Monday, September 26, 2011

Another Day At The MSF

“Rumors abound that Harbin Field will eventually be turned into a real stadium, to be used by such teams as soccer, football and lacrosse. If this is the case, it will be a major boost for campus ... The university should do all that it can to provide better accommodations; after all, having sports on campus for all to enjoy follows the Jesuit ideal of educating the whole person - mind and body. We already have the teams ... now let's live up to our reputation and give them the facilities they deserve."—The HOYA, 2000

Day 2,200 for Phase 2 of the Multi-Sport Field (nee Facility) was much like the previous 2,199: nothing to see here.

For those who have forgotten (and there are too many), “the most significant project in the history of Georgetown Athletics” sits idly by, waiting for one of its various designs (there have been at least six, perhaps more) to rise from the sand and gravel that was laid down on a temporary basis in 2005 to accommodate the home season while construction would begin soon thereafter.

Except it didn’t.

It was to wait for the Southwest Quadrangle to be built. And it waits.

It was to wait for the Davis Arts Center to be finished. And it waits.

It was to be built in conjunction with the Hariri Business Building to be completed. And it waits.

It would surely be completed before the Science Building, right? And it waits.

Now, the 11-year project could be moved further back in the line as plans for a basketball training facility, the Intercollegiate Athletics Center, have come to the forefront. No one denies the need and the urgency for that project, not just for basketball but for all Georgetown sports, but now is not the time to put away the MSF plans for another five years and wait for the next capital project to come along and push it aside again. And frankly, it’s time for football and lacrosse supporters to speak up.

When proposed in 2000, the MSF (yet another utilitarian name for a campus that still has a 30 year temporary title for Village A) was priced at $22 million, not an insubstantial sum for what was a 4,600 seat field. (By contrast, Stony Brook got an 8,000 seat, $22 million stadium that looked like this ).

What Georgetown was really getting with the MSF was the ability to move offices out of McDonough in the absence of a training facility at the time, and when the price increased, more functionality was envisioned, from skyboxes to locker rooms.

In 2004, a number of factors intervened. Public fundraising stopped on the project, with reports of up to $12 million raised. A field was approved by the board of directors, but running electrical and plumbing lines to the business school took priority. Forty yards of fence was added with only half the 4,600 seat total in rented, temporary seats for the Brown game, but that was about it. A series of lights (mostly for team and intramural practice and less for game conditions) and a low-cost replacement to years of  problems with a similarly low-tech scoreboard are the only changes to the area since the field debuted (and construction stopped) 2200 days ago on Sep. 17, 2005.

As time went on, athletic director Bernard Muir sold a phased approach to building the MSF, but made no outward progress, and left before the inaction caused any damage to his professional reputation. Dan Porterfield took over as interim director (a two month assignment that lasted over a year) and promoted a lower-cost alternative to get the project back in gear, but it too stalled. In his 17 months as athletic director, Lee Reed has not made any public statements as to its timeline.

Who or when is not important, the time has long since passed for finger pointing. The time has come to recommit to this project, without delaying or damaging the IAC fundraising, and work towards a suitable and sustainable model to build a permanent facility within the next three years—not in 2020, not in 2030. This project has been approved, zoned and vetted across the campus and community bureaucracy for years. It was variously waited for smaller donors, for larger donors, for naming donors, for design studies, for architecture reviews...only to see its core constituents, the students themselves, lose faith in the coaches and University that once told them, “By the time you are a senior you’ll be playing in a new stadium.” Nearly a quarter of the living alumni of Georgetown football have been told this. None have seen it happen.

With the IAC assuming many of the locker, training, and facilities needs originally envisioned under the MSF circa 2000, what does this project really need?

  • Permanent seating and/or standing room for 5,000, ideally within a design that is aesthetically and architecturally consistent with that part of campus.
  • A workable press box
  • A contemporary scoreboard
  • Some minimum amount of game day space for players, coaches and officials
  • Replacement turf (after six years, the ten-year lifespan of the MSF surface is likely to wear out soon given its continuous use)
  • Fencing and landscaping around the entire complex, not one side of it.
  • Permanent concession and rest room areas, a source of derision in the lacrosse community this past season:
    “I went to the G-Town/Nova game Saturday night. As we approached the stadium from the parking garage, I had in mind...posts about the lack of funding for the Georgetown program. I commented out loud that the stadium and field looked awesome, with huge buildings surrounding the stadium. Initially, I could not see any evidence to support the criticism from the Hoya alumni and fans. Then I noticed the chain link fencing, the construction gravel, the wooden ramp and the poorly constructed bleachers. I also saw tents, which I thought are probably used for the home and visiting teams. However, my biggest shock came upon observing the porta-johns. Then I began to understand and respect the frustration of the Gtown alumni. The final blow came at halftime. While the Hoyas players were playing their hearts out against my former team, I saw four of those Georgetown players in full uniform, waiting in line with me to use ......the porta-johns. I could only imagine a scenario more embarrassing for the players in the middle of a hard fought game. I, and other Nova fans simply stepped aside and allowed the players to go in front of us, as we collectively shook our heads. Loyalty to Nova does not in any way prevent support for the Georgetown lacrosse program. The Big East Lacrosse benefits when all teams are competitive. I have seen Villanova's Athletic Director and staff support the lax program and the benefits are clear. There is simply no reason the Georgetown AD should allow such an unacceptable situation to exist on its campus. It not only makes the program look bad, it makes the school look bad." –
Even with inflation, this is not a $22 million project. Saint Louis built a 6,000 seat soccer stadium for $5.1 million. Denver built a 2,000 seat lacrosse stadium for $6 million. Arlotta Stadium was build for the Notre Dame lacrosse program for for $5 million in 2008 and was completed in 15 months. If Georgetown had a copy of Arlotta Stadium, students and fans would do backflips.
It’s not enough to delay the MSF yet again because Georgetown can only build one project at a time. This would be an ideal opportunity to leverage the construction resources that will be needed at the IAC and get the MSF (ideally with a new name) up and running. Raise the money in 2012, start building by the fall of  2013, even if it means moving late season football games on the road. Move lacrosse up to North Kehoe for the spring, and open it in time for the 2014 season opener, the 50th anniversary season for modern Georgetown football. Short of joining the Big East for football, and that’s not happening, no single effort would do more to engage and energize the football and lacrosse community than a recommitment to a permanent home for these sports on the Hilltop.

