Thursday, April 14, 2011

Nothing To See Here

It's been awhile since there was much to talk about on the blog, but there hasn't been much on the front burner of football to awake from hibernation (or basketball season, whichever applies). I had planned to talk this week about Villanova's big decision whether or not to join the Big East, but the Big East (read= Pitt) is making things a little more difficuly on the Main Line, essentially telling the Wildcats that an 18,000 seat soccer stadium isn't good enough for them. Some of the ACC media wags in Boston suggest this is the first step towards kicking all the non-IA schools out of the Big East. (Don't think so.)

As Georgetown goes, when it's the off-season, it's really the off-season. Recruits won't be announced until May (whatever rules apply which do not allow GU football to announce recruits doesn't apply at the five other PL schools which have already posted theirs). As far as we know all the coaches are back for 2011, and if there are transfers or attrition from the 2010 season, it may take a while to know more about it.

The 2012 schedule was announced earlier this year, adding the first meeting with Princeton since 1923, and a return series with Brown. The Hoyas travel to Old Nassau on Sept. 28, 2012. (Red Line to Union Station, Amtrak to Princeton Junction, one stop on the famous "Dinky" line, and you're right there.) For 2011, only four home games but a road game at Howard keeps one close.

If it's been quiet off the field, it's been quiet on the field as well.

Unlike the interest that predominates I-A spring football and finds its way to I-AA teams as well, Georgetown wraps up its spring practice with nary an article written on it. A brief blurb at noted that sQB Scott Darby threw a touchdown pass and three interceptions last week, but without further clarification of how the scrimmage was set up, it's impossible to determine what that means. If you're looking for a spring roster, stop looking: GU did not release one.

Kevin Kelly's degree in college wasn't marketing, but you have to think he would like to promote this program better than what has shown to the public these last five years. Outside of an interview with Bernard in the New York Times in 2007, there may not be five articles in the off-campus press about Georgetown Football. That Kelly and his staff is back for a sixth year after dropping six of its final seven games may be enough for now; like some other smaller sports, staying off the campus radar may have its advantages when the win-loss record isn't there.

We are also not hearing from Georgetown on either of the two pressing issues circling the program: funding and facilities.

The avoidance approach by the Patriot League presidents to the "fight or flight" posed by Fordham will continue through 2012, whereupon the Rams will have signed 60 on full scholarship athletes and the rest of the league will not. One of three outcomes await:
  1. The league will deny Fordham's plan for scholarships, and the Rams will leave the league after 2012.
  2. The league will accept Fordham's plan for schoalrships, a mad dash to match Fordham's 60 grants ensue, whereupon Georgetown is left far, far behind or eventually asked to leave; or
  3. The league will stall again, and Fordham will leave anyway.
Georgetown is not in the driver's seat on this matter but it wouldn't hurt to check out its safety belt. Does Georgetown need to start soliciting funds for schoalrship support, however one defines it? Should it be up front and let everyone know it won't play scholarship football even if the rest of the PL does? With new leadership at the Gridiron Club (Bruce Simmons '69), there are a lot of opportunities to energize the base.  And that's important--with materially less to offer than every other PL school, when does Georgetown University start the process of stepping up its financial support, whether to be a truly competitive PL program in a scholarship scenario, or finding a soft landing elsewhere if the league becomes untenable?

The time to act is not in 2013. It starts in 2011.

Of similar and growing concern--heard much of late about the Multi-Sport Facility, "the most important project in the history of Georgetown Athletics"? Me neither.

On the front page of the football site, a clock ticks away the days since construction was stopped on the Field With No Name--as of this writing, 2,035 days and counting. Those temporary stands hastily constructed before the home opener in 2005 weren't put up to withstand the tests of time, and a FieldTurf surface meant to withstand 10 seasons of football games is approaching some real maintenance concerns with 12-16 hours of usage a day among various teams.

