feinstein complimented the Hoyas in his Washington Post column:
"Serious kudos to Georgetown, which has owned the Patriot League cellar in recent years the way Duke controls the same spot in the ACC. The Hoyas are now 2-0 in conference play after Saturday's 17-7 victory over 2009 champion Holy Cross. Imagine: Georgetown off a fast start and no sign of St. Leo's on the schedule."
He wasn't the only one with compliemnts, however. Here's a note from University president and former GU cornerback Jack DeGioia (C'79) on Facebook Monday:
"After a great Homecoming Weekend, I wanted to reach out to our Facebook community and congratulate the Hoyas on a fantastic win against Holy Cross! Thanks to all who supported our team and who joined us for Homecoming on the Hilltop."
Assuming someone archived the TV broadcast from Verizon FiOS, let's make sure someone gets the highlights on a DVD to the top scholarship and MSF donors and remind them of the work to be done.

Defensive Turnaround: After giving up more than 500 yards in each of its last two games, the Hoya defense held Holy Cross to just 262 yards in the game. In the prior three games with the Crusaders, Holy Cross posted total offense numbers of  519, 473, and 614 yards, respectively. So are the 2010 Hoyas that good on defense or the Crusaders that average this season?

Georgetown is better but owing to its efforts agaisnt Lafayette and Yale, I'll side with the latter. The missing element in 2010 is the graduation of all-PL quarterback Dominic Randolph, and his successor, Ryan Taggart, doesn't have the passing attack that can put up those numbers. Worse yet, the HC running game has been in neutral all season. The Crusaders haven't rushed for more than 91 yards in a game all season--against GU, they rushed 25 times for 86 yards.

The defense must regroup for a run-dominant Colgate team. The Red Raiders haven't rushed for less than 200 yards all season, and that includes last Saturday's day-trip to Syracuse.

Play Of The Game: Any of the three fourth down conversions might qualify. The Hoyas trailed into the fourth quarter and must have sensed that if they could just get ahead on the scoreboard they could close this game out, but a two yard run from RB Philip Oladeji on 4th and 1 at the Crusader 31 might have been the turning point. Six plays later, Oladeji took it into the end zone and the Hoyas had the lead for good.

It's Been So Long... So how long ago was it since Georgetown defeated Holy Cross? 1999 might not seem a long time ago to some, but it was. Back then...
  • Kevin Kelly was a defensive line coach at Syracuse.
  • John Thompson III was an assistant coach at Princeton.
  • Barack Obama was a first term state senator in Illinois.
  • Sarah Palin was a first term mayor of Wasilla, AK.
  • A start-up tech firm called Google was put up for sale for $1 million, but the offer was turned down.
  • Joe Paterno celebrated his 50th year reunion at Brown University.
  • The Simpsons celebrated its 10th anniversary on television.
  • The price of gold fell to $251 an ounce.
  • The price of gasoline was $1.13 a gallon.
  • The Apple iPod did not exist.
  • The Southwest Quad did not exist.
  • None of this year's players were older than the 5th grade.
  • The Multi-Sport Facility was in the initial planning stages.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Coming Home

A distinctly American institution, the college homecoming has a life and lore all its own, even at a place like Georgetown.

While the concept dates back to 1909, or 1910, depending on which school you believe (Baylor, Illinois and Kansas all lay claim to the origin, Wikipedia notes it as follows:

The history of the University of Missouri Homecoming can be traced back to 1891, when the Missouri Tigers first faced off against the Kansas Jayhawks in football in the first installment of the Border War, which is also the oldest college football rivalry west of the Mississippi River. The intense rivalry originally took place at neutral sites, usually in Kansas City, Missouri, until a new conference regulation was announced that required intercollegiate football games to be played on collegiate campuses. To renew excitement in the rivalry, ensure adequate attendance at the new location, and celebrate the first meeting of the two teams on the Mizzou campus in Columbia, Missouri, Mizzou Athletic Director Chester Brewer invited all alumni to "come home" for the game in 1911. Along with the football game, the celebration included a parade and spirit rally with bonfire. The event was a success, with nearly 10,000 alumni coming home to take part in the celebration and watch the Tigers and Jayhawks play to a 3-3 tie. The Missouri homecoming model, with its parade and spirit rally centered around a large football game is the model that has gone on to take hold at colleges and high schools across the United States."

By comparison, Georgetown was late to the party, not announcing such a game until 1925, where they dispatched Lehigh 40-0. Of course, Georgetown did things a little, well, differently. For one thing, the games weren't "home" being that games were off-campus, and in some years the Homecoming weekend could even be held during a road game. On November 9, 1940, Homecoming was celebrated at Byrd Stadium in College Park, MD, perhaps the Hoyas' biggest Homecoming win ever. Wrote Ye Domesday Booke:

"While the statue of John Carroll was con­spicious by the absence of its annual Maryland painting, and the Terrapin too remained in­violate, passive Hoya students journeyed south of the border to witness Georgetown's 41 to 0 victory over their traditional but failing rivals from College Park. On a field bathed in tingling sunshine and the fleeting shadows of billowy clouds, the Hilltoppers lost little time in actualizing six points in the person of Jim Castiglia who carried the mail from the five. With the taste of blood in their mouths, the fighting Bulldog literally rived the hapless Turtle in one of the worst defeats yet recorded in their long and spirited association.

"Svelte and swivel-hipped Jack Doolan, coupled with Frank Dornfeld and Dave Wiley, were the game's standouts as Sophomore class­mates proudly eyed their stellar accomplish­ments.

"The traditional goal post stand was assumed by the Maryland student body after the game, and the one struggling Hillcat who vainly challenged this group, dug himself out during the Virginia-Maryland fracas two weeks later! The Victory Tea Dance held after the game at the Wardman Park Hotel was host to the con­quering grid men, and here they proved equally successful.

"Hence another Homecoming week-end, an­other Hoya dance and another Georgetown victory were scratched on the pages of history. This win marked the twenty-first consecutive for Georgetown and placed them ninth in the national ranking."

That's right, ninth. In the Associated Press poll.

