Thursday, November 5, 2015

Week 9 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Lehigh's 33-28 win over Georgetown Saturday:

1. A Slow Start. Fifteen years of watching Georgetown in the Patriot League has pounded one truism pounded into my head: Georgetown is not a team that does well with a slow start. Granted, there was a nice comeback given Lehigh's suspect pass defense, but the fact remains that this is not a team where it can give up 17 points to anyone without consequence.

The Hoyas opened the game slow on offense, giving up three sacks in the first two possessions while Lehigh goobled up yardage at an average of nine yards a down. Give the Hoyas credit for adjustments which narrowed the gap, but this was still an offense that gave it problems.

Georgetown has been outscored 68-37 this season in the first quarter, and is up 147-145 for the remaining three quarters this season. A good start in its remaining games would be essential for Georgetown to be competitive after halftime.

2. Lessons For Fordham: So, can Georgetown learn from this game in the bye week en route to its game with Fordham? Yes, but there's still no good way the Hoyas will win that game.

The Rams play at a high competitive level than the Hoyas and that's a function of talent. Chase Edmonds will be playing in the NFL in a few years, and at least a couple more of his teammates will be in a training camp. While Georgetown fans are hopeful about Cooper Field, Fordham has a game scheduled in Yankee Stadium next year against Holy Cross. Never mind the likelihood that this isn't going to be a sold out event, the mere fact that recruits can be sold on a game like that speaks to a collective vision for football in the Bronx you do not find in Washington,.

Then again, the Rams have been to one NCAA basketball tournament in the last 44 years, so the vision thing goes both ways.

But back to football: Colgate's upset win over Fordham last week was about run defense, where the rams were held to 54 yards on the ground. Colgate got that proverbial hot start with touchdowns on each of its first three possessions (something Georgetown hasn't done since the MAAC days) and hung on at the end for the win. The Red raiders kept penalties to a minimum (three), gave up only one turnover, and caught a little luck, as Fordham missed two field goals, either of which ahve provided the margin of victory.

Run defense, few penalties, limit turnovers, hope for a little luck. These may not be enough to withstand the talent gap,. but it would make a great Senior Day for the homestanding Hoyas.

3. Hope For the Future: Georgetown is going to lose a lot of talent on both sides of the line at graduation this spring, but especially on offense, Kyle Nolan, Jo'el Kimpela and Jake DeCicco have been mainstays in their respective positions over the past two seasons.

We haven't seen much as to the next generation of QB and probably won't for a while. Tim Barnes will be a senior, Jowan Watson and Clay Norris will be sophomores, and at least one or two freshmen will be in the mix. As the I-A ranks embrace the pinball approach to offensive formations typified by Baylor (where touchdown drives routinely take place in under 90 seconds of game time), the skill set of the Patriot League in general and Georgetown in particular still favors a more traditional approach. Which of these men can pick up from where Nolan brought the program is down the road, but there is talent there, and that's good.

At running back, Georgetown has some work ahead of it. The Hoyas lose seniors Jo'el Kimpela and vastly underutilized Troye Bullock, leaving sophomores Alex Valles and Isaac Ellsworth, along with freshmen Christian Bermudez and Carl Thomas,  At 5-6, 160, Ellsworth may be too small for a pounding 30-carry effort, but Valles had a nice game against Lehigh and could be groomed into the role of a back similar to Nick Campenella a few seasons back. A good recruiting effort in this area woudl be helpful, but let's be frank: Georgetown is fighting at a major disadvantage when it comes to recruiting players in skill positions because of scholarships.The Hoyas haven't had a true impact runner in a generation and schoalrships won't make that easier.

But some better news on the receiver front, where we're seeing the growth of some key assets in the Georgetown lineup. Justin Hill will be a senior next year and should do well, but the development  of Luke Morris and Branden Williams should provide some foundation to what the Hoyas can do next season with a new quarterback.

4. Picture-Perfect. One couldn't ask for better weather or better hospitality than that afforded to Georgetown fans at Lehigh last week. The weather was outstanding, with a bit of fall in the air but not enough to dissuade a healthy crowd of almost 8,000 at the game, replete with tailgates, cornhole games, and plenty of footballs afloat in the parking lots.

And unlike Georgetown, you see the families that makes these trips each week from the local area. If GU could take one positive step forward with its new facility, it would be to make Cooper Field and environs family-friendly, not just student-friendly.

If you've never seen a game in the Lehigh Valley, you should. The Lehigh side of the crowd was well represented:

And the fall foliage was just beyond the perimeter of the stadium:

Goodman Stadium has plenty of fan amenities, including a wide variety of foods, but one thing it could add is some history. Granted, it's not Taylor Stadium, the former home of the Engineers from 1914 to 1987 and which was literally in the middle of the Lehigh campus:

(Now that's a design for Cooper Field!)

But there's a lot of history in the Lehigh program that you'd miss by looking around the 25 year old facility that currently serves as its home. In fact, the Engineers' 1977 Division II national title is on a small banner below the scoreboard and otherwise relegated to a list of playoff appearances.

Lehigh fans might want to follow the approach by other schools when it comes to saluting past accomplishments and give its title some prominence:

Finally, I had the opportunity to meet two of the regular PL posters on the AGS message board and thank them for stopping by to say hello. Never met them before, but sharing a few football stories and some pre-game talk is what a good tailgate is all about.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Week 8 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Georgetown's 17-9 win over Bucknell last Saturday:

1. A Defensive Gem: For better or worse, I've probably seen (or followed on some scratchy Internet radio theme) nearly every Georgetown game in the Patriot League era, not all of them enjoyable. That having been said, Saturday's defensive performance against Bucknell may have been one of the best efforts in all those 15 years as it related to key plays at key times of the game.

Remember, Bucknell led the Hoyas in total yards, in rushing yards, passing yards, and in time of possession. I cannot recall a single game where a Georgetown team had the ball for just over 23 minutes and still managed to win the game. Five defensive plays were the difference:

  • 11:14, 1st quarter: Bucknell is moving towards its first score of the afternoon--not an inconsequential number when you've got the top defense in the league and can shut an opponent down. On a third and 6 at the Georgetown 22, R.J. Nitti's pass is picked off by freshman Blaise Brown, who returns it 51 yards and helps set up a field goal to give Georgetown the early lead.
  • 0:07, 2nd quarter: Trailing 10-9, Bucknell is at the Georgetown 20 to take the lead. DB Jethro Francois breaks up a a pass and forces a field goal attempt which veers wide right. Georgetown, not Bucknell, holds the lead at halftime.
  • 9:00, 3rd quarter: Bucknell's first drive of the second half moves to the Georgetown 30. Leo Loughery forces a four yard loss and two incompletions follow. Rather than take the field goal, the Bison, Ettian Scott breaks up a pass that might have led to a Bucknell tocuhdown. The Hoyas' lead holds again.
  • 6:36, 4th quarter: A critical interception at midfield gives the Bison its best chance yet at closing a 17-9 score late in the game. Driving to the Georgetown 12, the defense forces a fourth and five and answers with Matthew Satchell's 19 yard sack,
  • 0:42, 4th quarter: back come the Bison, successfully completing a fourth down and 18 for 59 ayrds and advancing to the GU 12 with seconds remaining. First down, incomplete pass. Second down, sack. Third down, incomplete. Fourth down, a pass in the back of the end zone broken up.
Five series, each of which drive inside the GU 30. No points. That's how it's done.

2. Defensive Standouts: A big game for LB Matthew Satchell. His 18 tackles tied for third all-time in a single game, a number that has been reached only once in the I-AA era. And  a big game for freshman Jethro Francois, with 15 tackles, up from nine in the first six games of the season.

3. On Offense, Well...: The Georgetown offense remains a srep behind anyone in the patriot league not named Lafayette. The Hoyas are sixth in rushing offense (Jo'el Kimpela was the only RB with any carries versus Bucknell) and sixth in passing efficiency at just 116 yards per game.  The Hoyas are last in time of possession which makes it doubly difficult to come back from deficits, which rendered it all but hopeless once Harvard got up on the scoreboard earlier this year, and why the defensive stands cited above were so, so, important.

4. Fourteen and Counting: Saturday's game at Lehigh offers Georgetown its best chance in many, many years of overcoming a losing streak that is among the longest in the nation.,

The Hoyas have lost 14 straight games to the Engineers since 2001. Among active annual series, only two in Division I are longer: Florida's 27 straight wins over Kentucky and Pennsylvania's 18 straight over Columbia. While some streaks were not in consecutive years (such as the recent snap of a 61 year streak by Penn State over Temple, a loss Saturday would match the longest losing streak in PL history, currently the 15 straight wins by Lehigh over Bucknell form 1998 through 2012.

Unfortunately for Georgetown, its games at Murray Goodman Stadium haven't been close. In six games in Allentown, the Hoyas have not been within 21 points at the finish, having been outscored by a combined total of 266-50, with three shutouts.

In the last trip to Goodman Stadium, also on a Family Weekend, the Engineers roared to a 38-3 lead at the half en route to a 45-24 win.