Name it after a donor. Name it for Dave Urick, or Frank Rienzo, or even Al Blozis. Name it for a sponsor if they care to contribute. No matter the name, the mere presence of a facility that, as the front page reminds us, is a home, a home that befits Georgetown. No one expects Jerry World on the edge of the Southwest Quad, but a reasonable place to watch a game, to enjoy a concert, or simply to spend a relaxing spring day watching teams practice. The present eyesore accomplishes none of this, and the institutional inertia surrounding this project can only be a distraction as the IAC fundraising heats up.

If this reads like I’ve made this argument before, well, I did. Below is an excerpt from a 1998 article:

What is needed, therefore, is an adequate and expandable facility that could serve many needs--football, lacrosse, soccer, concerts, even commencement. Such a project would be a tangible commitment to maintaining green space at the Hilltop, a project that the University community could look upon with pride--just like any homeowner would. But if Georgetown builds it, will they come? First, they've got to know it's [coming].”
This is the time to recommit to a football and lacrosse facility for Georgetown University.

Week 4 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Saturday’s 52-28 win over Marist:

1. Remember, It Was Marist. Not Bucknell, not Wagner, not even Howard. It was Marist.

If Georgetown is going to continue its move up the ladder of I-AA football, it has to dominate teams like Davidson and Marist and the Hoyas met the challenge this season. The Pioneer League is a lot like the old MAAC Fotball league in philosophy and talent, and if you’re in the Patriot League, you absolutely need to win these games. In recent years, that was not always a sure thing.

The Red Foxes entered the game with a good passing game, a poor running game, and a defense that could absolutely not afford turnovers. All three factors came to fruition in Saturday’s game. Marist's passing game was strong (300+ yards), its rushing game was poor (49 yards) and turnovers buried them Any team, whether it’s Marist or LSU, can’t give up three INTs that convert to short-drive touchdowns. That Marist is now a -7 in turnover margin after four games and is 1-3 makes sense. That Georgetown is now a +7 in turnover margin after four games and is 3-1 makes sense, too

And for those wondering, Bucknell’s turnover margin is +11, among the best in the nation.

2. Another Name In The Backfield. Brandon Durham’s strong effort in the Marist game adds another option to a need for the Hoyas entering October: depth in the backfield.

After four games, its smaller backs (Logan and Claytor) have not been able to make much headway with the offensive line. Nick Campanella had a big opening game but is now a marked man in opponents’ film preparation. A fifth option in the backfield opens opportunities to build a better running game and force the defense to pay more attention up front, opening up the secondary for a number of improved receivers.

For his part, QB Scott Darby had eight carries for 50 yards—good numbers for a quarterback, and reflective of the fact that a QB can’t (or shouldn’t) lead his team in rushing. While Georgetown has options in the air, it will win or lose in 2011 based on its ability to establish a running game. Saturday's game was another step in that direction

3. Best Number After Week 4: Sacks allowed: 2. In 2009, the Hoyas allowed 37 sacks, in 2010, 25.

4. Second Best Number After Week 4: Red zone conversions for touchdown: 13-16 (81%). In 2009, that number was 32%, in 2010, 60%.

5. The Week 5 Crossroads: Yes, few expected Georgetown and Bucknell to be at the top of the standings on October 1, but both will take it. As to week five, it can be a turning point for both teams

Georgetown has not won in week five since the 2003 season, while Bucknell has split its last six in the first week of October; surprisingly, the Bison have played at home on the first week of October six straight years while Georgetown hasn’t played the same week at home since 2006. (Two years ago, a winless Georgetown team lost at Bucknell 14-6 on Oct. 3, 2009.)

Georgetown could see its first 4-1 season in 12 years with a win, and despite two more road games ahead, could really build some momentum for a program unaccustomed to it. For its part, a Bucknell team which has only enjoyed one winning season since 2005 could make its own statement to go to 4-1 with three of its next four at home. Only one can do so, of course, and in a series where close finishes are a matter of course, it’ll be a busy week for both teams.

For once, there’s a lot on the line for the presumed second tier of PL football.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Week 3 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Yale’s 37-27 win over Georgetown on Saturday.

1. Um, While We Were Away… Yes, the weekly blog post was held up with all the firestorm over Big East realignment. If a bullet has been dodged, it’s neither the first nor the last, and while it’s not the driver to the discussion, the issue of football at Georgetown plays a role in the outlook for basketball—namely, if Georgetown doesn’t want to commit to a more competitive football program (at least in the eyes of other schools, conferences, or TV networks), where does that leave the basketball one?