Homecoming died out during the Hoyas' football interregnum from 1951 through 1963, returning in grand style in 1964. An ad from The HOYA lsits a multitude of events which drew a record 8,004 fans to campus that day:

Note the quote in the first column where "master of ceremonies Mike Morrell will distribute mimeographed copies of the Georgetown Fight Song and the Georgetown pep band will accompany him as he teaches the lyrics to the masses." Hey, when you haven't played a football game in 14 years, a little practice never hurt!

From Homecoming grew a wide variety of social events, including the annual band event at the gym. One would be hard pressed ever to match the entertainment at Homecoming as enjoyed by the Class of 1973. For its freshman year Homecoming dance, the featured guests were the Who. For 1970, the Grateful Dead. For 1971, the Beach Boys. For senior year in 1972, the Ike and Tina Turner Revue.

The Homecoming Queen and her court met its demise in the mid-70's, the dance soon afterward. This was not an era for tradition. The game itself struggled on for a great many years, with a mix of benign University neglect, alumni indifference, and the fact that Division III football didn't always sell itself to students at a "Big East" school. As the drinking age migrated north to 21, it was largely known as the only game fans could drink to excess before the game, but, of course, many never made the trek up the hill to Kehoe Field to actually see the game itself.

Through the diligent efforts of Bill Reynolds (C'79) and the Alumni Relations staff, Homecoming in the last decade has outgrown its 1980's reputation to become one of the two largest campus events of the year, second only to Reunion. Academic, social, and cultural events now abound, even without a formal pep rally.

But the game remains at its core. Various schools which abandoned football or never sponsored the sport attempt Homecomings around a soccer game or a mid-winter badketball game, and by and large the events fall flat. A fall football game is a chance to bring old and young together, at a common field for a common purpose. And every so often, a game does more than capture the fancy of a weekend, but change the course of the sport.

In 1998, Georgetown opened its home season with a Homecoming game with Holy Cross--the earliest such scheduling ever. GU had played four previous games against the Patriot League in 1996 and 1997, losing all four. On a September afternoon 12 years ago, things would be different. From the account of the game (yes, the site was around back then, too):

"Thoughts soon turned to the biggest game on the schedule, a Homecoming meeting against Holy Cross at Kehoe Field. The Crusaders have been a measuring stick for the Hoyas' I-AA program, and narrow losses in 1996 and 1997 only furthered the drive to knock off the once dominant I-AA power.

Both teams had their share of missed opportunities. Holy Cross took an early lead but missed the extra point. A fumbled snap deep in Hoya territory gave the Crusaders the ball at the two yard line at the end of the first half, but a holding penalty, a sack, and a missed field goal ended the drive.

In the third quarter, down 12-7, Mont and the Hoyas drove to the two inch line, only to lose six yards on third down and fumble the snap on the field goal. Both teams exchanged field position throughout the next ten minutes. Midway through the fourth quarter, Georgetown's best drive of the game drive stalled when Mont tripped on consecutive 3rd and 4th down plays. The Crusaders moved quickly down the field but missed a 28 yard field goal with under 3:00 to play, and on the first play thereafter Mont found Hester for a 77 yard touchdown and Kehoe Field erupted.

But there was more to come. Down one, Holy Cross drove 65 yards in under a minute, but with 1:20 left senior SS Anthony Bartolomeo intercepted a pass at the 16 yard line. Georgetown fans were delirious, but the Hoyas could not move. Hoping to watch the Hoyas run out the clock, fans were stunned to see Mont inexplicably run out of bounds with 1:06 left, stopping the clock, and Georgetown had to punt. The Crusaders then connected on two fourth down plays in the final minute to advance to Georgetown's 28 yard line, where a 45 yard FG attempt sailed wide left for the final act in a momentous game.

Crusader fans will no doubt point to the missed extra point and four missed field goals as the difference, but another key play occurred with the Hoyas trying a two point conversion leading 13-12. Mont's pass sailed right at a HC defender with 98 yards of open field ahead of him. If he ran the INT back, HC would have earned two points and a 14-13 lead. Instead, he batted the ball down, and Georgetown maintained the lead...The crowd, listed at 2,756 but closer to 3,500 (many left when they could not find seating) at 2,400 seat Kehoe Field, enjoyed perhaps the most exciting finish in any of the 58 Homecoming games which have preceded it. It marked Georgetown's first victory over Holy Cross since 1950, its first win ever over a Patriot League team, and a clear sign that the football program has cleared another milestone in its progress to be competitive with Patriot and Ivy-level programs.

The game was a turning point in many ways, and while the last ten years have seen more gray skies than blue for the Hoyas, one should also ask where Hoya Football would be had it not found a home in the Patriot League.

But football fans should not lose sight of the fact that Homecoming is an opportunity to reconnect across the generations. In 2002, a Morgan State student named Brian Cox wrote about what he felt was the mission of Homecoming at his school, and it bears repeating. This weekend, enjoy the game, but don't forget to extend a hand to those slightly older visitors walking across a campus that they haven't forgotten, all these years later.

"What ultimately defines a homecoming is its true purpose: the alumni," he wrote. "Alumni from every [college] in America take pride in coming back "home", to reminisce on past experiences and live in the present of their alma mater. However, the majority of the current generation of students has misconstrued the meaning of the alumni celebration.

"This is not to say that homecoming strictly for alumni only. It's a time to everyone involved...young and old, to have a good time and reflect on the past in the present so that the future can seem clearer. But for some reason, that is not the case.

"I cannot count the amount of times I have heard someone say that, "(insert a school name) homecoming was weak." When asked why they thought so, it was also certain they were referring to the lineup at the homecoming concert, the caliber of the after parties or the like. Almost never is the actual game, festivities or the congregation of student and alumni alike on the yard ever mentioned. This majority of [students'] perception of homecoming has become too superficial. It's clouded with too many things that detract from the true meaning of homecoming.

"Homecoming should be a grand event with a strong emphasis on the alumni. For many of them, this is their chance to come home and relive memories of their times at [college]. As students we should embrace and welcome alumni on our homecoming and begin with a bond with them. Alumni are our only direct and accurate link to the past of [the University]. Without them, we may never have an accurate account of the past triumphs and tribulations of this institution. They should be like family to the student body. How would you feel if you came home after being away for a long time and everyone was concerned about gifts that you brought everyone?