The fundraising model that started with this project is broke. The efforts to focus on a name donor before any movement forward isn't there, either. Further complicating the situation is the idea of timing--Georgetown cannot seem to do more than one construction project at a time, which put the MSF behind the Southwest Quad...then the business school...then the science building...and soon, the inertia for building the Athletic Training Facility (ATF), delayed now for 4+ years, will soon overtake the MSF as the top project for Athletics. Meanwhile, the gravel will wash away, the field will wear out, and recruits will find other places to go.

If the decision comes down to building the ATF or the MSF, well, no question. But with technology in the area of modular stadiums, a concept at its infancy when the MSF make-do began, maybe there's a middle ground between doing nothing and waiting for Godot.

A modular stadium is a means to construct a facility which is not intended to be a permanent facility, but has all the acoutrements of a permanent facility but without the foundations and the building materials that would add to the cost. Modular building is the new buzzword in soccer circles, particularly for countries bidding on world events. Rather than spend billions on dozens of World Cup facilities, build what you need and keep only that which you want to keep after the event.

In theory, the temporary grandstands at MSF were a crude form of a modular stadium. "Georgetown had the idea in motion to build a multi purpose stadium on campus and initially thought that their need would be for a two season rental of our Ultimate seating," wrote the 2006 press release at "When the larger project stalled, the University then purchased the Ultimate bench seating system... and the three press boxes with the intent to move the entire modular system to various sports fields on campus once the new stadium is built."

But the technology is so much more developed than 2005. So it was with some interest that I read about the efforts un Vancouver, BC to solve a real problem with facilities.

In 2010-11, Vancouver will be converting its downtown domed stadium, BC Place, from a inflatable roof to a retractable one, which moved the Lions (CFL) and the Whitecaps (MLS) out of the building for a season. With no good options anywhere nearby to handle such crowds, an RFP was posted for what they were looking for:

"Pavco, the crown corporation responsible for BC Place, is seeking proposals for the construction of temporary grandstands to facilitate the formation of a stadium suitable for the playing of Canadian football or soccer. Specific requirements are:
- Capacity of 30,000 to 32,000 with at least 75% of the seats covered
- Individual and seating preferred (to at least 85% of capacity)
- Other facilities required include:
- 24 private boxes
- Media facilities (press box)
- Broadcast boxes"

The winning bid was a European company called Nussli AG, and I'll share three amazing numbers from their bid:
  • Capacity: 27,500 seats
  • Cost: $14.5 million
  • Construction time: 111 days
OK, it's not BC Place, but it's not a half-bleacher across from Harbin Hall, either. Take a look at the photos below (courtesy the Nussli site) and ask yourself: do we wait another 10 years for the MSF, or get something in the ground sooner? If $14.5 million bought all this, what would a 7,500 or 10,000 seat facility cost?

And what's a 111 day construction schedule? To meet a September 1 deadline, it would have to start by what, May 13? Amazing.

"The temporary stadium matches the quality of a permanently built stadium in many respects," reads the Nussli web site. "In time for the BC Lions to host their first home game of the 2010 CFL season, Nussli has concluded construction of the Empire Fields temporary football and soccer stadium in only three month[s] time. Capacity is 27,500 seats, including two roofed main grandstands and twelve VIP suites. 20,500 seats have been equipped with seat shells, 7,000 with bench seating for the balance. The Nussli contract also included responsibility for supplying complete power supply systems, flood and area lighting, stadium and emergency lighting, the sound system, and the construction of a VIP zone with turnkey suites, media and press rooms, as well as the installation of external cladding...The timeframe for construction of this stadium is unprecedented in the history of modular construction in North America."

Ok, It's a discussion starter, nothing more. But if the MSF falls behind yet another project (or two), someone is going to ask the question, "What's the point?" We can't let it come to that.

So if there's not much to see in Hilltop Football this time of year, know that there is still plenty to do. This is the challenge that faces Bruce Simmons and the Gridiron Club, and I look forward to their efforts.