In case you are wondering, the longest consecutive game streaks in Division I-AA history (Division I opponents only):

32—Grambling State over Prairie View, 1977-2008
23—William & Mary over VMI, 1986-2008
22—Eastern Kentucky over Tennessee Tech, 1976-97
20—Eastern Kentucky over Austin Peay St., 1978-97
18—Western Illinois over Southern Illinois, 1984-2001
18—Eastern Kentucky over Morehead St., 1972-89
18—Penn over Columbia, 1997-current
17—Princeton over Columbia, 1954-70
16—Montana over Montana St., 1986-2001
16—Harvard over Columbia, 1979-94
16—Middle Tennessee over Morehead St., 1951-66
15—Dartmouth over Brown, 1960-74
15—Lehigh over Bucknell, 1998-2012
14—Dartmouth over Columbia, 1984-97
14—Marshall over VMI, 1983-96
14—Appalachian St. over East Tennessee, 1982-95
14—Yale over Princeton, 1967-80
14—Lehigh over Georgetown, 2001-current

5. The Last Halloween: When was the last time Georgetown played a game on Halloween? It was Oct. 31, 2009, bnefore 19,782 at Old Dominion, then in their first season of college football since the school was a branch of William & Mary in the 1930's. The Hoyas were in the midst of an 0-11 season and weren't much for the up and coming Monarchs, who held a 350-39 lead in total yards and a 31-3 lead at the half en route to a 31-10 finish. The school cancelled the next three scheduled games in the series against the Hoyas, and Kevin Kelly gladly obliged.

Where are the Monarchs today? In Conference USA, currently at 3-4, with opponents such as Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, and Appalachian State. One thing that hasn't changed: sellouts at every game.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Week 7 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Colgate's 17-13 win over Georgetown Saturday:

1. A Slow Start: In the second half of seven games this year, Georgetown has scored the same number of points (51) that it has given up, and while that's not a lot, it shows the Hoyas are competitive down the stretch. In the first quarter, however, a different story, where Georgetown has been outscored 52-27. Put another way, the Hoyas are averaging three points a game in the first 15 minutes of games.

Saturday's game might not be the bellwether for any great trends on the Hoyas season, with the number of fumbles and general bumps along the road for both teams, but Georgetown would have been in a much better position in this game not trailing 17-0 after three. In each of the games this season where Georgetown leads after the first quarter, it has won. And where it has trailed, it has lost.

2. Rookie Of The Week: Congratulations to freshman DL Brennan Sawicki, the PL rookie of the week following Saturday's game. While such weekly honors are altogether fleeting, it was notable in that it's the first Georgetown defensive player so awarded in three years. Twelve tackles in a game is a good number regardless of graduating class, but with a number key seniors graduating in 2016, the next generation of defensive players is vital to a team that is not as deep as its scholarship brethren.

3. Late Arrivals: Saturday's attendance at Cooper field topped 3,000 for a second straight week, marking one of the six largest crowds on the temporary tundra since it opened in 2005. But you wouldn't have known it by the game time crowd. Here's a photo of the captains approaching for the coin toss:

It's important that when the Cooper Field planning takes place, assuming it is in progress, that there is incentive for people to actually arrive to the game on time and find a pleasant environment to watch the game. No stadium in the PL is as close to its campus as is Georgetown, but the current seating configuration is uncomfortable at best and unwelcoming at worst.

We can do better. With the Cooper gift, now we can.

4. It's Good To be At Home: While the Hoyas s welcomed the Red Raiders in Washington, here was the scene in Hamilton as the GU field hockey team traveled to play up there:

It may be a sign of things to come. Colder weather awaits, and Georgetown has only one more home game this season, which (again) is scheduled against the home basketball opener.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Arms Race

From time to time, people ask why (or if) Georgetown is at a disadvantage with other Patriot league schools, regardless of scholarships. I found a brief comparison to share here.

In 2003-04 (Georgetown's third year in the PL and the peak of the league's post-season performance with Colgate's run to the I-AA finals), here was the amount of the football budgets per school:

Colgate University $3,277,347
Fordham University $3,255,639
College of the Holy Cross $2,938,306
Lehigh University $2,735,715
Bucknell University $2,500,396
Lafayette College $2,461,679
Georgetown University $1,164,010

Looking at it another way, here was the gap between the top team on the list (Colgate) and the bottom (Georgetown):

Colgate University
Fordham University -0.7%
College of the Holy Cross -10%
Lehigh University -17%
Bucknell University -24%
Lafayette College -25%
Georgetown University -64%

Now, in 2013-14, see how the numbers have changed:

Fordham University $5,755,583
Colgate University $4,696,235
Lafayette College $4,682,194
College of the Holy Cross $4,359,373
Lehigh University $4,337,184
Bucknell University $3,346,961
Georgetown University $1,683,686

And the gap:

Fordham University
Colgate University -18%
Lafayette College -19%
College of the Holy Cross -24%
Lehigh University -25%
Bucknell University -42%
Georgetown University -71%

Fordham, with its head start on scholarships, zoomed past the other schools. But it's not solely about Fordham. Consider this: the gap between Georgetown and these six schools, which was roughly 41 cents of Georgetown spend for every $1.00 spent at the other schools in 2003-04, is now at 31 cents to the dollar.

And that's with only two years of scholarship spend. These numbers are going up, and so too the gap.

Week 6 Thoughts

Some brief thoughts following Georgetown's 38-7 Homecoming win over Lafayette:

1. A Complete Win: Putting aside the 130 yards in penalties in this game, this was as dominant a win Georgetown has undertaken in the Patriot League era--put another way, when you can give up 130 yards in penalties and still win by 31, you've had a good game.

While this was not the Lafayette team of recent years, given its injuries and lack of depth, it was nonetheless surprising to see the Hoyas take the measure of a Patriot League team and control the game from start to finish. In 15 years of PL play, Georgetown had won all of four games - four - by more than eight points. A 10 point win over Holy Cross came in 2010, while the other three were completed in a 2011 season that remains one of the great anomalies of recent college football. Not many schools can (or do) go from 0-11 in one season, then 8-3 within two seasons, and back to 2-9 two years later. Even stranger still, it did not involve a singular talent that left after a year, a run of transfers that rotated out, or some sort of NCAA chicanery.

The best stat of the day was undoubtedly the rushing defense. It doesn't matter who the opponent, holding a team to nine yards rushing  is a great defensive accomplishment.

2. What's In A Name: Yes, I understand why the ceremonies honoring Peter Cooper and his family were appropriate this week, and yes, I understand why there would be interest in a naming ceremony, but I was hoping that Georgetown would exercise some restraint and not name the aging MSF infrastructure Cooper Field until the new facility was constructed.

Columbia didn't put the  Lawrence A. Wien's name on the decrepit wooden stands at Baker Field, but waited until they had actually built something new. When the University of Houston rebuilt the former WPA project variously known as Public School Stadium, Jeppesen Stadium or Robertson Stadium, they didn't give it its new name, the somewhat antiseptic TEDCU Stadium, until the new place opened. In the long range, it won't matter much, but the Cooper Field name should be more  - al lot more - than what was named on Saturday.

To that last point, and worthy of a column all it own later this season, three requests:

1. Georgetown needs to communicate the progress of the construction. Don't fall into the analysis paralysis trap that doomed the MSF.
2. The University needs to reach out to previous and potential future donors. The Cooper gift is great, but if another $5 million could raised through the football and lacrosse communities, even better.
3. Set a date and meet it. No more of this "Phase 1(b) , bullet point 2, romanette (iii)" approach.

Get. It. Done.

3. Turnout. An announced crowd of 3,104 is great for the 2,400 MSF, but there must have been a lot of sitting-room-only on the home side, as there were noticeable gasps in seatint along the visitors side. What's also in that number? Student turnout, or the lack of it. It's waned over the years, and not just for the reasons cited at other schools.

"The most common complaints included restrictions on tailgating at the stadium, or the quality of presentation of the games on television compared to the sight lines and breaks in the action at the stadium," wrote an 2014 article. "Fans of the worst teams complained that the games weren't competitive enough, yet so did did fans of the best teams. One thing that wasn't an issue? Ticket prices, as most are either free or heavily subsidized."

Georgetown has no defined student section. Students that arrive late (and let's face it, most do), either get a really poor seat or insufficient seats with their friends. Why would they stay otherwise? When open seats are available, there is a tacit understanding that the visitors side is off-limits to students.

And it's not just about seating, either. Another interesting item from that article:

"In an effort to better pin down reasons for no-shows, the University of Tennessee keeps some of the most detailed data. Percentage of tickets scanned for each game is matched up against weather, kickoff time and which network the game is on. The conclusion? The highest percentage of tickets used in each of the last four seasons came at night games, including a 6 p.m. kickoff against Tennessee-Martin in Sept. 2010, which had only a 7 percent no-show rate, the best over the last four years of home game."

Georgetown maintains only one night game a year. Other than Homecoming, it generally draws the best attendance of the year, yet GU might have one night game a year. A missing opportunity?