No one that I know is calling for a lease at FedEx Field and getting Urban Meyer on speed dial anytime soon, certainly not Jack DeGioia. But one of the byproducts of this latest mess is the growing idea that teams move or stay in tandem—Pitt and Syracuse, Texas and Texas Tech, Rutgers and UConn, etc. Who is (or would be) Georgetown’s wing man in future discussion? Are the Hoyas a coupled entry with Villanova, who may or may not see a second opportunity to jump start its PPL Park I-A bid? Does Vilanova, a team that has studiously avoided scheduling games with Georgetown in football to resist any temptation of comparisons, want to steer clear of being associated with Georgetown for its athletics future? If Villanova got an better offer elsewhere, would they weven try to bring Georgetown along?

If not, who? Does Georgetown want to take its chances in the world of college athletics as St. John’s traveling buddy? Are we just another Seton Hall? Another DePaul? Is Georgetown even less valuable as a major program if its athletic program is seeking as lacking in commitment, with or without major college football?

Late last week, over at the basketball page, I wrote the following:

‘If Georgetown has enjoyed unprecedented success in the last 32 years despite spartan and grossly inferior facilities, know that men's basketball is the engine. Georgetown has an impressive 29 sport program for over 700 men and women...because of men's basketball. It has build a worldwide brand for the University, its admissions, and the pride of the Georgetown community...because of men's basketball. If Lee Reed gets the long-delayed athletic training facility off the drawing board he will do so...because of men's basketball. But if Georgetown watches these assets disappear, so will its resources and ultimately its institutional support. If that happens, the basketball training facility will join a list of projects which Athletics could not secure funding for...and never got back.

“So if "change" means adding travel packages to unfamiliar locales like Ames and Waco and Lawrence, let's do it. If "change" means calling up Temple and UMass and rebuilding the old Northeast Corridor footprint, let's get it done. Georgetown doesn't need to settle for a national "CYO League" of faded Catholic programs that can only hope for one NCAA bid a year while the super conferences will clamor for eight and ten bids a year. And if "change" means setting a new course in an unfamiliar conference setting, much as Georgetown did in 1979, that should be vetted as well.”

When this scenario comes around again, and it eventually will, what kind of peer institution does Georgetown want to be associated with, and by whom? Answering that demands a positioning for football in the equation, whether as a university that aspires, that acquiesces, or simply accepts whatever fate is dealt it.

And if the Ivy League needs a ninth team for scheduling, well, that’s another topic entirely.

2. Special Teams: Special teams didn’t lose the Yale game but it was a major factor. Each of Yale’s first scores were the result of kickoff returns of 60 yards or more which set up short fields for the scores. Georgetown owned the kickoff return against Lafayette and had, on average a +4 yard gain in average field position to start a drive. Against Yale, that average number was a -6 yards.

3. Did The Hoyas Get Tired? During the radio broadcasts, the Yale announcers noted how Yale was wearing down Georgetown in the third quarter, and a few of the player quotes from Yale backed this up as well. While this was the first afternoon game for the Hoyas, the game time temperature (61 degrees) wasn’t the issue. The issue? For whatever reason (physical, mental, or teams adjusting at halftime) Georgetown is losing the third quarters in its 2011 games.

  • Against Davidson, the Wildcats held a 2:42 advantage in time of possession: 2- 4 on third down conversion versus Georgetown’s 1-4.
  • Against Lafayette, the Leopards held a 5:32 advantage in time of possession: 1- 4 on third down conversion versus Georgetown’s 0-3.
  • Against Yale, the Bulldogs held a 5:08 advantage in time of possession: they converted where Davidson and Lafayette didn’t (4-5 on third down conversion) versus Georgetown’s 0-3.

 In 2011, winning the day means Georgetown must win the third quarter.

4. Freeze Frame: This was the point in the 2010 season where Georgetown’s offensive strategies began to wilt under film analysis by opposing coaches. Even though the Hoyas were nonetheless able to pick up a win in week four of the 2010 season, the seeds of its October decline were coming into play. It’s worth watching (figuratively, of course, to those not able to be in Poughkeepsie this week) to see if Marist is more proactive and keying on Georgetown’s offensive sets than its first three opponents were.

Offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude made few visible changes to the offense last season and the result reflected this. Will we see new wrinkles heading into October, or more that opponents can prepare for?

5. A Statement Win? The words “Marist” and “statement win” seem incongruous, but if Georgetown is to start making a move up the steep ladder of I-AA football, it needs to get to a point where games with Marist College are expected wins, not just competitive ones.

As Georgetown stalled and stumbled over the first decade of the patriot league, the gap between its skills and that of non-scholarship Marist has not been much. Since joining the PL, Georgetown is only 4-3 against Marist, and none of its wins have been by more than seven points. It has not defeated Marist in Poughkeepsie in three tries .

We’re not talking Lehigh or new Hampshire or even Dayton here, but Marist, a second-division team in the weakest conference in Division I-AA. This series shouldn’t be this close and this game shouldn’t be either, but the Hoyas have a habit of playing down to its competition in games like this. Much like it has begun to separate itself from Davidson in recent games (and Davidson’s not a powerhouse either), it must do the same with Marist, which will allow it to reach higher in the schedules and maybe, just maybe, be a little more competitive against the next tier upward, that being the Ivy League.

Georgetown’s records against Ivy schools since 2003? 0-11.