Homecoming should never be defined by whether Jay-Z, Nelly, Noreaga or others perform at the concert...It should be defined by the past and the people who helped forget the character of its institution...Without the actions and people of the past, there would be no direction for present and future."

Past and prologue, together.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Week 3 Thoughts

Some brief thoughts following Yale's 40-35 win over Georgetown Saturday.

"A" For Effort: What more can you say about this game? I can only lament that it wasn't televised, because a lot of fans would have seen one of the more exciting 60 minutes of football  for a Georgetown team in a decade. From the opening drive (a blocked FG by the Georgetown special teams) to the clutch decision by Yale coach Tom Williams to plow ahead for the winning score, both teams deserve credit for giving it all on the field.

Williams' call was not without risk (some Yale fans have not forgiven him for a fake punt in the 2009 Harvard game that proved to be a turnng point) but it was more than just a reluctance to win the game with a kicking ame that was suspect all day. Yale simply had a bigger offensive line and the ability to push one yard against a smaller Georgetown defensive line was a considerably better decision than kicking in the shadow of the goalposts. While the odds would suggest the 18 yard kick was a cinch, that's what Yale fans thought about the opening drive, too.

If a team is at home, you drive it in. On the road, kick. A tough ending for Georgetown fans, but this was a game where the last team with a good scoring opportunity would win, and, much like the end of the first half, the Hoyas gave it back with enough time for the Elis to mount the drive.

Pass Rush: While much can be amade about the amount of yardage the defense has allowed the past two weeks, the inability of the front line to provide pressure on the quarterback must not be overlooked either. Yale QB Patrick Witt was not sacked according to the statistics (Andrew Schaetzke might disagree on one or two plays) but he had far too much time to find open receivers. The Hoya line has just four sacks over three games and one key to tightening up the numbers is to put more pressure on the QB, and that effort starts Saturday with Holy Cross.

Play of The Game: Yes, Witt's last drive was the decider and Scott Darby's INT didn't help, but the second half kickoff return by Jeremy Moore turned the game around from what looked to be the prelude to another Yale rout to a third quarter like few others in Hoya Football. Moore turned in one of the better individual performances you'll see anywhere (I'm still impressed by that leaping block of a long Yale pass in the second quarter), and fellow New Haven-er Keerome Lawrence gave it his all.

Amazing that it has been six years without a kickoff return of any kind. Let's not wait so long again.

The View From Across The Field: In case you haven't seen it, a summary of the game through the home team's perspective:

Fan Support: A good turnout from Georgetown fans across the field at the Yale Bowl, but there are too many NYC and Connecticut alumni that simply didn't know about it and ...and to the point, were not encouraged to attend. Attending Georgetown athletic events outside DC should not be on a "need to know" basis, and all the traditional arguments that Georgetown doesn't have the resources to do so fall flat in my view. The Hoyas return two more years to New Haven in 2011 and 2012, and it is incumbent upon Georgetown to do a better job of promotion. If the University wants to get on Ivy League schedules, it needs to show that their fans want to see these games as well.

On to Homecoming.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Rear View Mirror

For about a week this past summer, all eyes were on the college realignment saga of the Big XII confernce. In an era where no one outside the Ivy League wants a simple eight team conference anymore, the push by the Big Ten to add one, three, or five members was expected to be a frontal assault on the Big East, but instead turned west and headed in the direction of the Big XII, itself the remnants of the Southwest and Big 8 conferences. A week later, the chairs had been shuffled, slightly, and things went back to normal.

Last week, no chairs moved, but one was rattled.

The uneasy alliance of the Big East conference was put back into the discussion mode when it was confirmed that Villanova University was approached by the conference to move its I-AA football team into the conference for football. Aside from the soul-searching and due diligence Villanova needs to do before approving it, it raises a lot of issues about the confernence as a whole and Georgetown in specific going forward.

If you think Villanova's decision can't, or won't affect Georgetown, read on.

Villanova fielded its first football program in 1894 and, much like Georgetown, went to off-campus stadia in the 1930's to raise revenue. Villanova games were often held in Shibe Park, with a schedule common among Catholic schools in the East--Boston College, Holy Cross, Detroit, maybe a service academy, with a big name like Miami or Penn State thrown in from time to time.

The Cats escaped the collapse of Eastern Catholic football because they had an on-campus facility when needed, but also chose to limit home games to 2or 3 a year in the 1950's so as to pay the bills on the road. During much of the 1950's, Villanova played two games a year on campus, one in Municipal Stadium, and the rest on the road, playing at places like Texas A&m and Florida State, before settling in as a competitive Eastern I-A independent. In 1961, Villanova played in the Sun Bowl, and the inaugural Liberty Bowl in 1962, back when it was in Philadelphia.

By 1980, the Villanova schedule was a mix of local and regional opponents: Temple, Penn, Delaware, VMI, Boston College, and Navy, among others. But afer a 6-5 season, the school pulled the plug. Villanova Stadium (capacity=12,000) was no longer enough to attract good games and the cost of 85 scholarships (then almost $5,000 apiece) wasn't being justified. But instead of laying down and giving up like St. John's, Northeastern, and a dozen other Eastern programs have done in the interim, Villanova alumni rallied to raise funds to bring it back. By 1985, the school had agreed to return to the gridiron, but this time in Division I-AA.

In the intervening quarter century, Villanova has been able to leverage its 63 scholarships and the halo of its Big East basketball reputation to be one of the best teams in the subdivision, culminating in last season's national title. Thought to be a comparable fit for the Patriot League, the school regularly dismissed such talk,Approached in 1997 to join the Big East, the school turned it down, but are now giving it a second thought. What changed?

Money. Television could make Villanova I-A football more than a passing fancy.

In an earlier generation, TV revenues from football were a nice to have but no sure thing; prior to 1984, national TV appearances were strictly limited by school. The dissolution of the NCAA football contract, the rise of ESPN, and the assimilation of major college football powers have made membership in one of the six BCS conferences a revenue machine. Before the first ticket is sold, a move to Big East football would double the TV revenues received by Villanova from roughly $3.5 million to almost $7 million in the current CBS/ESPN contracts negotiated by the conference.