4. Now Playing. Yes, the PL Network games are great and a decided step above paying $9.95 for a camera hanging out of the MSF press box, but is anyone else experiencing problems with latency (buffering) toward the end of each half? It's as if the broadcast is running out of bandwidth after about an hour and the video starts to lag. That's less of an issue at the user level and more about the size of the connections it's using to send the video - in layman's terms, there's too much water trying to go into the pipe.

And in issue that almost no one at Georgetown was aware of, a small group of Lafayette fans were grumbling online that their broadcast crew was not "allowed" to broadcast the game at MSF this weekend. Lafayette is blessed by the best game-day broadcast team in I-AA, with a production effort that is good as any out there, including the big schools.

The Lafayette Sports Network broadcasts all games, home and away, for both broadcast and online properties, but in the last four years they've on;y missed two games, both at MSF. Comspiracy theorists out there may claim it is some sore of punitive move by Georgetown, I don't know. Maybe it's the lack of space for a second production truck aside the PL Network setup, or, just as likely, the lack of room in what is generously referred to as a press box atop the stands. Either way, they were missed, and maybe by the time the Leopards return in 2015, they'll have a real press box (and a parking space) that can welcome the LSN back to town.

As for WGTB, well. I'm not holding my breath.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Week 5 Thoughts

Some brief thoughts following Harvard's 45-0 win over Georgetown Friday night:

1. Almost There. This was the game to which I had made some rather elaborate plans to get to Boston Friday night and back to Washington Saturday morning, but the weather led to a change in heart and in hindsight, it was the right move. Sitting on the concrete of  Harvard Stadium with the potential of a cold, driving rain for three hours wasn't a good use of common sense, and instead I watched it from a entirely vacant food court in the Leavey Center.

Not that it would have mattered, because the homestanding Crimson were more than the Hoyas could handle and that's not a knock on Georgetown. Playing a near penalty free game (one), Georgetown still couldn't hang with Harvard, as this was as deep an opponent across the board as Georgetown has faced since it lost 48-0 to a Richmond team en route to the 2008 I-AA national title. They're that good.

Of course, that's a matter of debate. A school like Harvard could probably play a lot of teams, and even to pick up a I-A opponent now and then--if Wagner can play Rice, surely Harvard could. But that's not the Harvard football "culture", so to speak, and instead the Cantabridgians play teams like Georgetown instead of Boston College, and go on to pound the Ivies another year. Over the last five years, Tim Murphy's men have made a case for the Crimson as the most powerful Ivy eleven, year over year, since Bob Blackman and Jake Crouthamel were leading the Dartmouth Indians to five straight Ivy titles through 1972. Harvard was #24 in the I-AA polls this year, while the Indians were 14th in the major college national poll in 1970, ahead of USC and right behind Georgia Tech.

This kind of talk isn't new.

"Yet a glance at future schedules and future squads makes it look as though this season...will be the pattern for several years to come. Someone is to blame, and it isn't the law of averages. It is the alumni," wrote the Harvard Crimson.

"These distinguished members of the company of educated men feel that their Harvard diplomas qualify them as expert football critics. Consequently they come with a flask on Saturday afternoons and spend two hours impressing their wives by second-guessing the quarterback. Then they go to a cocktail party and slander the coach. Then they go home and sleep it off. And that's all."

"The Administration also likes football for its money value. This one sport supports virtually all the others, varsity and intramurals alike, and keeps Harvard's fine "athletics for all" program alive. Without gate receipts at the Stadium, there would be no money to pay for shells or for squash and tennis courts. Therefore, the people who have to sign checks for upkeep and replacements on Harvard's colossal athletic plant want big names in the Stadium [that] draw more people than little schools which we can beat."

The commentary was written in 1949.

2. Patriots At The Break: Like all college seasons, it goes by too fast. The Hoyas are at or near the halfway point in the race, five down and six to go. By all competitive measures but Sisu, it won't be competitive for the rest of the season, Non-scholarship teams don't beat 45 and 60-grant teams as a matter of due course.

But all isn't seashells and balloons around the league, however,  Spending that money connoted a ticket to the good old days for schools to which the Patriot League has been a retirement home for the sport from way back when, Outside of Fordham, no one's very happy.

Fordham: There are good times at Rose Hill: The Rams lost a ton in 2014 and have reloaded in 2015 behind the running ways of Chase Edmonds, who seems a likely All-America selection as a sophomore.  A narrow loss to Villanova has been the only setback in a season which began on national TV with an upset over Army and three straight wins, including last week's 35-7 win over Lafayette. Edmonds rushed for more yards (234) than Lafayette put in the air (224).

After a game at Penn, three of the next four PL games will be at home before the Rams travel to DC for the season finale. That will be a tall order for anyone in this league to overcome.

Bucknell: While the Bison haven't won a PL title in two decades, there were many early signs that suggested Bucknell could give Fordham a fight to the finish. So far, it's not there. Following a underwhelming 17 points in a win over Marist, the Bison lost to Duquesne, needed a late touchdown to steer past Cornell, and was forced into overtime by VMI. The combined record of its first four opponents is 5-13 (.278). A key game with lehigh awaits this week followed by a game at Army before the Bison host Georgetown on Oct. 17 and three of its final four on the road. If the Bison are about to make a move, now is the time.

Holy Cross: There was some grumbling about the status of veteran coach Tom Gilmore , who remains below .500 in his 11 years in Worcester, following a 1-2 start. The Crusaders have hit a chance to pick up the wins, with a shutout of Albany last week and and a winnable home game with Brown this weekend. This could be a 5-5 HC team entering its season finale versus Georgetown, where they have dropped three of the last four in the series.

Colgate: The grumbling persists at Colgate, where the Red Raiders started 0-3 and have won two straight, the latest being its win over a winless Cornell team with a late defensive stand. The Red raiders lead the league in rushing, are last in passing, and in the middle of the pack in most statistical categories. The Bison also finish with three of its final four at home, including Fordham and Bucknell; still, this has the earmark of another frustrating season for a program which was once one of the nation's best.

Lafayette: The Leopards have settled into a consistent pattern over he years: struggling in the non-conference, finishing below .500 overall but a competitive entrant for the PL title. This finish reminds some Lafayette fans of ten days of former Detroit Lions coach Wayne Fontes, who always seemed to get his team to the finish line better than he found it, but never enough to win the hearts of the fans. At 1-4, Saturday's game against the Hoyas may be a must-win with Harvard lurking in two weeks. The Leopards don't want to be 1-6 entering the home stretch, but a win over Lehigh always makes a long season a little shorter.

Lehigh: The Engineers have dropped three of four, and face Bucknell and Fordham over the next two weeks in a gut-check for the 2015 season, before beginning three of its next four at home, including Georgetown on Oct. 31. Lehigh is last in the PL in defense, an unaccustomed place but one reflective of the changing tides of younger players in key roles.

Coming later this week: where is Georgetown at the halfway point?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Monday, September 14, 2015

Week 2 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Georgetown's 34-7 win over Marist:

1. Class Moves. A note of gratitude to those in the Athletic Department which chose to honor Joe Eacobacci with the placement of the 35 yard line numbers and to honor Ty Williams' struggle with the helmets featuring #2.

Each has a powerful story that was remembered in the shadow of 9/11 and of Williams' own horrific injury. If the placement of #35 and #2 can continue throughout the season, it is a powerful reminder of the three planks of Georgetown football (4 for 40, men For Others, and Sisu) which are stories worth telling. Again and again.

2. Perspective.  This was a good win, all of them are. But this was Marist, after all, and it was a win Georgetown, as a Patriot League team playing at home, ought to have won. Marist ranks in the bottom five in I-AA in rushing and it showed. However good or bad you think of the Hoyas, a Patriot league team should defeat a Pioneer League team four times out of five. In the last three seasons, Georgetown is 3-1 against teams named Davidson or Marist. Against everyone else, it's 3-17.

There were some promising developments in the game, particularly on a  defense which has adjusted to Ty Williams' departure. On offense, there is still much work to be done and I'm not convinced the pieces are in place to do it. The run game seems predictable, the passing game a step slow. Kyle Nolan will get you 200 yards but he's not J.J. Mont out there. As the season progresses, Nolan is going to face much tougher defenses than St. Framcis and Marist and he can't rely on the short pass or the quarterback keeper to lead his team consistently down the field.

Things will get tougher, starting this week. This is the opportunity for the offense to step up, lest it get stepped over.

3. Home Attendance: Awful. The Gridiron Club held a tailgate. So did the Hoya Hoop Club, as did the Marist alumni of Washington DC. None seemed to help as Georgetown's 2015 home opener was shockingly low.

Even in the fan-unfriendly surroundings of Multi-Sport Field, an announced attendance of 1,087 was the smallest crowd at any Georgetown home game in 12 years, dating back to a game against Towson late in the 2003 season. As openers go, it was the smallest crowd at a home opener on record since the 1989 season, when the Hoyas were playing in Division III on windswept Kehoe Field. Marist's last appearance at the MSF, during the 2013 season, drew 1,813.