Yes, there is still work to be done. Lots of it. Getting a third win Saturday is the next step on a long climb.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Week 2 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Saturday’s 14-13 win over Lafayette:

1. "Oh, The Humanity..." A good, hard fought game. A close finish. Both teams played well, right? Not if you read the post-mortems coming out of Central Pennsylvania. Titles and quotes like "Lafayette College staring into an abyss of disaster", "Saturday's horrifying 14-13 loss to Georgetown", and a "death march" of a schedule filled Brad Wilson's Monday column in the Easton Express Times. It's not like Lafayette lost to the Apprentice School Shipbuilders, did they?

Unfortunately, there's a thread in some PL writers which is not far removed from that. They see the Georegetown program as so far beneath the Patriot League as to be virtually noncompetitive. A loss to Georgetown is not seen as a win by a better team as much as it is the signs of a collapse by the other team.

"Georgetown is improving -- its talent level, especially on defense, increases each season," Wilson writes, avoiding any such laurels offensively, but past columns from the Express-Times and Allentown Morning Call still read as if Georgetown is making a step up from Division III.

I suspect some of this animus comes from having to travel to Washington and sit in what passes for a press box at the MSF. Whereas the press areas at Fisher Stadium are clean, comfortable and well stocked with food and beverages, the MSF has, well, none of this.

"This place is brutal," writes Paul Reinhard of the Allentown Morning Call. "I'm seated between the public address announcer and a Georgetown intern who is in charge of pumping music into the stadium."

"With 35 minutes to game time the Lafayette crowd outnumbers the Georgetown following," said Reinhard. Fact check: by gametime, the Lafayette crowd (maybe 500 or so, as evidenced by many empty seats across the way) are a fraction of the announced 2,435 at MSF, many spilling over from the temporary aluminum seating across the field. Then again, given how uncomfortable the MSF seating is, why would any Geogetown fans want to sit there a half hour early, anyway?

Bottom line, in the last 13 games, Lafayette is 2-11, Georgetown 6-7. At some point, the PL press will have to give Georgetown its due, but probably not this year.

2. What Worked: Offensively, Georgetown's running game was inert, and the Lafayette defensive strategies all but neutralized Nick Campanella after a strong showing agaisnt Davidson. But Isaiah Kempf was able to keep the passing game going in two key drives, and did the one thing that is essential to a good quarterback--he did not commit turnovers. Too often in prior games, Georgetown has collectively shot itself in the foot with turnovers with were converted into easy opponents scores and deflated the Hoyas accordingly. No such mistakes Saturday night.

Defensively, the Hoyas continue to surprise the experts, some of whom assumed Lafayette would have its way with the Georgetown secondary. In the final four Lafayette drives of the first half, the Leopards failed to pick up a single first down, and the secondary continues to step up its defensive play late in possessions. An opponent might get to the red zone, but Kaisamba, Heimuli, Quintero et al. aren't ready to hand them a ticket into the end zone. In two games, opponents are just 1-7 in red zone touchdown conversions. Georgetown is 7-7 in that same category. Outstanding!

3. Rushing Defense: Stat of the week: After two games, opponents are averaging just 1.9 yards a carry against the Georgetown defense. That's to be expected against a somewhat nonexistent Davidson run game, but the ability to hold Vaughn Hebron and the Leopards in check was a key factor in the game. As has been said before, a strong defense gives the offense more time on the field and more opportunities to build field position, and field positioned powered the G-men to the win Saturday.

4. Five Weeks Of White Jerseys: Much was made in the Lafayette press about a four week run on the road to start the season. Georgetown, unfortunately, can take that four and raise it. Georgetown's next home game will not be until October 22.

How (and why) did this take place?

If Georgetown and Yale were a home and home series, the Elis would be at Multi-Sport Field this weekend, but Georgetown signed a six year series which guaranteed Yale four home games (and three straight from 2010-12). it's been extended to 2013, so Yale gets home games over the next three years with no return game required. In Geoprgetown's view, a game against Yale still carries more prestige than looking to St. Francis or Campbell to pick up a game, and Georgetown's not the only school to take annual visits to New Haven. According to the College Football Data Warehouse, Dartmouth did not get a home game at Memorial Field versus Yale until 1971--that's right--the schools met at New Haven annually from 1924-1970.

As to the other games, Marist, Bucknell, and Wagner are return games, and there was no return by Sacred Heart, so the Hoyas accepted a road game at Howard, which isn't a home game but no bus trip, either. Let's be fair: home and away travel is a fact of football life, but if you don't have to play a game at the MSF, chances are you won't.

Still, five road games is an anomaly and a challenge. No Georgetown team has played five straight road games since 1940, and the travel can wear on a team. The story of the 2011 season will rest on those white jerseys.

5. A Story Worth Telling: I wasn't at Saturday's game, and didn't learn about this event until seeing photos posted on Jack DeGioia's Facebook page: the football team held a dinner Friday night in honor of Joe Eacobacci (C'96), whose death from the 105th floor of 1 World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 was also recognized at a pre-game ceremony. The dinner featured speeches by Coach Kelly, University president DeGioia, and Tom Eacobacci (B'93), Joe's older brother who was three years ahead of him on the team.

Those of us who were of working age that day will never forget where we were--whether in lower Manhattan, Washington DC, or at countless places worldwide. I was in New Orleans, attending a travel conference which was featuring a panel of airline executives that morning. The exodus of CEO's and airline executives from that meeting hall in those earliest minutes was telling that something was going on.

But to the kids on the football team, let's not forget that they were not much older in 2001 than that group of elementary students President George W. Bush was visiting in Florida. Today's freshmen were but eight years old, the seniors not much older than 11. As time goes on, the direct memory of 9/11 will not be a part of the lives of future Americans. By the time of the 20th anniversary, our college age population will have no memory of it.