Could $3.5 million a year pay for those 22 extra scholarships? Absolutely. Could $3.5 million a year provide revenue for improved facilities, women's scholarships, and the kind of national exposure that playing Towson or Rhode Island could never do? Absolutely. Would it put Villanova in play for the millions distributed in the BCS bowl process? Absolutely. And, much as Cincinnati did, could you see a scenario where Villanova could run the table right to a BCS invite in the Orange Bowl? No, but that's why they play the games.

Admissions wise, Villanova is under no pretense of an academic index and already deals with the issue of scholarship athletes through its admissions process. Its 2014 class included 14 schoalrship recipients and seven on financial aid. Presumably, a move upward earns all 21 a scholarship.

Villanova isn't deciding this issue on the present landcape, but the future, and the windfall is even more profound.

The chiuef reason the Big Ten has purused such an aggressive expansion strategy, even if it meant tearing apart other conferences, has been TV monies. After only three years, the Big Ten Network is generating close to $20 million in revenue for every Big Ten school. Because the Big Ten network is a for-profit service, you're paying some smount (projected at 85 cents a month if you're in a Big Ten market, 15 cents outside market) deep within your cable or DirecTV bill to add that channel. Well, wonder now why the Big Ten was interested in Rutgers--any idea how many New York and New Jersey cable customers would add to to the bottom line?

"It's getting to be like the NFL where it doesn't matter if anybody sits in the stands because the TV money will be so great," former Purdue football coach Joe Tiller told USA Today.

How does this affect the Big East? As part of its efforts to fend off the Big Ten, the league office enlisted Georgetown board chairman Paul Tagliabue (C'62) to examine how the conference could build its own all-sports cable network, leveraging the large metropolitan areas within the league (New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, Pittsburgh, Tamps-St. Petersburg, etc.) into a framework that could make the revenues enough for the Syracuses and Louisvilles of the world to be comfortable in staying in the Big East and not, like Nebraska, cut ties with its past for a big check. Early estimates in the press conclude existing TV deals with ESPN and a Big East Network (the "BEN") could return its I-A football schools upwards of $15 million a year, but maybe only $5-6 million for the other Big East schools not in the football conference.

Villanova is probably looking at a current CAA TV package under $100,000 per school, if that, plus a ESPN package of $3-4 million. How about adding $10 million every year to that athletic budget sound, folks?

Remember, that's $10 million before the first ticket is sold, before the first bowl payout, before the first dollar in merchandise royalties. $10 million on its own could fund free tuition for an additional 200 student-athletes a year on the Main Line, turning nearly every Villanova athletic team into a national contender. If you're wondering why Notre Dame and Northwestern have suddenly become lacrosse powers or why Duke seems to do so well in so many Olympic sports, look no further than that check in the mail.

It's not to say Villanova doesn't have some hurdles ahead of it. The competitive jump from I-AA to I-A is enormous. It's one thing to pick up a kid who was leaning to Delaware, now they would be competing against kids looking at Pitt and Penn State. Phialdelphia fans love a winner, but ask Temple what it's like when 7,000 people show up for a game.

Villanova's on campus stadium isn't much, and the residents, while not as litigious as their Georgetown brethren, aren't going to stand for an expansion to house 60,000 people in their neighborhood on a Saturday afternoon. Lincoln Financial Field is tied up in a long-term lease with Temple and Penn's Franklin Field is still better suited for the days of Chuck Bednarik and than today's Big East teams. The Wildcats may literally be looking at a shuffle of games between an 18,000 seat soccer stadium in Chester, a game or two at Franklin Field, and a game or two at Citizens Bank Park when the Phillies' season concludes.

And, who knows, maybe someone has a spot of land west of Conshohoken that might want to build a $60-80 million stadium on some day. $10 million is a pretty good down payment.

What does this mean for the Big East? Adding Villanova to the league wouldn't have the gravitas of adding a big name like, say, Nebraska, but who else is out there--Central Florida, East Carolina, Memphis? Intra-conference expansion allows the Big East to even its schedule (four home, four away) out without having to walk across the minefield of asking for a 17th school. At the start, it offers its members an easy win each year for some period, though for the Patriot League's last expansion, the winning has gone on longer than expected.

It slso sends a message to the other eight that the conference is still committed to football, and its opens the Philadelphia cable market to this possible cable TV endeavor. Secondarily, it tips the balance of power to the so-called "football schools" in confernece legislation, assiming they would vote as a bloc.

What does this mean for the conference realignment grist mill? It reinforces the expectation that the Big East will still be moving towards the number of 12 for a conference playoff. It also tells people that if the football schools decide to go on its own and take the TV money with them, Villanova gets a seat on the big bus, and schools like Georgetown are in the rear view mirror. A lot of georgetown people like to wave such a scenario off and tell themselves "we're Georegetown, they'd never drop us." Yet, half of the Big XII was within 48 hours of leaving for the Pac-10 this pat June and exiling a basketball power like Kansas to no conference at all. When big money talks, loyalties go right out the window. Ask our (old) friends at Boston College what loyalty means to them.

While it's no secret now that the Big East contacted Villanova, it's also no secret the Big East did not contact the remaining Big East school playing I-AA football, Georgetown. A lot of Big East fans either forget Georgetown plays football or doen't even realize it. The Big East office knows it, of course, but in the past they've tried to distance themselves from even suggesting that the conference look to Georgetown to effectuate expansion. It's presumptous to say Georgetown is not welcome in the Big East for football, but the league has no intention of encouraging it, either.