Student turnout was noticeably absent, continuing a trend from earlier in the day. Following a student-centric crowd of 2,159 last week in a men's soccer game with #1 UCLA, the team drew just over 500 to see the Hoyas face Radford.

4. Dartmouth: Ready For Action. Dartmouth makes its season opener Saturday but don't expect the rust that enveloped Brown in last year's game at MSF.

Senior QB Dalyn Williams figures to be a tough target in this one. He finished 2014 ranked among the top five in the nation in passing efficiency, completion percentage, and points per game. His versatility has not only attracted NFL scouts but elevated what was a predictable Dartmouth fofense into a legitimate challenger to Harvard's supremacy in the Ancient Eight.

With a pair of winnable non-conference games in Georgetown and Sacred Heart, and an Ivy opener with a rebuilding Penn team, Dartmouth could be as much as 6-0 heading into a Oct. 30 showdown with Harvard. We'll talk more about Dartmouth alter this week.

5. Whither The Indians? Much like Stanford, Indians was purged as a nickname in Hanover over, well, political correctness.  The school takes a dim view of students who reference the mascot, but it's a larger issue there because the college was founded to teach Indian students and did very little of that through the 1960's.

To its credit, Dartmouth maintains a program for native American college students, a group grossly underrepresented in higher education. No matter what you think of the Dartmouth mascot (or that matter, that strange keg-shaped mascot that showed up a while back), check this link to the Dartmouth Native American program.

And as for "Keggy", well, he's probably not going to show at the MSF, but you never know...

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Week 1 Thoughts

This is the time each week where I can add "some thoughts following Georgetown's 48-20 loss to St. Francis Saturday", but there will be another time for that.

It's a game of timing. One step early may be grounds for a penalty that brings back a touchdown, one step late may give up a score. One step, one moment, more or less, from William Martin or one from Ty Williams might have, in theory, skirted the collision that has the thoughts and prayers of the college football world, but we will never know.

We never do. Football is a game where split-second timing is the difference between winning and losing, and no player can be long be successful second guessing where they will be at any one moment.

It was a play that, 999,999 times out of a million the players get up, shake off the dirt, and get back to playing a game they love.  It literally is. Like the proverbial bolt of lightning, we can't predict it and we sure don't want to be there when it inevitably comes to the ground.  A man has a 1 in 280,000 chance of being hit by lightning in any single year; yet, in a five year study of NCAA football, the odds are 1 in 1.08 million of a catastrophic injury on any single play. It is both very, very rare and very, very dangerous.

And this is also a game of focus. A lot of fans probably didn't immediately recognize the severity of the injury, certainly the St. Francis announcers didn't. But players know. They intrinsically do. Hunter Kiselick motioned for the training staff as soon as Ty Williams went to the ground. The quick work by both Georgetown and St. Francis officials in getting help to Williams was crucial. The support of the UPMC Altoona staff, including a specialty orthopaedic practice in the hospital, was (and remains) vital.

And it was that focus that was deservedly somewhere else as the defense gave up three touchdowns in the first quarter and put the game out of reach. St. Francis may well have been the better team regardless, but it's no easy task for a team to give it their all, with the knowledge that one of their own is fighting for his life miles away, and that they can't change that.

It's been less than 36 hours in this story and there is still a lot that will happen. We can talk about this game later, we can certainly talk about Marist in a few days.  For now, we pray for strength, for fortitude, and ultimately for God's grace upon Ty Williams and his family in these critical hours.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Faith No More

For some of the concerns raised on these pages about the struggles Georgetown has to overcome via recruiting and on-field performance, let's put it in perspective.

Most, if not all the problems the Hoyas face in attracting winning talent are self-inflicted, or more accurately, self-selective. A name like still Georgetown opens doors, but GU still chooses to turn away a lot of students (and opponents) for academic reasons.  For other schools, it's a tougher sell.

Southern Utah, Indiana State, VMI-- tough places to sell, tougher places to win. But I've always admired those schools who struggle and fight for what they have, and one of those is St. Francis University, Georgetown's opponent for week one.  Situated in a rural, hardscrabble county of Pennsylvania that's been shedding population since the 1910 Census, you don't see monuments looking out your dorm room at St. Francis.

St. Francis is one of a dozen or so Eastern schools who, liked Georgetown, dropped football in the 1950's and reenergized its program in the club and Division III ranks. It has never been an easy sell to play in central Pennsylvania. SFU has not had a single winning season in I-AA, having posted an 8-3 record as a Division III  team in 1992. Three straight 5-6 seasons have the school on the verge of a winning season and a possible autobid to the NCAA plyoffs, but they have stumbled twice in the last two seasons trying to get there. This year's schedule hopes to change that, and not in a good way.

About those stumbles. While St. Francis isn't particularly competitive for admission (13% have critical reading SAT scores above 600), 72 percent graduate within six years, a respectable number. Not so for football, where the school's Academic Performance Rating dropped low enough that the NCAA banned the Red Flash from the 2014 playoffs, never mind that aforementioned run of losing seasons.

"While I am disappointed with the fact that our football program did not meet the APR standard for 2012-13, I am convinced that Saint Francis has addressed the factors that led to this situation and we are aggressively moving forward to enhance the educational experience for all of our student-athletes," said athletic director Bob Krimmel.

""What's most disappointing is that we're not talking about some national powerhouse here, a program that lets academic standards slide in pursuit of a championship," wrote Cory Giger at the Altoona Mirror.  "But this is St. Francis we're talking about. There shouldn't be any delusions of grandeur about the program's place in college football, and the university should never let its standards slip to this level. Not to win a couple of more games, not for any reason."

Academic failures are one thing, but the Frankies followed it up with something even less forgiving.

"On April 8, 2013, an anonymous source contacted the NCAA enforcement staff by telephone and made allegations of NCAA rules violations in the institution's football program. The source reported that an assistant football coach provided cash to four football student-athletes and that a different assistant football coach communicated with prospective student-athletes on an electronic public forum." That announcement from the NCAA was not about Alabama or Ohio State, but of all places, St. Francis. This St. Francis.

"The head coach violated well-known rules regarding impermissible benefits when he arranged for student-athletes and one of the student-athletes' mothers to receive lodging, meals and transportation from the representative," said the committee on infractions. "His actions violated the principles of ethical conduct. Further, the head coach failed to promote an atmosphere for compliance in his program when he did not require his staff to participate in NCAA rules education and did not monitor three of his assistant coaches. Finally, the head coach engaged in impermissible recruiting activities." And so its head coach, Chris Villerial, was placed on a two year "show-cause" status with the NCAA.

For 2015, there will be no APR slip-ups and no NCAA issues. But the Frankies are tapping deep in the competitive pool for two teams to get them over .500.

The first is East Tennessee State, a respectable I-AA program that dropped football in 2003 and is bringing it back in 2015. Its schedule is that of a I-AA team that's not going to be competitive right away; Maryville College, Warner University,  Emory & Henry. It's a chance for St. Francis to pick up a quick win before the Bucs get stronger via the scholarship route.

The second opponent is a team that, frankly, no self-respecting I-AA program should play. The team is called the University of Faith, and to explain the story of this quasi-educational endeavor is a column all its own. The various Faith franchises out there are just that--they are barnstorming teams who claim to be from Bible colleges where none physically exist.

The school's web site (using a free site by lists a post box as its address, and a Gmail address for contact information. The site includes this disclaimer: "The Director of the Florida Department of Higher Education has determined that University of Faith does not offer degree programs customarily offered at colleges and universities and has issued an Exemption from Certification.

So what's going on here?

The Tampa Bay Times did a story on the Glory Eagles in 2014."The players were a ragtag group. None of them paid any tuition. Some were just out of high school, some were pushing 30, some were enrolled at community colleges as well. More than a few possessed records of addiction and violence, incivility and disobedience. For some, this was a second chance; for most, it was the only chance.

"[Coach] Givins said he had helped three of them get GEDs so they could go to college. [A coach in ]  Memphis, not Givins in St. Petersburg, was overseeing the classes, which players described as not that difficult. Said wide receiver John Banks, 25, sporting some flecks of gray in his goatee: "Read the lesson, go through the work and that's pretty much it." Or not even that. "You got a lot of them who do their work, and you got a lot of them who don't," Thomas said, "just like any other college."

Outside some games against fellow "Faith" colleges, the U. of F. has not defeated any NCAA or NAIA opponent since its founding circa 2012. A running topic on Reddit outlined the story and asked: "Are they diploma mills that take advantage of kids who want to play college ball but simply can't elsewhere? Are [players] colluding with the school (being paid) or, worse, being taken advantage because they are desperate for a chance to make in in college ball but will have no chance under their programs, academically or athletically? Or is it possible that the idea of slapping a rudimentary online school onto a football team has created a school that means well but is, in practice, a sham?"

