Tuesday, July 26, 2011

And Then There Were None

Note: The final installment of the "Investing In Football" series follows Thursday; this article speaks to the July 25 announcement of an All-Patriot League team in conjunction with the league's 25th anniversary.

As the Patriot League continues to march towards an uncomfortable obsolescence, the league took time this week to remember better days, saluting the schools and the players that have contributed to the league over the past quarter century. In the results of this “vote”, the League is saying a lot about where it is, and ultimately where it is going.

A vote of the seven member schools was held, at least according to the press release to the press corps of the PL, otherwise known as the Allentown Morning Call and the Easton Express-Times. The league announced that "a select group of players spanning four decades and seven different schools have been honored as the best of the best in Patriot League Football history." The link to the 25th Anniversary All-Patriot League Team is linked here.

Except it wasn’t the seven schools you thought. Or the players.

In it selections, which skew to players who were selected to a similar team ten years ago (17 of the 25 selections played prior to 2000) a number of omissions follow. The great Holy Cross teams of the late 1980’s, who ranked #1 in the Division I-AA polls and squashed most of their PL contemporaries in the transition away from scholarship play, received only three selections and no others since. Would (or should) a Colgate team that advanced to the 2003 I-AA national championship have zero representation on a All-PL team whatsoever, or were there just too many from Colgate already counted? Jamaal Branch won the Walter Payton Award but there’s no room for him on a list like this? Granted, every school has a claim to one or more of those selections, right?

Well, not every school.

For, in its enduring wisdom, the Patriot League leadership opted to recognize every member school in this award except one, Georgetown, failing to place even one GU player of the last ten years on the list, and going so far as to add a selection from the expats at Towson.  And while it can be argued that the best 25 PL players of all time may not include anyone from Georgetown, are these really the best of the best, or a subjective award that blends accomplishment with the current politics of the member schools? 

Rarely do award votes go so clean as to offend no one, but such was (mostly) the outcome of this vote, with presumed league leaders Colgate and Lehigh having 13 selections between them, with Holy Cross, Fordham, Lafayette, and Bucknell all earning three each.

"Three shalt be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three.  Four shalt thou not count, nor either count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three.  Five is right out." Or something like that.

While Georgetown’s teams have admittedly not made their mark on 15 years of the PL's record books (as if Towson did, but that’s another story), ignoring the contributions of student-athletes like Luke McArdle, Michael Ononibaku, and Alex Buzbee, seems a lost opportunity. Not all three were going to be included because, hey, that’s politics. But not one?

Let’s remember some of the highlights of Ononibaku. Honorable mention All-America, scholar-athlete, two time all-PL, leading the league in sacks and ranked nationally in tackles for loss, arguably the best defender at Georgetown in a generation. Sized as a linebacker, he played defensive line because head coach Bob Benson needed him to, and Ononibaku's smarts and quickness changed the way opponents had to play the Hoyas as a result. Yet,because he played at Georgetown, hindsight means no big deal to the league's voters, few of which probably ever saw him play.

As to the snub, how should Georgetown respond? It would be s story to see Kevin Kelly and Ryan Sakamoto walk into the PL media day next week, sign their names to a blank slate of the pre-season poll, and turn it in, leaving the PL leadership to awkwardly explain why the numbers aren’t adding up this year. That wouldn’t be good sportsmanship, of course, and it also wouldn’t be Georgetown. Instead, there's not a single mention of the 25th anniversary team news release at GUHoyas.com this week, while it’s cited at every other PL football program's web site. Good for them.

Increasingly, the Patriot League is acting less a conference and more of a confederation, seeking not to offend anyone while stalling out as a result. Fordham is out the door next year, and no one wants to say otherwise. At least one other PL school wants full scholarships, but no one wants to come out and say so. A vote for full scholarships for everyone splits the league, a vote against scholarships might split the league, and a vote to do nothing (as it did in December) only extends the timeline, but doesn’t change the outcome. The PL needs a league that is working together for the future, not moving apart, and ignoring one member altogether in simple recognition events like this seems an unnecessary and petty oversight.

As for the members of the 25th anniversary team, congratulations. But without a hard look at where this league is headed in the next decade, there probably won’t be a 35th anniversary team in years to come. To that end, coming next week at this blog: ten ways to fix the Patriot League...none of which involve lists like this.