I'm neutral on the whole idea. Georgetown would be foolish not to consider it; but then again, this is a school who can't get the Multi-Sport Facility built, either. Would Georgetown as an institution be ready to recruit the kids and sign the leases to play West Virginia at FedEx Field someday? Than again, if the Big East went on its own way and Georgetown was not part of its plans, would the basketball program be in danger of deemphasis and retrenchment into the regional program it was in the 1970's?
At the very least, Georgetown needs to give fans and donors some sort of aspirational outlook for the next 10 years:
  1. Where does it want to be in 2020? In the Big East for all sports except football? With football? Somewhere else entirely? If push came to shove, will it do whatever it has to to maintain its Big East membership; and, will the donors be expected to do likewise? If GU is not to commit any more than it has to, what is the next era of Georgetown Athletics going to look like?
  2. Where does it want football to be in 2020? Is there a roadmap for reaching competitive parity within the Patriot League, or does it need to look elsewhere?
  3. At least ten Georgetown teams compete with no facilities of its own whatsoever. What is the long range plan for these teams?
  4. At present trends, the cost of attendance at Georgetown will approach or exceed $80,000 in 2020. Can Georgetown afford to maintain athletic scholarship support with nearly 800 student-athletes in its care? If so, where are the revenue sources to support it?
  5. What is the short-term and long-term impact if the Multi-Sport Facility and Athletic Training Facility are not built in the next three years?
By 2020, of course, many of these decisions may be out of Georgetown's hands. Whatever the outcome, at least Villanova's decision is still within theirs.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Week 2 Thoughts

Some quick thoughts following Saturday's 28-24 win over Lafayette:

1. What's That Sound? That sound, ever slight, is a buzz, as in some people are beginning to talk about a 2-0 team that some may not have expected to win more than one game by November. (Suddenly that five win challenge on this blog doesn't look so bad, does it?)

Saturday's win over the Leopards wasn't some sort of fluke at the end of the game but a solid team effort, made possible by an effective third quarter that allowed Georgetown to play the stretch ahead of the scoreboard, not behind it. A lot of twists and turns, sure, but the Hoyas got a lead and they held it. That's a great learning experience for a team that frankly hasn't had many opportunities to do so of late...or anytime in the last decade.

And some deserved buzz about QB Scott Darby. Darby didn't throw for 340 yards, but he kept things moving and didn't make mistakes. Nothing wrong with that at all.

But, let's not dwell too much on the week past but talk about a Yale team that has something to prove. The Bulldogs have had their way with Georgetown in three previous meetings, not the least of which was a 47-7 drubbing in the Hoyas' only appearance at the Yale Bowl to date, but have higher expectations to make a serious run at the Ivy crown, something they have been a step or two short of late. Losing to Georgetown would still be considered a huge setback for the Elis.

Georgetown hasn't defeated an Ivy team since 2003, which is the last time they beat Lafayette, too. This was going to be the toughest non-conference game for GU with or without the Lafayette win, but it's nice to have people talking about what Georgetown can do, not simply if they can.

2. What You're Not Hearing: Has someone told the Washington Post Georgetown dropped to Division III or something? Georgetown's score in Sunday's Post was grouped alongside Division III Catholic University's win over the Apprentice School (that's not Donald Trump's new team, but a junior college/trade school for shipbuilders). Below the CUA score, Division III Gallaudet's win over a club team, the "Williamson Free Trade School".

Maybe it's asking too much to send Kathy Orton to Easton, PA for a game (she covered the Howard game with Hampton instead) but can't the Post call up The HOYA and drop $50 with a stringer (that's old journalism-speak for a free lance writer)? If someone from The HOYA won't be in New Haven, I'm sure the Yale Daily News answers calls, too.

The only way a newspaper can (and should) cover a local team is to get a writer's perspective, not a wire service account. Absent a full-time beat writer (a dinosaur career if there was one), use the resources that are already out there. (By contrast, the Lafayette media coverage of the game was top-notch. Georgetown could learn from it.)

You're also not hearing much from the Gridiron Club and Hoyas Unlimited. Any news from this game for those who weren't tied to a PC over the weekend?

Win or lose this Saturday, Georgetown will enter Homecoming Week with a winning record for the first time since the second Clinton administration (1999). Let's get an e-mail out, some quotes from the team and coaches, post some video on Facebook, and remind alumni in general (and football alumni in specifc) that this is a Homecoming Game worth seeing.

Here's an example of video highlights from Temple University--how could you not be excited to see a big win in a two minute span?

3. Areas For Improvement: Let's be frank--allowing 500 yards and winning a game is a sufficient rarity that Georgetown can't expect to win any more games like that in 2010. But when an opposing QB throws 20 straight completions, he's getting far too much time from the Hoyas' 4-3 defense.

Back in New Haven, Yale QB Patrick Witt was 7 for 9 in a 50-0 rout of Div. III Union in Yale's pre-season scrimmage, which was stopped after only three quarters. The Bulldogs can throw the ball--two years ago at the Yale Bowl, Yale QB's were 24-34 for 361 yards against GU, and were sacked just once. Pass defense is a legitimate area for concern in this upcoming game.

Offensively, the rushing game was contained by Lafayette, and Yale will attempt to do likewise: Georgetown has gained 69 yards combined in the last two games versus Yale. The offensive line is playing well of late, but more rushing yards makes Darby's job in the pocket much easier and it's a competitive necessity.

4. Time of possession: A complete anomaly versus Lafayette. Last season versus Yale: 24:21. This week needs a lot more than that.

5. Good Seats Available: If you've never been to the Yale Bowl, it's worth a trip. How about some New York alumni to make the 80 mile trip up I-95 or along the rail line? The team could use the extra support.

Around The Patriot League: north of Pennsylvania, at least, a grim week.

•Villanova 35, Lehigh 0: Three first half turnovers and Lehigh never recovers.
•Furman 45, Colgate 15: Paladins put up 536 yards on a otherwise solid Colgate defense.
•Massachusetts 31, Holy Cross 7: Another defensive mismatch: UMass drops 525 yards on the Crusaders.
•Fordham 31, Rhode Island 27: Rams had to rally late to avoid an 0-2 start.
•Marist 14, Bucknell 3: (Ugh.) Bison have not scored an offensive touchdown this season entering a three game stretch versus the Ivy League.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Declaration of Independents

Guess who got an invitation to Big East football? Guess who didn't? Yeah, that's for next week....

Much has been made in this column over the past two years on the potential schism in the Patriot League over merit-based scholarships. Last week's article in the Georgetown Voice provided some interesting quotes - and an interesting conclusion -- that may also end up being part of the conversation.

"Fordham’s move has forced the Patriot League’s hand," wrote The Voice's Tim Shine. "Without Fordham, the league would only have six members, the minimum number required for an automatic berth in the FCS playoffs. It would only take one more team making a similar move to seriously jeopardize the future of Patriot League football."

"The Patriot League would not necessarily commit to such a large scholarship program, but if its fellow members choose to move toward merit aid, Georgetown would have to make a decision: to seriously increase its commitment to football, or possibly look to play football elsewhere."