This year's schedule UOF schedule contains two I-AA opponents and a mix of Division III, NAIA, and club teams. Edward Waters College, an NAIA school, opened its season on August 15 with a 76-7 win over Faith.  Week 2 of the Faith Season: a 55-15 loss to Southeastern University of Lakeland, Florida. So how will they fare against a 40 scholarship team in the Northeast Conference?

We know. They know, too.

The NCAA took note of these mismatches over the summer, declaring University of Faith among 32 schools as uncountable in official records. St. Francis may be counting them on the road to .500, but the NCAA won't.

While St. Francis kept the game on its schedule, the aforementioned East Tennessee State cut them loose, scheduling a tougher game with Div. II Kentucky Wesleyan instead.

"With the NCAA’s decision regarding statistics for these 32 schools, several programs like our own were searching for new opponents,” said ETSU Senior Associate AD Scott Carter. “We were fortunate to work something out with Kentucky Wesleyan and we are pleased to welcome them to Johnson City for our game on Nov. 21."

Academics. Probation. Scheduling. It's been a rough two years in Cambria County, and maybe 2015 is finally the year of the Red Flash, after all. But a school like this should aim higher than University of Faith to earn a deserved winning record.

What's that quote again? "But this is St. Francis we're talking about. There shouldn't be any delusions of grandeur about the program's place in college football, and the university should never let its standards slip to this level.

"Not to win a couple of more games, not for any reason."

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


With the 2015 season about to start, a season of anotehr kind quietly but surely is underway: the recruiting season. Efforts for the Class of 2020 (yes, the roaring 20's) are already underway.

In a recent article at the Georgetown Voice, coach Rob Sgarlata offered a candid comment about Georgetown's need to recruit nationally.

"Can we beat a lot of the scholarships in the Northeast at times for those who would pay $60,000 to go here versus nothing to go to Lehigh, Colgate, and Lafayette? No," he said. "That's why we're in Florida, Texas, Georgia, Nevada, Washington, and Louisiana. I need to get 16 to 20 kids next year. If I can't do that with nine coaches recruiting nationally with Georgetown's brand and find kids of the same caliber that everybody else is getting in the Northeast, then we have a problem."

Texas and Georgia are two states where Sgarlata's recruiting efforts have proven successful. For Texas, which represents eight percent of the national population but a meager three percent on the Hilltop, is more fairly represented on the football team, with seven members out of 86. Same too for Georgia, which usually draws 3 to 5 players on any given Hoya roster.

The nation's largest state, California, is underrepresented by comparison. The answer to a great Georgetown trivia question (What state produces more applicants to Georgetown than any other state, and no, it's not New York or New Jersey), the Hoyas have only four players from the Golden State on the 2015 roster, from leading  high schools such as Corona Del Mar, Harvard-Westlake and Loyola.

It's not that Sgarlata can't sell Georgetown's brand there, but that Georgetown can't get the visibility on the West Coast. California has some of the best high school teams in the nation but Georgetown is out of sight, out of mind...or in some cases, not looking deep enough.  The son of a family friend was the starting center on last year's top rated California high school team and wanted to play at Georgetown. The staff never contacted the high school coach.

What Georgetown misses, others are picking up. An article in the always informative Big Green Alert blog notes the penetration of California high school alumni on Ivy League rosters this season:

Brown: 13
Columbia: 9
Cornell: 14
Dartmouth: 16
Harvard; 18
Pennsylvania: 21
Princeton: 11
Yale: 18

And Georgetown? The blog notes that "All of that got me scrambling over to the only truly national school on Dartmouth's schedule this fall, Georgetown. There are 14 Hoyas from Florida and 10 from New Jersey but just four from California. There are seven from Texas."

Recruiting takes time and money, to build the contacts at schools and even junior colleges where bright and talented athletes want an opportunity to play at a national school. It won't happen overnight, and it doesn't help when there is so little visibility of Georgetown football in these communities. Maybe some high school junior is going to get up at 9:00 am on a Saturday morning to watch the PL network game of the week, but it's no given. Maybe there's a first generation kid in Modesto or Mendocino that's heard good things about Georgetown, but he might feel like the school isn't looking for him. More likely, there's a talented linebacker or receiver that simply gets more attention from Penn or Harvard and it's an easier sell.

A number of teams have sucessfully made scheduling trips to California. Men's basketball has played 16 games in Califiornia since 1972, though only once in Northern California. But football has played west of the Mississippi River just once since 1950, a 2001 game at San Diego. It was well played, well attended, and a thrilling finish. From

"The defense never gave up. The Hoyas held USD to a 3rd and 4 with 2:12 left, and held Rasmussen short of the down marker. On the punt, sophomore Kyle Shenton deflected the punt and Georgetown caught yet another break at the San Diego 45 with 1:59 to play. With 1:16 to play Kurt Bennett drove to the 26. [Drew] Peterson missed an open Bennett in the end zone two plays later. On 3rd and 3 from the 19, RB Dawon Dicks drove to the 16 and picked up the first down with :39 to play.
Georgetown's last timeout was used with 23 seconds after a pass to Bennett at the 10. A pass to [Luke] McArdle went to the three with 16 seconds to play. With 12 seconds to play, Peterson found Trenton Hillier in the corner of the end zone with 6 seconds to play, 24-21. San Diego's last chance was a hook-and-ladder play, which drove forty yards to the Georgetown 35 before being stopped."
Today's high school seniors were all of two years old when that game was played.

Yes, travel to California for coaches cost money, lots of it. But submitted for approval: on September 30, 2017, the Hoyas host Harvard at woebegone Multi-Sport Field.  They'll get 2,500, 3.000 and hope for good weather. But wait...think big.

Move the game west, specifically to San Francisco's historic Kezar Stadium, downsized from its NFL heyday but centrally located  and able to seat 10,000. Get the local alumni and media to promote (and subsidize) these two schools coming to Golden Gate Park, with Harvard's first visit to the Bay Area since it played Stanford in 1949.

More than a game, it's a recruiting trip for the coaches, a travel experience for the players, an opportunity for engagement with the alumni, and the kind of media attention you'll never see around the fringe of the MSF.

Let's not forget why Notre Dame plays games at Stanford or why Army is playing a game in San Antonio next year: a national school needs national recruiting. What better way to send a statement for California recruits than to play a game there?

OK, we now return you to Georgetown Football, 2015. "Loretto, Pennsylvania, here we come..."

Sunday, August 30, 2015

North Of The Border

Just a week to go before football season--what's a fan to do?

Well, if you're on a business trip in Canada, and it's a Friday night, it's a foregone conclusion that I was headed to 60,000 seat Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alberta for a CFL game between the Edmonton Eskimos and the Toronto Argonauts (the former team where Alex Buzbee played professionally after his one season with the Washington Redskins). And while I can say with some certainty I was the only fan wearing a cap which read "Georgetown Football", I learned a little bit more about what building a fan experience is all about.

1. First, make it convenient. Commonwealth Stadium is just two stops on the rail line from downtown--I was literally out the door of my hotel and in my seat in under 15 minutes. Better yet, the city of Edmonton declares free rail fares on the train to and from every home game. Given the lack of parking in that part of town, that's not only good business, that's good public policy.

2. Next, encourage people to tailgate...even in the stadium. Granted, the dimensions of a CFL stadium are longer and wider than an NFL or college field, but lacking any parking lot for such pre-game activities, the team has built a little corner of the end zone as a sideline club of sorts, along with four other locations for people with a little more to spend and enjoy a different game experience.

3. Involve the community. Friday night's game honored the Canadian military, and a group of soldiers and airmen brought out the Canadian flag at the national anthem, Granted, Canadians don't have the same display of nationalism as they do in the United States (or certainly not here in Texas, where we also sing the state anthem after the national one), but it was a nice show of support to the men and women in uniform.

4. Raffles. Long a staple of youth sports, the Eskimos have made it a way for one fan to win a small fortune. The premise is simple: for a $2 ticket, half supports youth football and half goes in the winner's circle. It's the "50/50" deal. By the fourth quarter, over $80,000 was up for grabs to one prizeholder. A month ago, a record $348,534 was given away. Granted, there 's some rules that work in Canada that may not work south of the border, but with that growing number on the scoreboard, it kept your attention:

And yes, that score was 10 to 1. The concept of the rouge makes as much sense to am American football fan as the infield fly rule can be properly explained to a cricket fan, but it's a staple of Canadian football scoring.

5. A family friendly experience. You won't find more courteous people than Canadian sports fans, period, Even with a pint or three, they take their manners seriously. I only heard one profanity uttered all night, from a middle aged woman who promptly covered her mouth and tried to look inconspicuous.

6. Lots of cheering. Despite it being a professional game, the Eskimos (and many CFL teams) have an atmosphere closer to a mid-tier Division I-A game rather than the NFL. Instead of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, the Edmonton Cheer team was more like a college group, with tumbling teams and signs urging the crowd to cheer back and forth. The t-shirts below were part of the "Support Our troops" campaign--in fact, two of the cheerleaders were active duty military:

Owing to the military theme that night, the halftime presentation featured the Canadian Royal Regimental Band. They opened with the 1983 pop song "99 Red Balloons", to which a passerby remarked, "Well, there's an ironic tune, isn't it?" (For the younger fans, this was probably the only Billboard Top 100 song in recorded history that sang about a nuclear missile exchange.)