We must not forget, nor must we let the passage of time diminish its impact and the sacrifices made to those who sill simply be too young to remember otherwise. I hope the dinner noted above can become an annual tribute to Joe and those Georgetown alumni who lost their lives that day.

"Those in [the Pentagon] that day knew what they were witnessing," said vice president Joe Biden at ceremonies yesterday. "It was a declaration of war, by stateless actors bent on changing our way of life, who believed that these horrible acts of terror directed against innocents could buckle our knees, could bend our will, to begin to break us, break our resolve."

"They did not know us."

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Lost In Translation

Was it something he said?

Or maybe how people read (into) it?

Such was the curious response to an August interview in the Georgetown Voice with University president Jack DeGioia (C'79, G'95). The annual interview gives the student press an opportunity to ask some topical questions to DeGioia on the upcoming school year. To those that follow such things, the responses (on issues ranging from the August earthquake to the upcoming capital campaign) follow the calm, measured cadence that DeGioia offers in situations like these. Entering his 10th year in the office of president, DeGioia remains a steady hand on the ship of state that is Georgetown University—a well regarded ship on the high seas of higher education, but a ship seen as slow to change its course.

The interview also included DeGioia's thoughts on football scholarships and his reaction to Fordham University's move towards schoalrship football. As to the response within the University community to the interview, well, there really wasn’t any. The article gathered no responses at the HoyaTalk message board. Ten responses followed the Voice article, most mired in a somewhat internecine argument about how Latinos are defined in faculty recruitment.

A comment posted today from someone named Lynn Blackwell, was anything but obscure. The comments are below:
"I can’t begin to express my outrage at President’s DeGioia’s comments regarding the Patriot League. In just about all other areas of the Division I athletics played at Georgetown, scholarships are awarded. It is understood, that the time and commitment required by athletes, exceeds those required by “regular” students, particularly at Division I level. It is with this understanding that schools provide scholarships as incentives and recognition of these students abilities and their commitment to continue provide their services. Georgetown is fine with rewarding students with scholarships in other areas, basketball, lacrosse, tennis, etc. However, football is supposed to be different? I totally disagree. As long as the academic standards are high, providing scholarships to football students will not lower the type of players that Georgetown attracts.

How is it a school with such prestigious alumnus and such a high tuition, cannot cover the costs associated with football? I suspect, that if Georgetown invested in football [one fourth] of what is invested in basketball, they would have an exceptional football program. I think President DeGioia’s response regarding Georgetown’s participation in the Patriot League is a cop-out and it does a disservice to the student athlete’s that participate on the football program and to the coaches who have to recruit each year.

There is a large pool of qualified candidates that will not attend Georgetown, because their families make just enough money that will disqualify them from financial aid needed to cover the cost of attendance. If these athletes have worked hard on and off of the field and they qualify academically, Georgetown should be willing to step up and do its part."
Well, that’s a strong response. What exactly did DeGioia say, again?

Here’s the excerpt of the interview Blackwell cites.
Voice: The issue of scholarships in the Patriot League remains unresolved with Fordham’s continued presence in the conference. Where do you stand on the issue of football scholarships, and how do you see this issue affecting the football team and other athletic teams?
DeGioia: We compete in football in the Patriot League, and we joined the Patriot League because it was consistent with the way in which we want to conduct the football program, which is a non-scholarship program. There are three tiers of football. We’re non scholarship, the next tier is the Football Championship Series, 63 scholarships from my recollection, and then I think it’s 82, and 82 is the Bowl Championship Series. We’re the least-cost program that you can offer, and this has been an ongoing issue within the Patriot League. To date, we have sustained the commitment to non-scholarship, and Fordham has gone scholarship, but they’re not eligible for the championship within the Patriot League because they’re playing by a different set of assumptions.
DeGioia (continued): The Patriot League has worked for us in terms of providing a very good context for our football program. It’s been very competitive and it’s required the highest level of competition that we have ever played since the 1950s, and I’m very proud of the way our young men have represented us on our football field. I am not supportive of moving to a scholarship program. I don’t believe that fits the ethos and the culture of Georgetown, and I believe the way that the Patriot League is conducted is exactly the right place for us to be, and I’m hopeful that it will continue to be the best place for us to be, but I’m not supportive of moving to a scholarship program and I’m not supportive that Georgetown would follow the move that Fordham did and go to 63 scholarships. It’s just very expensive and I don’t think it’s commensurate in who we are and in our aspirations for our athletic program."
The article link got picked up on a Division I-AA message board many Patriot league fans follow, and the responses were akin to a declaration of war. Some responses include the following:

  • "What a piece of **** statement from an enlightened individual. So..what about all the rest of the ethos of scholarships with every other sport you sponsor?"
  • "He has no clue about the football program except they are taking more money away from the well funded basketball team."
  • "I have been a strong supporter of Georgetown's participation in Patriot League football, but this statement by Dr. DeGioia really has to raise some eyebrows. Somebody had better clue him in that, regardless of the funding formula, the Patriot League fully expects all of its members to compete on a national level in FCS."
  • "He said that football scholarships - in and of themselves - don't fit in with the character and culture of Georgetown. It's as if he believes that any kid on scholarship for athletics is somehow against the culture of the institution. Either he feels that all scholarshipped kids don't fit in with the "ethos" of Georgetown - or that it's just specific to football players. Either way, it's an awful thing to be saying about the very students that attend your school. At the bare minimum it is incredibly hypocritical."
There’s a subplot to this ire, and it’s the Patriot League’s presidential punt last December on the issue of football scholarships. Lafayette president Daniel Weiss took a shot across the bow when he told the Lafayette student newspaper in advance of the vote he was not in favor of adding scholarships, and Weiss was held out to ridicule when the decision was tabled.