It's that last statment, a concept largely ignored by fans and coaches that talk about the issue, that ought to get people thinking. There is consensus Georgetown is not competitive in the current PL setup, and similar consensus that it will not be competitive if the other schools move to full scholarships and Georgetown does not. Does Georgetown have other options, and what are they?

Sure, it could upgrade to full scholarship football, albeit unlikely. It could join the Big East for football, similarly unlikely. It could seek membership in one of the two other Eastern football conferences in I-AA, one with limited scholarships (NEC), the other of which has a large NO VACANCY sign in front of its Ivy covered walls. It could aso downgrade to the far-flung Pioneer League, of no particular interest to anyone at the Hilltop.

And then there's the move made by Brigham Young University, quite another option.

BYU the 1984 national champion and founding member of both the Western Athletic Conference (and its progeny, the Mountain West Conference) has declared itself a football independent, moving its non-football sports to the West Coast Conference. It becomes one of only four schools in Division I-A not part of a conference setup. Um...why?

BYU's situation in the Mountain West was far removed from the Patriot League's current woes--its teams are fully funded, well supported, and on the cusp of the money train that a BCS-level bowl appearance would bring. The situation in the Mountain West was over a television contract that limited BYU's reach as an aspiring national university. This is a concept lost on many Easterners, but BYU's place among the growing LDS community nationwide is not unlike that of Notre Dame a generation ago in Catholic circles.

A former BYU player, Michael Andrew, wrote on his blog that "Over the years, I have seen this 'we don't really have a choice' answer being played over and over and over, from TV rights, to splitting revenue, to whom BYU played, they never had a choice. The MWC never seemed to want to budge or accommodate BYU on some of these issues, despite being one of the better teams in the league. BYU had to ask itself '…what in the heck are we doing here? This isn't going anywhere.'"

Mr. Andrew attributes the move to, in order of importance: money, freedom, and national exposure. BYU is expected to see its TV revenue increase by as much as $10 million a year as an independent, and has just announced a 10 year deal with ESPN to show up to six BYU games a year on the Worldwide Leader's family of networks, with the other six broadcast on BYU's own satellite TV network.

BYU's decision, on its face has remarkably little in common with the troubles of the Patriot League. Another Division I independent, Army, may be closer to the point. For West Point, it was never about money or TV. The Cadets, coming off a 10-2 season in 1996, joined Conference USA for football in the 1998 season but left after just six seasons in order to pursue "scheduling flexibility"; unsaid was that a 13-67 record (9-37 in C-USA) was a more likely cause, with a low point reached in 2003 with a record-setting 0-13 season.

The fact of the matter was that Army maintained recruiting and funding procedures at distinct odds with other conference teams. When five Conference USA members left to join the Big East in 2004, Army gave notice as well, and C-USA continues on today, neither the worse for wear. It could make the change because only football was at play, with all of Army's other sports safely tucked inside the Patriot League.

At some point, Georgetown may have to ask the same question: What in the heck are we doing here? This isn't going anywhere. It needs options to consider before it is shown the door.

If Georgetown's football future lies outside the PL, it needs to examing pros and cons associated with it, and soon:

1. Ability to build a program as it sees fit. A full scholarship PL (or anything close to it) dooms Georgetown to being indefinitely noncompetitive unless it matches a $3-4 million investment annually, plus comparable women's spending--something GU seems institutionally ill-prepared to do. If a future GU wants 10 football scholarships, 30, or none at all, the degree to which a conference establishes (or mandates) scholarship limits is a vital consideration. It would also entail crafting a schedule of like-minded, more competitive opponents.

2. Ability to recruit as it sees fit. From the Voice article: "[Coach] Kelly and his staff are beholden to an academic index, which demands certain academic qualifications from his recruits. Kelly said Georgetown’s standards exceed the rest of the Patriot League, leaving him in a sort of recruiting no man’s land. Georgetown finds itself pinched between the rest of the Patriot League, who can accept athletes with weaker academic profiles, and the Ivy League teams, who can offer greater prestige and often better need-based financial aid. The margin for error in recruiting is miniscule." The PL seems unlikely to drop the Ivy-friendly Academic Index; it exists in no other I-AA conference outside these two. A differnet conference opens doors in recruiting the PL does not allow--if Georgetown wants to continue recruiting only kids with a 1300+ SAT in another conference, it's their right; conversely, it it wants to offer a "reach" to a talented prospect below this score like it does every year in track or basketball, it's the school's call, not the league's.

3. Ability to remake its own identity. Playing in the Patriot League only gets you so far if you finish last every single season. The opportunity, as well as the challenge of another playoff-eligible conference or even with independent status, is to make Georgetown relevant regionally and nationally by staying visible. In one sense, a change could provide a means of repositioning its program in ways the current setup does not provide. And, at this point, do Georgetown students and alumni really care what league it is in, so long as the record improves?

1. Visibility. If the Patriot League provides visibility in college circles, the other realistic options provide even less. Extending that argument to independent status is even more risky. The independents in Division I-A (Notre Dame, Army, Navy, and now BYU) can prosper because they are essentially national institutions, with a national following, and they have the name recognition to schedule games in November while the rest of the subdivision is deep into conference play. By contrast, the  Division I-AA independents (Bryant, Old Dominion, Savannah State, Georgia State, Lamar) are short-timers waiting for imminent conference moves within the next two years, and none will make the playoffs until they get to an autobid conference. Can a single Division I-AA independent school craft a decent schedule and stay on the radar screen with recruits? Can Georgetown ever be a "national" program without a conference structure?

2. Costs of competition. Unless the MAAC comes back, there really isn't a long term option that would not entail additional spending to be competitive, including the Pioneer League, where packaged financial aid is traded for travel to everywhere from San Diego to Jacksonville, with Marist becoming its closest "rival" program. Georgetown's current level of spending, poor by Patriot standards, would be in the bottom half of the Northeast and the middle of the Ivy (but wait, there's that NO VACANCY sign...). If Georgetown wants to play in any other conference, it has to make strategic decisions on what it is willing to pay for the privilege of doing so.