7. A Fight Song. From that 10-1 score above in the third quarter, the Eskimos pulled away, not before another touch of U.S. college -style football: a fight song.

Chances are, unless it's Hail To The Redskins, you'd be hard-pressed to think of many pro football fight songs. ("Detroit Lions, Down the Field", anyone?)  At the end of the third quarter, the Edmonton fans had their version of the seventh inning stretch, with 81 year old broadcaster Bryan Hall chanelling his best Harry Caray. Here's Hall in a 2008 game:

8. Easy Come, Easy Go. Final score: 38-15. Good seats, good times.

The game was over, and people went home. Even the traffic signs were altogether Canadian:

But something that does relate back to Georgetown was the fans: they wore the colors. Lots of green and gold, lots of football shirts, jackets, and caps. Moms, dads, grandkids, you name it. And plenty for sale, too. No one went home without a little more green and gold.

Yet only at Georgetown could fans be given one week, and only one week, to order football gear at an inflated price, and that's it. Try finding a copy of the new jerseys at the bookstore, or even at the game. You won't see it. Or ask yourself why a design of the jersey is on the official site that looks nothing like either the old or the new jerseys (never mind they don't even have names on the jerseys):

In the end, you build a fan base by being authentic to their support, and authentic to their team. Georgetown doesn't have to be Alabama or UCLA to have a great fan experience. Does it?

Edmonton hasn't won a CFL title in 10 years. But the fans will still be back. If the Hoyas get drummed by Marist or Dartmouth, do they even come back in October?

Georgetown could learn a little from their friends up north that, win or lose, you make the home game experience an event, and welcome them back as eagerly as you welcomed them the first time: a week ago, a season ago, or 50 years ago. That's what a football game is all about.

"We're fighting on 'til every game is won
The green and gold is bold and when we're done
We'll tell the world we’re proud of Edmonton
And the Edmonton Eskimos."

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Jersey Boys

In a quiet off-season for the 2015 Georgetown Hoyas, the team got its most coverage by, of all things, a jersey change.

But that was only half the story.

Such changes seem to rotate every two years on the Hilltop, nothing like the run of Oregon's uniforms du jour or even the regular rotation of basketball jerseys seen at the University. One hoop jersey appeared for the regular season finale, saw action in five games, and already seems to be gone for good. You can do that with 15 jerseys, not 100.

I guess the fan base can be thankful that Nike didn't put something really silly out there, but the look of the 2015 Hoyas isn't anything to write home about. In fact, it looks a lot like the style of the Michael Ononibaku era, circa 2005:

Were they playing to this era? Of course not. Nike doesn't invest in Georgetown's jerseys as they do for basketball, so it's more likely they offered three of four generic designs and the staff decided on a simple one. And it's simple--no "wow" factor, unless you count the words "Hoya Saxa" along the sides of the pants. It certainly could have been worse.

As for an alternate helmet, well, what were they thinking?

Georgetown has worn gray or silver-shelled helmets for 50 seasons, and it served them well. Who thought of picking up the Georgia Southern helmets instead?

The style of numbers only and color (a near-black, at least from the photos) bear no particular ties to Georgetown. A post on a Lafayette message board suggested it was a nod to its pre-1950 heritage (when Georgetown wore blue helmets), but that's a stretch even to this amateur historian. I'm not convinced alternate helmets are necessary, but a simple switch to a gray G on a blue helmet would have been even more impactful.

Uniform styles don't change on great programs: Alabama, Penn State, Georgia, USC. Georgetown had a great look in the Sgarlata-as-player era and it would look great today:

But that's not Nike talking.

So what's that on top of the helmet?

If it's Nike, that means a generous dollop of kente cloth design, something I've complained about for nearly 20 years. I still get questions as to what my problem with it is, and it gets a little complicated. Here, once and (maybe) for all, is my argument:
Kente cloth is a deeply held cultural symbol of the Ghanian people, specifically the Ashanti tribe. It was never made as a marketing tool; yet, by Nike's generous use of it on Georgetown basketball  jerseys from 1994-97 (playing off Georgetown's popularity in the black community) it cheapened what kente is all about.

Would Nike have been so cavalier to use the stripes of the Hebrew tallit to sell warm-up jackets? How about a jersey that looks like a dalmatic? How about references to Allah on a design  to sell Nike shoes? (Well, they actually did that one ...)

Kente cloth has no institutional ties to Georgetown University whatsoever and to suggest that it does is disingenuous. It's a Nike branding instrument, nothing more, which is sad. The point is that cultural artifacts are not suited to selling merchandise, and as a global university, Georgetown should have known better.  Yes, the relationship Georgetown basketball has with Nike may override such thinking, but how does it tie to football? It doesn't. 

Finally, I said that the new jersey design was only half the story. Where are the white (road) jerseys with the new design?

As of late August, they haven't been seen in a single photograph, tweet, or Facebook post. It's likely that Georgetown didn't get a pair of road unis from Nike, and will likely be using the 2013-14 style which bears no resemblance to the new look:

This, of course happened two years ago, as the white jerseys were new and the blue jerseys were two years older, as if GU can't get a pair of jerseys anymore. And unless you're the Dallas Cowboys, home and away jerseys should be the same style.

Clothes maketh the man, but not in football. It's what's inside that counts, even with that Georgia Southern helmet.

(And for a further look into jerseys, check the Georgetown Football History Project.)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Where Football Is Everything

For all the excitement about a new season for Georgetown football, facts are stubborn things. In the last 15 years, Georgetown fans have enjoyed just one winning season, and students have a way of smelling a struggling program at a distance. They might come to the first game, they'll show up at the tailgate at Homecoming, and then the talk will turn to basketball.

That's unfortunate in so many ways, but it speaks to a fan base that, for better or (mostly) worse, doesn't appreciate football for what it is: a great game, win or lose. That's an experience you don't get on TV or on a video feed, but for a lot of newer fans, this may be their own experience to the game these days. Unless you're a student at a Big 10 or SEC school, a ticket to one of these high-voltage games would set you back a monthly car payment, and the Patriot League pales in comparison. Add in the lack of any rivalries between Georgetown and schools in that conference, and students tune out before they even give it a chance.

As students return to college across the nation this weekend, one freshmen is ready for football. She's Cole McConachie, from Verona, NJ, who wrote a column at Odyssey Online about what football means to her.

"Football, in a lot of small towns like mine, is the heartbeat of the fall," she writes. "And although football doesn’t completely dominate my small town as I’m sure it does in some small southern towns, it’s such a big part of fall life here. Whether it’s a football game played by the local youth, the high school team, the college players, or a professional team, football is uniting. Football, more than any other sport in America, brings people together."

Another excerpt follows:

"Whether it’s the mother rooting on her son, the girlfriends decked out in their boyfriends’ jerseys, or the old man who played on this same team himself many years ago—everyone comes out for the game. The small sports store in town sells the jerseys of the high school football legends. The band gets the crowd hyped up as we cheer until we lose our voices.

"I can remember spending all day, all weekend, watching games. I’d wake up early to watch my brother play and then stay for the next game, and the next one, until the sun went down and I’d realized the only thing I had eaten all day was a pretzel from the snack bar. I even announced a couple of youth games before I realized that being a screaming fan was more my forte than holding back my cheers through the loudspeaker."

She continues. "The critics complain about the emphasis on the what some call the violent nature of the sport. They complain about the stereotypical “dumb jocks” that football players are made out to be, and although I don’t think they’re heroes like some claim, they’re for the most part good guys and together they make a family. A football team creates the type of comradery [sic] that is rare to come across because every single person is critical to every single play. Every team member has to come together each play to make the pieces work; one man can’t hold the team up alone.

"In my town, the football family extends beyond the field, from the players and coaches to the families and fans, the small businesses, and the booster clubs—football allows people of all backgrounds and walks of life to come together to support one common goal."

And the best part? Where she's headed.

"This fall will be a bit different. I will miss seeing my younger brother’s games and the fan section full of familiar faces at the high school games. But you can guarantee that I’ll be in the stands at Georgetown, at every game cheering on my new team because that’s what I know how to do best."

Memo to the Gridiron Club: get this student a t-shirt, a jersey, a front row seat at the tailgate, whatever it takes. Georgetown, and college football, needs more fans like this.

Monday, June 1, 2015

A Second Chance

"At UAB in Birmingham
All hail our players bold
They are the mighty Blazers
Who wear the green and gold..."

It's early June, but it's still a good day for football. A great one, perhaps.

You don't have to be from Birmingham, or step foot on its campus, or know the difference  between Southside and Mountain Brook to raise a toast to the decision by the University of Alabama-Birmingham to reverse a decision to drop football.

Such reversals of fortune are rare in the number-crunching world of college athletics, even more unlilely in the rarified air of I-A football. No I-A school has dropped football in almost 20 years, and no school had brought back football since SMU in 1988. Politics nearly killed football, and politics brought it back.

