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 Wix.com) 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 HoyaSaxa.com:

"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..."