3. Identity. Of Georgetown's 26 sports with a NCAA structure (excepting men's rowing, women's rowing, and sailing), all of them play in a conference and all but football compete in the Big East. Does a change in conference structure maintain or improve its identity, and if not, does it imperil its long term future at Georgetown? Granted, conference membership is no guarantee of a school's long term commitment to football (see Hofstra and Northeastern) but with a conference comes an implied commitment by the school and the league.

Or would that commitment be the same for an independent? Georgetown competed in Division III as an independent for over 20 years, but there were also over 100 other schools similarly situated. As an army of one (no pun intended), the landscape would be markedly different.

It bears repeating: I'm not arguing for a change, but it needs to be an option. The Patriot League is a safe harbor for the program, it is a good fit academically, and, aside from the win-loss record, it allows Georgetown to comfortably associate with like-minded institutions. The problem with the harbor is that Georetown is a frigate among battleships, and scholarships adds an arms race unforseen in the creation of the League in 1986 by schools who committed to a non-scholarship model. How many will recommit to this standard by this December? How many schools see Georgetown as partner for the future, or just an impediment?

Every school is going to walk into that meeting to deal in the best interests of the league, but not at the expense of its own program. Georgetown should think (and prepare) likewise.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Week 1 Thoughts

Some quick thoughts following Saturday's 20-10 win over Davidson:

1. Good win; let's move on. Playing Davidson in the opener was something Georgetown needed--namely, a win. But the season isn't going to be measured on a win in September against a Pioneer League team, but how the Hoyas compare and compete against teams in the Patriot League. There are things to be learned from Saturday's game, but a better test arrives Saturday in Easton, PA and that's a game to pay attention to.

2. Rushing Defense: A great effort by the Georgetown defense on the lines kept Davidson from the kind of ground game it needs to succeed. Only two first half drives by the Wildcats went beyond four plays and only one drive went more than 46 yards all evening. Rushing defense helped the Hoyas get the ball back and, for the most part, earn an edge in field position.

3. Rushing Offense: The Georgetown ground game did its part (44 carries, 166 yards) but certainly needs to step it up against a more defensively minded team such as Lafayette. Philip Oladeji had a solid opener but it's likely that Lafayette will key on him in the backfield, and Georgetown absolutely needs Wilburn Logan to be a viable option in misdirection and screen pass options. QB Scott Darby (17-58) can run if needs to, but the emphasis needs to be on the backs themselves and not to the merciless quarterback keepers that shot the wheels off this offense in past seasons.

A name you don't see in the rushing charts? Keerome Lawrence. Slot backs don't get a lot of carries by design but I think he can be a legitimate option in some play sets.

4. Time of possession: When GU owns time of posession, they can win games, plain and simple. Saturday's number:  a + 3:02 in time of possession.

5. Atmosphere: No one will confuse Davidson with Applalachian State but the college did a fine job in promoting the game to fans and providing pre-game activities. The result? A crowd of 4,733 at Richardson Stadium, almsot 1,000 more than its season average from 2009.

The school introduced a tailgate area and welcomed a local band to play before games--simple but not insignificant ways to show students and the community that this is an event worth attending. Contrast that with Georgetown, where, other than Homecoming,  the extent of promotions is flyers in the Leavey Center send a clear message to students and visitors: this is not an event at Georgetown, something to merely walk by while visiting campus. Georgetown has to do a better job with gameday promotions and this is something Hoyas Unlimited is not taking the initiative towards getting done. Yes, I know Hoyas Unlimited is short-staffed and Georgetown will always plead poverty on events that are revenue-neutral, but we've got to aim higher.

Here's a view of the game as seen from Davidson on the game--yes, the highlights are all for the home team but why can't Georgetown put a package like this together and e-mail it out to alumni every Monday?

Around The Patriot League:
Finally, Georgetown was the only PL team in action last week without at least one name on the conference's weekly honor roll. (The more things change...)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Five In '10

There are plenty of occasions for this column to take a deep, serious analysis at a game, or a budget, or the state of the Patriot League. This isn't one of those columns.

Instead, with the 2010 season upon us, it's worth speaking as a fan and to feel what a lot of Georgetown fans haven't done for quite some time: hopeful.

It seems just a few short years ago (it was nine) when a sold out crowd at windswept Kehoe Field welcomed the Lehigh Engineers to town in Georgetown's PL debut. Georgetown was held to 31 yards on 29 carries, trailed 24-0 early, and lost 41-14. No matter. More than a few of us thought that with the right recruits, Georgetown was on its way within a year or two. Bob Benson cautioned otherwise, but even he had to feel that the corner could be turned--if not, he would have left for the Ivies (as was rumored) rather than hanging around.

So, it's 2010--the Hoyas are coming off an 0-11 season, with three PL wins in nine seasons to teams not named "Bucknell", and Bob Benson will not be in the Ivy League, but on a bus trip this weekend to Rapid City, South Dakota as the varsity football program of the Colorado School of Mines opens against the South Dakota School of Mines--a game where "what rocks" takes on a whole other meaning.

If the 2000's proved to be a deflating decade for Hoya football, the 2010's offer new beginnings. And for a lot of people, let's hope so. here are five I'm rooting for this season:

1. Kevin Kelly. Sure, the record is bad, and the 2009 Hoyas were less than competitive in all but two games last season. Remember Richmond?
"On Georgetown's first play of the game, Charlie Houghton fumbled at the GU 25, converted [by UR] in a seven play drive, 7-0. On Georgetown's second possession, Scott Darby was picked off at the GU 40, with a leisurely 12 play drive extending the lead to 14-0. On its third series, Keerome Lawrence fumbled at the GU 29 and Georgetown coach Kevin Kelly was cited with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and the Spiders were up 21-0 with 1:26 in the 1st quarter."
As the New Orleans Times-Picayune notes this week about Tulane and its coach Bob Toledo (9-27), sometimes the issues are bigger than the coach.
"We don’t attract a lot of people," Toledo said. "We need to attract fans, so we have to do everything we can to try to attract people to come to our football games. Hopefully, this will give us an opportunity to get them to come out, and then play well enough that they’ll want to come back."

Simply playing well won’t do it. The truth is that we’ve seen Tulane play well and valiantly, have seen it push better teams to the limit for a half or a game before opposing talent and depth takes over. What we haven’t seen enough of is wins, and that’s the lone measure of success.