UAB football began as a Division III independent in 1991, and when 26 other schools made the leap up to I-AA, the Blazers kept going, joining I-A by 1996. With only one bowl bid and a combined record of 106-147 in I-A, no one was confusing the Blazers with the Crimson Tide or War Eagle. But because the school  is the "University of Alabama" at Birmingham, trustees from the flagship began to  make their case--the only football in the Alabama system would be played in Tuscaloosa, not Birmingham.

Led by its chairman, Paul W. Bryant Jr, (son of the most famous Alabama coach of all time),  many locals felt the fix was in. On Dec. 2, with a bowl bid in the balance,  president Ray Watts dropped the program and two other sports. You can't beat city hall, right?

As the Birmingham News relayed on Monday, you beat city hall where it makes a difference--in the wallet.  Nearly $18 million was committed from a cross-section of Birmingham that had little in common for a commuter school--students, alumni, businesses, city leaders. The Crimson Tide is everywhere in the city, but the green and gold would not go quietly.

"Look at what the supporters of a program "nobody cares about" were able to accomplish, wrote columnist Kevin Scarbinsky. "They didn't just overcome the kind of old money and secretive, selfish, self-perpetuating power that's held this entire state back forever. They brought a football program back from the dead, and they gave new life to a university and an entire city...."

"And now, against all odds, with Clark returning to lead the rebirth as head coach, that wrecking ball has a massive crack in it. UAB football, rifle and bowling have new life. There's hope for this university and this city yet."

So UAB lives again. Can it be repeated elsewhere? It's not so easy. The newspaper provided a list of five key factors for the turnaround, something not every school can engineer on such short notice:
  • A former football player who became the face of the #Free UAB movement, driving a sustained fundraising campaign when the money wasn't (yet) there;
  • A state representative, who felt that Tuscaloosa was calling the shots and who worked behind the scenes for financial and organizational support;
  • Two local businessmen who were able to raise neatly $8 million from the Birmingham business community;
  • An interim athletic director whose time on campus was going to be short if he took on the trustees, but kept ties with Conference USA and helped make the case that an exit from football would cost UAB in more ways than one; and 
  • An inspirational student leader who understood the power of social media and galvanized an indifferent commuter population to fight for its identity, not just a team.
Does a Seton Hall, a Pacific, a Santa Clara, or even a George Washington have such leaders at its calling?

The youngest football alumnus at Seton Hall is over 50. The mayor of Stockton or Santa Clara is not going to put his reputation on the line for a college team. Is there a student leader at GW who would even see the need to fight for sports on its concrete campus, or would he shrug his shoulders and worry about his resume?

As an institution, the University of Alabama-Birmingham is just 45 years old. Traditions are hard to come by when you haven't been around that long, and even more challenging when larger schools within the state demand loyalty over all else. The Crimson Tide averaged 98,177 a game, the Blazers just over 21,000.

The school will regroup for football in 2016 even as most of its veterans from 2014 scattered following the announcement. The next few years will be decidedly uphill. UAB plays in a decaying Legion Field, built in 1924 and destined for implosion within the next decade. But amidst it all, UAB football will see another day.

Would that Pirates and Tigers and Broncos and Colonials could say the same.

And this being a Georgetown column, some thoughts: could the revival of UAB football have happened at the Hilltop in 1951? What would Hoya Football be like if it had never left the major college ranks?

Well, of course, it couldn't have happened, and wouldn't have, because the world of Georgetown 1951 is not the world of Birmingham in 2015.

Ray Watts is a political appointment, a university president who answers to trustees confirmed by the state legislature and answerable to the governor. Hunter Guthrie, the "president-rector" of Georgetown circa 1951, acted unilaterally to drop football. The board of directors at Georgetown was comprised solely of members of the Georgetown Jesuit community, none of whom would dare question the decision of the rector. And none did.

The mayor of Birmingham is a UAB grad who knows what a Saturday afternoon in Legion Field could do for his economy. In 1951, DC had no mayor, no elected officials. A three man board ran the capital, and the agenda was set by Congress. Sports meant little in the capital city.

Jimmy Filler and Don Hire raised $17.5 million in less than six months for UAB football. In 1951, Georgetown had no sustained fundraising organization and was some $400,000 short of finishing a gymnasium project in the works for nearly 14 years. A sustained annual fund, driven by alumni and not the school, was still three years away.

Shannon Ealy kept the UAB athletic department aligned when it could have spun out of control and provied a public sign than UAB could support football again. At Georgetown, Guthrie would have fired athletic director Jack Hagerty on the spot if Hagerty had so much whispered about promoting a return to football.

In UAB, the school has found a leader in Timothy Alexander, who will never play football again following a car crash that paralyzed him from the waist down, but whose passion for the game inspired a campus.

In 1951, any student that publicly questioned Rev. Guthrie would find a swift kick out the Healy Gates, never to return. But this is not 1951.

And thankfully for UAB, it's not 2014 anymore.

"Tonight let's fire their golden blaze
The flame of victory
Go, Blazers! Go, Blazers!
Win for UAB!"
Win for UAB!

Monday, May 11, 2015

An Affordable Option

If this site has focused a little too much on the inertia that is the Multi-Sport Facility,  it's not from malice. It's a story that was buried amidst 15 recruiting classes and some 20,000 undergraduate alumni who have spend their entire college years walking past a construction site posing as an athletic field and collectively coming to the same conclusion: "Georgetown doesn't care, why should we?"

What we have is not a failure to care. What we have here is a failure to communicate.

Having been the bridesmaid for every capital project at Georgetown for a decade, including most of the buildings which surround it, it's a fair question: what will it take to get this proverbial bridesmaid to the construction altar?

In a decade where the soft bigotry of low expectations for football at the Hilltop threaten to obscure any meaningful progress in players, coaching, or approach, it may be hard to see an opening in the clouds where the MSF has an opportunity to move forward. But surprisingly, that time is now, nut not for the reasons you might think.

Stadium...ummm, "facility" projects generally fall into three categories:  they are aspirational, they are confirmational, or they are simply te result of a gift at the right time and place.

Mercer University, heretofore unknown in football circles, joined the ranks of Division I-AA with a brand new 10,200 seat stadium--a significant bet on a program that had not played since the 1930's. It was at 98% capacity this season for an undergraduate school of 4,500.

Confirmational projects don't seek to set the world on fire, but make a statement of where they are. Unless you're lost in western Maryland, chances are you'll never see Kenneth Gill Stadium, home of McDaniel College, a Division III school in Maryland.  Once known as Western Maryland College, the school does not have aspirations for the big time, but chose a facility that states its case to confirm where they are.

"This gets us to a level where we are not only competitive in the Centennial Conference, but this stadium will compete with those in the Patriot League and the Ivy League," said athletic director Paul Moyer. "It definitely compares favorably with any place that I've been."

And some stadiums are an outright gift, and that's OK too.

West Liberty University will not be confused with Georgetown: a small state supported school in the rugged West Virginia panhandle. And it was that hardscrabble, rural environment that propelled Gary West into the welding business, where his firm is now the largest private distributor of welding supplies in the United States. West has been generous to his school: the business school is named after him, and he has served on the school's trustees. When the school needed a much needed upgrade to its football field, West made the $5 million gift that turned West Family Stadium into a reality:

What lessons do these projects have for Georgetown?

For one, each of these projects were completed for less than $15 million. Clearly the cost of Georgetown's high-dollar contractor firms isn't the rate in rural Maryland or the outskirts of Wheeling, West Virginia, but these projects aren't at the bloated $40 million price tag once floated by some senior Georgetown administrators, either.

Next, they are not monuments but community spaces. For those that never knew, the original MSF was always more than a football field--it was seen as a place for speeches, for concerts, for commencements.

"The new field will continue to function as an open recreational space for students when games or practices are not being held. The four entrances to the MSF at each end of the facility allow for mid-campus walks. The four gothic entry pavilions will create a strong threshold experience which echoes the architectural fabric and traditions of Georgetown. The proportions of the pavilions, colonnades, detailing and features in the design all reflect the American Gothic character of the campus."

That's not a fan talking, that was Georgetown University talking, in a 2005 press release.

Finally, these three projects stress the possible. There is not a Kyle Field or an AT&T Stadium in the lot. Affordable, right-sized projects, that can fulfill what Bob Benson implored nearly two decades ago: "Build a new facility with all the tradition of the past in mind. Place it in the center of campus. Create a new school spirit among our students, faculty, and the community, and bring an environment with a wonderful aura of history and tradition to the Georgetown campus."

Mercer Stadium cost $14 million. Can we not aspire?

Kenneth Gill Stadium cost $8 million. Can we not confirm a place for football?

West Family Stadium was built on a $5 million gift. Is there not such a benefactor out there?

And the confluence of these ideas lies in the capital campaign, the campaign that left the MSF out of its plans. In 14 months, the campaign will have concluded and all gifts received to date will be part of the total, regardless if they have been expensed.