Proponents of scholarships in the league vary wildly in their outlook on its effects—some see it as elevating the league to better competing in the  Division I playoffs. Others see it as a means to fend off the Ivy League’s growing advantages in need-based recruiting, while still others see the Patriot League going the way of the buggy whip and the landline telephone if it does not adopt a model as Fordham is already doing. Good people can agree to disagree on such matters, and that includes the PL presidents.

There also was some fan indigestion raised over DeGioia’s comment in the transcript that “there are three tiers of football” and "the next tier is the Football Championship Series”. “The real problem here is Dr. DeGioia's supposition that the Patriot League competes at a level below that of the Football Championship Subdivision,” wrote one fan. “That is wholly unacceptable.”

Except he didn’t say that.

(Note: My initial response, portions of which were previously posted on that message board, is included within the overall comments below.)

First, I don't see anything particularly remarkable in this interview, as it follows a long-held institutional belief that Georgetown is better suited as a program recruited and funded along the lines of the Ivy League than the Colonial Athletic Association (Delaware, James Madison, Richmond, etc.). DeGioia didn't say he wants out of the Patriot League or Division I-AA, only that the Fordham approach doesn't appeal to him.”

What is the “Fordham approach”? Well, for the uninitiated that haven’t read this blog for the last three years, Fordham is moving towards a 63-scholarship program that will increase its football budget to $5 million a year, or about 25% of its athletics budget. (By contrast, Georgetown spends about $1.4 million of its $29 million athletic program on football, or about five percent).  It will allow Fordham to offer full rides (grants) to football players regardless of family income, while Georgetown may offer a lot or a little, depending on family income, and in varying forms of loan, grant, or work study. Fordham is leveraging this heightened investment to play one to two major college opponents a season (it lost to Connecticut in the opener, 35-3) and become a national I-AA playoff contender. Colgate would like to do this, too.

Lehigh, probably. Holy Cross and Bucknell, a little less so. Lafayette, as before, no. Thus, the aforementioned December "punt".

Do the absence of athletic scholarships hold the Patriot League back? Yes, but no less so than its long-held ban on 85% of all football recruits nationally who do not meet its self-imposed minimums on SAT and GPA, the Ivy-League approved “Academic Index”. (Some PL fans are quick to do battle on scholarships, but are otherwise loyal to the arbitrary nature of the Ivy Index, but that’s another topic.)

So for those unaware with Georgetown football, the obvious retort follows: “if you’re against scholarships, why do you have them in basketball?” But Georgetown doesn't have an philosophy against athletic scholarships. Some sports at GU are fully funded, some sit in the middle with need-based aid, and some get next to nothing at all, because it's never been able to fully fund all its sports (and unless you're Notre Dame, Stanford, or Texas, chances are your school can't, either). Football has long been a middle tier sport at Georgetown sitting between the fully funded programs (basketball, track, lacrosse, and soon, soccer) and those with even less (tennis, swimming, baseball, softball).

And without the ability to recoup scholarship expenses (as basketball can), where is the return on a 63-grant football program? You could charge $100 a ticket at the MSF for every home game, students included, and that still wouldn't fund 25 men's scholarships a year. Is there huge untapped demand for alumni to see Georgetown aspire to play Delaware or James Madison, assuming there is a place built to fit them?

On one level, it really is a money issue DeGioia is driving at. Georgetown doesn't view an extra $3-6 million a year (incorporating Title IX) in grant-based scholarships a good return for its investment, and it doesn't stand to make much of it back playing in the mess that is the MSF. The PL presidents also see much of the same paradox--they see Fordham drawing the same crowds as Bucknell and spending twice as much to do so, asking "what's in it for us, again?"

Jack DeGioia is not an casual observer here. He is the only PL president that actually played the game, and at Georgetown, no less. He is a past president of the Big East Conference, was invited to Mark Emmert's NCAA summit last month, and knows the PL's balance sheets far better than any of us do.

I neither claim nor pretend to have the view “behind the curtain” that DeGioia does, but some public data illustrates his institutional concern. U.S. Department of  Education data allows readers to contrast schools by the amount of athletic-based aid it awards versus the number of participants in their sports. Georgetown University awarded $3.071 million in athletic aid to male participants in 2009-10 (I’m using the male half of the equation for consistency purposes across schools, below).

$3.071 million, sounds like a large number, but is it?

There are over 400 men on 14 Georgetown teams from baseball to sailing, and at a cost of $58,500 a year (tuition, room, board, books and fees), that amount “buys” 52.5 funded scholarship equivalencies (FSE’s), a term I use to describe the composite athletic aid available for a school to award.

What are the comparable male FSE’s for other Patriot League schools?
Colgate: 102.3 students
Fordham: 96.8
Lehigh: 89.6
Lafayette: 82.4
Holy Cross: 69.7
Bucknell: 67.3
Georgetown: 52.5
Yes, that's right: Georgetown spends less on athletic aid than not only Big East schools, but Patriot League schools.

But put another way, Colgate has enough athletics aid in its budget for 102 male students to receive some form of athletics grant…if the PL allowed it, of course. Currently, only men’s basketball and men’s soccer are scholarship-available, leaving the rest for various aid buyouts, but if Colgate wanted to convert some number up to 63 from its FSE list for football, there seems to be room to do it.