Yes, Green Wave fans, it’s wonderful that Tulane graduates its student-athletes at an admirable rate. Absolutely, it’s better that many of those student-athletes don’t generate a whiff of bad publicity while they’re on campus, and that after they graduate, they go on to become productive citizens. But they don’t post that on the scoreboard...So the bottom line is the same: We need to see some wins."
You've got to root for Kelly and his staff to succeed--by all accounts, they have the support of the players and the parents. But if Georgetown turns in another poor season, he's not going to earn the support of new athletic director Lee Reed, who is under a mandate to fix the program.

2. The parents. These are men and women who have supported their sons for years, as they grew from pee-wee football to All-County and All-State football players. It's never easy to see their kids beaten down every week on the field.

But let's give Georgetown parents some credit: they're always there--setting up tailgates that the University otherwise pleads poverty with, driving from places like Ohio and Rhode Island, or flying in from Georgia and Texas, to show their kids support and their love. Many support the program financially over and above the tuition check, and help support the future of the program that their kids won't even be a part of in a few years.  Like their sons, they've seen enough of the losses. They could use a cheer at the end of a game, too.

3. Keerome Lawrence. Every couple of years there is a player that keeps getting moved around the lineup and doesn't give up, but pulls it together for the team as a whole. Kyle Van Fleet was a player like that. So is Keerome Lawrence--he''s been a quarterback, a slot back, a receiver. Most of all, he's been someone is capable of making a big difference in a game. Now, as a senior, it's his turn to be a leader on offense--if not as a play caller, but as someone who can make the play when it is most needed--a sweep on 3rd and 5, a pass play over the middle, a key block on 4th and 1. Like his fellow seniors, Lawrence has seen one win in three seasons outside the Beltway, and certainly not in his home town of New Haven, where the Hoyas got knocked around pretty good two years ago on a sunny afternoon at the Yale Bowl. No guarantees this time around, but for his sake, I'd like to see the senior from Hillhouse HS have a day to remember this year at the Bowl.

4. The freshmen. No team can long survive without them, for they're the future of the program. And too often of late, many of the youngest of the Hoyas lose hope as well as heart, and do not make a four year commitment to football. It would be callous to say that once they're admitted, football doesn't have the same priority as students, it's always something more than that. A lot of freshmen won't see the field this year, and guess what? That's OK. But the class of 2014 needs to commit not to 11 games, but to 44, to be there as a team, as a class, in the autumn of 2013 and know that their commitment helped turn a proud program back in the right direction.

This is the largest class of football freshmen in over 15 years, and it's a certainty that not all 33 will be playing as seniors. But the time to commit is not at the end of a season, but at the beginning--to make the sacrifices and endure the struggles that await them, and to build a program, together.

Too many kids came and went through this program in 2007, 2008 and 2009--they graduated, but they never turned the page for the program. For the class of '14, this is your opportunity.

5. A benefactor. This is the year to root for a special kind of donor, the man or woman who finally looks in the mirror and is ready to commit to a transformative gift to Georgetown Athletics in the name of the Multi-Sport facility. A decade of near-misses and "he's just not ready to give" stories have made the MSF a visible symbol of the state of the program.

How can we expect the next great recruit to commit to a school that can't even commit to a bare-bones facility to its students? Every one of these kids on the team played in a better facility than the MSF. Every one of them had better training facilities. Many played before larger crowds and marching bands and venues that would make Georgetown look like a junior college.

Georgetown can't print money. It's beholden on a benefactor to put the paddles on the project and bring it back to life. That doesn't have to be Ted Leonsis (he's got two teams and an arena to manage) or even Frank McCourt (who has some pressing issues of his own right now). But there is an individual..or two, or five, or ten that needs to make a commitment not just for a tax deduction or a name on a building, but for a generation of kids that will benefit greatly from their faith in what Georgetown stands for.And soon.

Names like Palmer and Baker and Schoelkopf did more than build stadiums for the Ivy League, they created a legacy and a legend for their universities to build upon. I don't know the name of that Georgetown alumnus, parent, or friend of the school, but I'm rooting for them to step forward, elude the wayward development officer that would steer them elsewhere, and take (and make) a stand. Preferably, an eight figured one.

And as for the season? The schedule begs for a hope for more than one or two wins. There is no Richmond or Old Dominion or even Howard to hang the excuse of "well, they're a schoalrship team, you know" on a sullen record.This team has the opportunity to win five games in 2010...and once you've just spit up that beverage that you were tasting while reading this column, a very brief explanation:

Georgetown "should" be competitive and/or favorable (notice, I did not say "favored") in four of its five non-conference games: Davidson, Yale, Wagner, Sacred Heart, and Marist. Three or four wins out of this group should be more than a goal but a expectation. If you can't beat Sacred Heart or Marist at home, you can't expect to make any progress. We'll all find out soon enough on Davidson, but Wagner is not far removed from the Wildcats and I think that's winnable as well. Yale? Well, given that GU has lost 10 straight to the Ancient Eight, it's no gimme, but even a close game would send a message that maybe, just maybe, this team isn't the sunken log it's been this last decade.

In the Patriot, I'd like to think that one or two games out there are winnable, but I'm at a loss to tell you which one.

  • Lafayette? A tough order, but it's the Leopards' home opener and shaking off the rust is never easy.
  • Holy Cross? It's Homecoming, and Georgetown hasn't lost three consecutive Homecoming games before, and a home win would be a great treat to the returning alumni.
  • Colgate? Ummm, probably not.
  • Bucknell? Why not shoot for a win on Parent's Weekend?
  • Lehigh? Either Lehigh is going to be very good in November or be facing a lot of issues. Either way, it's a longshot.

(Fordham isn't in the conference standings, and the last Georgetown win on Jack Coffey Field was back when Rev. Robert Henle S.J. was Georgetown president and Jack DeGioia was a freshman cornerback. Add 15 Fordham scholarships to the 2010 mix and, well, you take your chances.)

Five wins in 2010 for an 0-11 team in 2009 may seem unreachable, but the schedule Georgetown has certainly gives it opportunities to make a run for it, which, in the end, is all we can ask for. For the coach, the parents, the seniors, the freshmen, the benefactor to be named later, and the rest of us, let's make it a good one.

And yes, we need to see some wins.