Is this not the time to reengage the athletics community and get some serious MSF commitments in the door and under the campaign wire? Because if you think it's tough to raise money during a $1.5 billion campaign, try raising it when the fundraising team has scattered after one.

We don't have to build a $40 million or $60 million or $100 million stadium. But we have to build something.

We can aspire. We can confirm. And some can give. But first, Georgetown needs to ask.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The MSF At 10

"A new era in Georgetown Athletics took another step forward as team captains, students, alumni, donors and University officials, as well as, members of the Georgetown community attended the groundbreaking for the Multi-Sport Facility on April 30th. Speakers included Interim Director of Athletics Adam Brick, Associate Head Women's Lacrosse Coach Bowen Holden, parent and member of the Board of Directors Peter Cooper, Vice President of Student Affairs Todd Olson and University President Jack DeGioia. All spoke of the importance of this project not only for the future of Georgetown athletic success, but also for the entire Georgetown community.", May 3, 2005

On a cold and rainy Saturday not that long ago, I found my way across a mud-filled Harbin Field to a tent filled with alumni, parents, and assorted development officials. Speeches were made, shovels were cast into the dirt, and celebratory t-shirts were handed out. It read:


What I most remember wasn't the speeches or the plaudits, but one single remark. I forget to this day who said it to me, albeit in passing, but I remember the message, endemic of what this project has become. "The worst thing that can happen," he said, "is for people to be content with what they have right now."

That remark--and that t-shirt-- are reminders to me that not much changed since those shovels turned the dirt on Harbin Field, and we're all the lesser for it.

"The Field With No Name" has become a sad monument to Georgetown Football, from the temporary seats (that were being finished the morning of the home opener with Brown) that never went away, to the sand that piles up on its fringes from other construction projects more favorably blessed in the University's capital budget. The message this project has sent to prospective students and prospective opponents is an exceedingly poor one--it's the academic equivalent of setting up trailers on Healy Lawn and telling people that this is the library until we get the real one built.

A Google search brings up all kinds of old articles about the place, some official, some less so. "The proposed design will feature permanent spectator seating for 4,652, a two-story press box with VIP seating, sports lighting and sound system, a digital video screen and scoreboard," reads

"Freshmen expect the typical autumn football experience, where you go watch your team win on Saturday, and that hasn’t happened,” the GUSA president told the New York Times. “But at the same time, no one wants football eliminated. We just want it to get better. But people are waiting and wondering."

"The Multi-Sport Field," he said, "is a metaphor for where things stand at Georgetown."

"The present hiatus in the construction process — albeit brief, we’re sure — will minimize interference with game schedules and allow more time for fundraising efforts," wrote the HOYA in 2005. "The stadium, with seating for 4,500, will guarantee enough room for every Hoya fan. New locker rooms, video conference rooms and a training facility will be housed within the stadium itself."

"Students, faculty, administrators and alumni — and hopefully local community members — agree that the future of Georgetown relies on the betterment of existing programs. That future starts right now."

Or not.

Few great universities would put up a temporary building, do nothing with it for years and be satisfied with it. Georgetown would not have considered putting up temporary housing in the New South parking lot and calling it the Southwest Quadrangle. It would not have considered knocking out some drywall in the Ryan Administration building and hand it over to the fine arts department as its new facility. But where is the person that works outside McDonough Gymnasium that sees this monument to institutional inertia and expects something better?

"It is crucial that we complete the Multi-Sport Field," wrote interim athletic director Dan Porterfield wrote in 2009, the last official mention of the project. "Our goals will stay the same: To improve our teams' game-day experience, to make the venue more fan-friendly, and to construct an aesthetically pleasing facility. As we develop new options for this important project in the coming months, we look forward to sharing its details with our friends and donors."

The question is not what what happened or did not happen over the last seven months or the last five years, but when there will be a visible and tangible move forward for the student, alumni, and donor community--not talk, not shovels, but actual construction. (As a point of disclosure, I'm one of these donors, albeit a meager one. In the early part of this decade, I made the largest gift to GU I had made to date, $1,000, to buy the equivalent of a seat in the new MSF that was to open in 2003, then 2005, then....well, whenever. In the intervening years, I've never received any correspondence from University Development as to what my $1,000 bought, if they want a second gift out of me, or even if there'll be a "seat" after all.)

The diminished returns with many Georgetown sports coupled with fading aspirations for the true promise of what a new facility can mean-- not just to Georgetown athletically but holistically-- may leave some bureaucrat to ask why it can't just be left as it is now, with a few pieces of wood here and some more gravel there, and spend the money on something else.

What was true then is true now: "The worst thing that can happen is for people to be content with what they have right now."

And if you think that's discouraging, consider this: this article was written five years ago this month. What's changed?

The groundbreaking of the Multi-Sport Facility in 2005 was heralded as "the most significant undertaking in the history of Georgetown Athletics." Now, it's no longer a "facility", and not much of anything. It's become an administrative oversight and a head-scratcher to any parent or prospective student students who visits the campus. "Someone plays here?" they ask.

Georgetown raised nearly $12 million from its donors in 2004 to get those ceremonial shovels in the ground, and what followed in return? Temporary stands that are still sitting where they were placed for a six month rental. A chain link construction fence that covers three quarters of the perimeter because the fence that abuts the Southwest Quadrangle wasn't finished. The scoreboard left over from Harbin Field, a place holder for the heralded "video board" than never arrived. A flagpole, awaiting for a memorial paid for by Hoyas Unlimited to honor student-athletes lost at 9/11...until the University forgot all about it a few years later.

Georgetown can raise a toast that the John Thompson Center is finally getting built. And it should. But the tangible lack of public commitment shown a project approved by the Georgetown Board of Directors a decade ago that would benefit hundreds of student athletes and thousands of intramural and recreational participants every year is now an affront to many donors, parents, and alumni of Georgetown. And while most students will never see the inside of the Thompson center, a project built for an entire community sits forlorn, forgotten, and the source of fond ridicule at rival schools.

Over the next ten days, we'll discuss why the three "A's" --athletics, administration, and alumni -- have led the MSF languish far too long and why promises need to be kept for Georgetown Athletics to make-right with this project. It's one thing to propose a project--Georgetown's archives are replete with fanciful "what-if" projects. It's quite another thing to seek (and get) major commitments and continue to "kick the can"--as the weeds grow up in the gravel, and where a showplace for Georgetown athletics is anything but.

What was envisioned (2003):
What was fundraised (2005):
What was deemed affordable (2007):
And what it is today:

"Little more than an unremarkable football field just six months ago, the developing Multi-Sport Facility has emerged into what some officials are calling the most important addition to Georgetown’s campus in recent decades.

The facility will continue to hold events for the football team and the men’s and women’s lacrosse and soccer teams. With a planned seating capacity of 4,500, Bob Benson, head coach for the Georgetown football team, promises that it will be the new athletic hub of the university upon completion.

“[The MSF] will probably be the most important addition to this campus in the last 50 to 100 years,” Benson said...

Jeanne Fisher-Thompson, interim director of athletic development, called it “a meeting place for students, which is not just for athletics.” Fisher-Thompson said that the field would play host to concerts and other events, as well as provide much-needed “green space” for students.

The MSF has been under construction since April of this year. The current structure only reflects the completion of the first of two main construction phases that have been planned...According to [Vice President of Facilities and Student Housing Karen] Frank, the timing on the construction of phase two is dependent on the simultaneous progression of three elements – design, zoning and fundraising. “When those three pieces converge, then we’ll build,” she said.

The more in-depth designs for the second phase of the project are nearly complete. “We’re going along, we’re trying to do the detailed design so we can get better [cost] numbers,” Frank said...

Fisher-Thompson described fundraising for phase two as “on track.”

-The HOYA, Oct. 7, 2005

Georgetown has “conversations” on the MSF. It maintains “dialogue”. It seeks “opportunities” to see progress. These are words better suited to a discussion on ethics, not construction projects, and certainly not projects where money was raised and accepted. And according to that story cited above, $12.7 million is not an insignificant number....

Because a the bottom of all this, this project is all about commitment, one which unfortunately speaks loud and clear to recruits, to parents, and to fellow coaches. It’s hurt football recruiting, even if people won’t say it, and it has hurt lacrosse recruiting, even if people won’t say that, either. How can Georgetown be committed to sports like football if it doesn’t even finish what it started?

The University doesn’t need a replica of AT&T Stadium for a facility, even if Jerry Jones himself is the parent of an football alum. It doesn’t need another Byrd Stadium, named after a former Georgetown quarterback, no less. [Dan] Porterfield’s goals in that 2009 letter were simple and direct: “To improve our teams' game-day experience, to make the venue more fan-friendly, and to construct an aesthetically pleasing facility.”

This project needs ownership and a frank discussion with its donors about what it is prepared to do…and what it expects its donors to do in return. And those in McDonough Gym that are used to my squawking about this subject understand it’s not personal, that despite talk that things are getting closer, some of us have heard that offer for too many years now.

In the meantime, day 3,000 will be day 3,001 before we know it.

-Third Rail Blog, Dec. 14, 2013