Allocating 52.5 scholarships for Georgetown wouldn’t even cover the football team, but remember, that number covers all 14 sports, not one. When you subtract out the commitments for Big East basketball scholarships (13), track (12.6), lacrosse (12.6), and soccer (maybe 6.3 out of the 9.9 allowed), that’s 44.5 scholarships. Some quick math leaves somewhere about eight FSE’s for ten remaining sports, including football. In business, that’s called a tight margin.

These may not be the hard and fast numbers at play, and I don’t suggest it is. But DeGioia does know the numbers, and he knows 63 doesn’t work at Georgetown. The Big East requirements for scholarship minimums in key sports don’t give Georgetown the wiggle room to transfer athletic aid into football in ways Fordham can--and Colgate could.  To suggest Georgetown could is one thing. To suggest it would is quite another.

That having been said, DeGioia s also incredibly supportive of the Georgetown football program when others have been less so, and attends as many games as he can (although at the MSF, there's even not a box seat for him to sit at). But asking the Board of Directors to get behind a multi-million scholarship initiative that his head coach hasn't pushed for, that his athletic director hasn't pushed for, and frankly, the fan base hasn't pushed for is unrealistic. For a University that lost hundreds of millions of dollars before DeGioia took over, advancing a plan with little institutional support and with almost minimal ROI isn't good business sense for any CEO.

Fans at other schools didn’t hear that, of course. They read a statement from the interview as a roadblock to progress, to I-A games, to the kind of visibility Fordham aspires to.

Where DeGioia says “The Patriot League has worked for us in terms of providing a very good context for our football program,” they see “We’re non scholarship, the next tier is the Football Championship Series.” Yes, the Patriot League is part of the Championship Series and yes, there is a long standing funding gap at Georgetown between the two. The two statements are not mutually exclusive.

Of course, if someone wanted to make seven-figure gifts in that direction, he's not going to turn it down, either. Alumni have raised funds to fund women's soccer grants and a baseball grant here and there, and that's fine by him. Could Georgetown convert a few need based awards to scholarships? Maybe. But Georgetown itself doesn't want to be caught on the hook for 63 every year when the donors grow weary and the school’s balance sheet doesn't have that kind of leverage. If Georgetown fans like Lynn Blackwell want DeGioia to see the benefit in football scholarships and make it financially palatable to do so (as lacrosse did to their credit), well, why not work through the Gridiron Club and make it a priority? DeGioia has never drawn a Hunter Guthrie-like line in the sand and said “No More Scholarships For Us!” Instead, the approach has been that in an era where the university’s stated #1 priority is need-based aid, any drive towards scholarships that go beyond need would have to come from the constituents themselves and not at the expense of the University’s stated priorities. Absent some major donors to change the equation, why would any college president commit to doing otherwise?

For those that like to use such a debate to question Georgetown's interest in football, this quote from DeGioia bears repeating: "I believe the way that the Patriot League as conducted is exactly the right place for us to be, and I’m hopeful that it will continue to be the best place for us to be."

Short of the PL mandating 63 scholarships, that sounds like an affirmation to me.

It’s all in how you read it.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Week 1 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Saturday’s 40-16 win over Davidson:

1. It Was What It Was: A home opener is designed for three things, and Georgetown got each of them Saturday: 1) a win, 2) a successful opening for the offense, and 3) a win. And while fans left the unfinished MSF with some good feelings about the 2011 Hoyas, it’s always fair to keep it in perspective—Davidson isn’t Delaware, and Georgetown isn’t  Eastern Washington, either.

The Wildcats entered the game picked ninth in the ten team Pioneer League, and its lack of running game really hurt  its ability to mix up the offensive sequences. Still, Davidson was able to get four red zone possessions off its passing game, but misfired on two that could have really made the game interesting, none more so than  midway through the third, trailing by seven. Davidson stood second and goal at the eight, then proceeded to give up a sack, an illegal forward pass, and a blocked field goal. One minute and 42 seconds later, the Hoyas were up 21-7 and never looked back.

The offense was proficient and the defense held its own, so you can’t argue with the results. The -7 yards rushing is the fewest allowed in 15 years, but Georgetown ought to be careful to put the win into context. Seven years ago, a similar verdict was reached over an outmanned St. Francis team, 36-7, whereupon the Hoyas defense remained strong but the offense scored a total of just one touchdown in the next three games. The longer-term takeaway from Davidson is not the win, but how it prepared the Hoyas for what lies ahead.

2. Welcome, Mr. Campanella.  After years of struggles from the backfield, the arrival of RB Nick Campanella added a much needed boost to the Georgetown running game. Campanella rushed 13 times for a game-high 82 yards, with six of those rushes resulting in first down yardage and three for touchdowns. If there were accuracy statistics for that kind of running, he’d be off the charts.

To be fair, it’s not like Davidson had any game film of Campanella in the backfield, unless they tracked Campanella via his YouTube clips at Montini Catholic HS. The element of the unknown rendered Davidson fairly unaware of what to do with the big back, but Lafayette defensive coordinator John Loose will be doing his homework on defensive sets to limit Campanella off the line of scrimmage. For its part, RB’s Wilburn Logan and Dalen Claytor had much less impact against a defense they should have been able to make some against Davidson, and the task at hand is going to be tougher Saturday. Logan rushed for only 14 yards in last season’s game, while Claytor did not play. And excepting a 30 yard touchdown run by Philip Oladeji, the Hoyas managed just 63 yards on the ground last season versus Lafayette. A better rushing game by everyone will need to be in order Saturday.

3. Hold (Together) That Line. Both teams’ offensive lines came under scrutiny Saturday, for different reasons. The Hoyas seemed to hold its own but a couple of players were dinged up in the process. The ability of the offensive line to stay together is among the most pressing issues facing the 2011 Hoyas, and they’ll need a strong effort Saturday versus. Lafayette.

Across the sidelines, the Leopards didn’t do much with its line, with four seniors and three three-year starters, against a tougher North Dakota State team. Lafayette managed no running game of note, were 2-12 on third down conversions, and gave up four sacks. Not that Georgetown’s numbers wouldn’t have looked different had Georgetown took up the offer to travel to Fargo last year (NDSU had offered, and Georgetown declined, just such an offer) but Lafayette knows its needs a better line effort to allow QB Ryan O’Neil to go to work on the Georgetown secondary as he did so effectively last season.

If you’re looking for a storyline to Saturday’s game, start in the trenches.

4. A Successful Deployment. I’m a skeptic on the QB platoon process, having felt neither QB in the rotation has enough skills on both sides of the ball to dominate on both sides of the stat sheet. For this week, however, it paid off. Isaiah Kempf  took advantage of Davidson’s gaps at linebacker and picked up some much needed yardage; how 16-24 passing was proficient and did not harm, particularly in the red zone. Lafayette presents some different quarterback challenges and it would not surprise me to see Darby back in the game next week—it’s going to be like this for much of the season.

5. Opportunities Lost. I can’t say enough about how the defense forced Davidson into mistakes on key possessions in the red zone. A blocked FG in the second, settling for a FG in the third, an incompletion on 4th and 2 at the 19. You’re talking about as many as 21 points coming off the table, and with two teams as closely matched as they were, you just can’t win like that.

Rewind, then, to the second game of last season. Here were the outcomes of four Lafayette second half possessions against the Hoyas:

  • 66 yards, interception at the Georgetown 6
  • 39 yards, missed a 33 yard field goal
  • 61 yards, fumble at the Georgetown 17
  • 60 yards, interception at Georgetown 23
The Leopards know first-hand that they can’t leave points like that on the table. But it’s up to Georgetown to do its part, too. Again.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Patriot League and Georgetown, Ten Years Ago

"The size and depth of #11 ranked Lehigh powered the Engineers past Georgetown, 41-14, in the Patriot League debut for the Hoyas. Despite the loss, and more tough competition around the corner, the game gave Hoyas fans a glimpse of some exciting times to come.", Sep. 1, 2001

Ten years ago today, Georgetown made its Patriot League debut at Kehoe Field against Lehigh University, a 41-14 loss before 2,512 at Kehoe Field. The Hoyas, who had lost just 28 games in the entire MAAC era under coach Bob Benson, entered a decade that was, by most accounts, the worst in Georgetown's longstanding football history: from 2001-10, the Hoyas were just 28-81, 8-52 in the Patriot League (5-27 for Benson, 3-25 for his successor, Kevin Kelly).

Root causes for the last decade's performance are myriad: Georgetown offered far less financial aid than other PL schools, its academic index requirements were much more restrictive than its peers, injuries and player attrition cost it key contributors, and the ongoing failure of the Multi-Sport Facility project (prominently promoted in the 2001 media guide as "scheduled to begin construction in the fall of 2003") became a decade-long obstacle towards program stability. Whatever the causes, the 2011 Hoyas continue to build from the bottom up as they did that day on Kehoe Field, a site which was eventually ruled unplayable for intercollegiate play by the University.

The recap from that 2001 game, posted here, included the following:

"Lehigh made its statement early, returning the opening kickoff 50 yards to the Georgetown 41, and scoring three plays later. The Hoyas made a nice comeback, advancing to the Lehigh 19, but QB Sean Peterson's pass was intercepted in the end zone. Lehigh answered with a field goal to lead 10-0, and held Georgetown to frequent punts in the first half, extending the lead to 24-0 in the second. A fourth TD in the half was narrowly was avoided when DB Byron Anderson stripped the ball from Lehigh's Josh Snyder at the one yard line, following a 62 yard pass completion headed straight to the end zone. However, the Hoyas offense stalled, and Lehigh took the punt and drove for a 35 yard field goal, which sailed wide.

"With 3:35 to play, Peterson took the Hoyas on a 82 yard drive, culminating in an exciting TD pass from Peterson to Craig Agnello with no time outs and :02 remaining in the half.

"The two teams traded field position in the the third quarter, with Dave Wilson scoring on a 1 yard run to increase the lead to 31-7 with 3:46 in the third. Following a field goal to lead 34-7, Lehigh took advantage of Georgetown's special teams to block a Dave Paulus punt at the Georgetown 18. Despite holding the Engineers in a goal line stand, Lehigh pushed through on fourth and goal to lead 41-7.

"The Hoyas completed the last score, with Peterson finding sophomore Luke McArdle on a 38 yard touchdown strike with 5:28 to play. Overall, Peterson finished the game 23-33 for 288 yards.
"There was still a positive attitude on the sideline and on the offensive side of the ball," Peterson said in the Washington Post... "It was good to score late in the game. That shows we still had a lot of pride."

After the game, Benson told the Allentown Morning Call, "We realize what kind of team we were playing today. If you're going to start something, you might as well as start at the top and that's where Lehigh is right now."

Then and now.