Friday, March 02, 2007

No Rematch With Bucknell, But Full Weekend Slate

The debate may continue, but Lehigh won't be playing on Saturday as the men's basketball teams' season came to a bitter end late last night. The Patriot League issued a statement and appeared to take Lehigh's appeal very seriously, but in the end, as the Morning Call's Andre Williams mentioned today, ended on a technical point which shows that the officials did indeed follow the rules, even though the error was acknowledged.

''We thoroughly reviewed all of the available information, including the applicable NCAA rules and the broadband feed, and it appears that the shot left the player's hand after the clock expired,'' Carolyn Femovich, the Patriot League's executive director, said in a statement. ''The fact that the official's decision on the last-second shot impacted the outcome of the game is regrettable.

''There was a veteran officiating crew working the game. We expect game officials to manage the game according to the rules, and be held accountable for their actions.''

Lehigh coach Billy Taylor and his staff, appalled that the officials refused to review the play, appealed before Mickey Crowley, the coordinator of officials for the Patriot League and Ivy League.

''It's heartbreaking to have to go into your senior student- athletes, Jose Olivero, Kyle Neptune, Jason Mgebroff, Adam Hyncik, guys who have given themselves to Lehigh for four years, who have to end their career in that manner,'' he said. ''It's just very, very heartbreaking.

''As a coach you certainly don't want to be in that situation when you have to walk into that locker room and try to explain to your team how you lost a game that you really think that you won.''

According to Mike Stagnitta, Lehigh's men's basketball sports information director, assistant Mountain Hawks coach Brad Szalachowski, drove a burned VCR copy of the disputed play to Crowley in Long Island, arriving around 3 a.m. Thursday. Crowley then consulted with the Patriot League's Tournament Committee, which then held a conference call with Patriot League athletic directors.

''After consultation with Mickey Crowley, Patriot League Coordinator of Basketball Officials, and the Secretary-Rules Editor of the NCAA Basketball Rules Committee, it was determined that the ruling to maintain the outcome of the game should be based on Rule 2, Section 5 Article 1 of the NCAA Basketball Rules and Interpretations,'' the Patriot League said in a statement. ''This rule states that officials may use official courtside replay equipment, videotape or television monitoring that is located on a designated courtside table. Given that the game was not televised, and that the Internet equipment at courtside had not been designated as an official replay monitor, it was not permissible for the officials to use the Internet feed to review the end of game situation.''

Lehigh vehemently disagrees with that assessment.

''It's streaming video, but they called it Internet video,'' Stagnitta said. ''Yes, there wasn't a designated replay monitor set before the game, but because it was a Patriot League Tournament game, the Patriot League should have done that, and not Lehigh.''

''I certainly had a different perspective being there live,'' Taylor said. ''It's disappointing that that was a judgment call, and the judgment remained. I don't think it was the correct call. It's something that we are left to deal with, and it's time to move on.''

What to make of all of this? I can't blame coach Taylor for being upset. I highlighted what he said because I think he voices what my opinion is on the matter: Get the call right should be the first priority. Of course he's correct that the call wasn't the right call - the streaming video shows that to be the case. But for the league, this case ended up not being about the correct call and instead ended up being about referee's discretion and judgement. The referees' on-court judgement - wrong as it was - was allowed to stand because that's the way the rules were written. The streaming video wasn't pre-designated as a tool that the referees could use, though in all other ways it was consistent with something that they could have used.

Should Patriot League officials have designated it an official replay device? Lehigh's SID thinks so from the quoted article. Was it used in other first-round games? Did the fact that the tournament was being played at home venues have something to do with the fact that details like this weren't firmed up? Maybe; but for the Lehigh basketball team, it's all moot. Their season is over, and had they played better defense the last four seconds on Wednesday, I'd be spilling a lot less virtual ink on this.

I think the legacy of this play will mean that in the future streaming video will be designated by the league as an official means of reviewing calls. That's not much consolation to the four seniors on the team who are denied a chance at playing Bucknell this weekend. But the decision has been made, and it is time to move on.

...But A Full Weekend Slate
The Lehigh women's basketball team will be trying to pull the upset as the #7 seeded Lady Hawks will be facing #2 Army in the first round of the Patriot League tournament on Saturday at 4:00PM. Army (24-5, 11-3) will be a tough upset candidate, though the Lady Hawks gave them a good fight last month in Stabler, falling by a 77-71 margin. The women's tournament has a history of some wacky upsets, though, so hopefully they'll be one more this weekend.

The wrestling team has already started to make its way through the preliminaries of the EIWA championships this morning, as Lehigh looks for its unprecedented sixth-straight title. With David Craig nabbing a #1 seed at 184 and Matt Ciasulli and Paul Weibel getting #2 seeds at 141 and heavyweight respectively, Lehigh seems poised to make a run at defending last year's EIWA title. But Harvard, Penn, Navy and Cornell won't make it easy with some tough competitiors of their own with #1 seeds in all the other weight classes save one.

One weight class to look at is 125, where Lehigh's Matt Fisk is a #3 seed and hoping to make it through his bracket to set up a rematch of last year's final. If he can make it through - including possibly upending #3 seed Matthew Eveleth - we could see a rematch for a potential final against last year's champion, Cornell's Troy Nickerson.

More interesting matchups include a potential rematch of Lehigh's #2 Matt Ciasulli and Harvard's #1 Max Meltzer at 141, and Lehigh #1 seed David Craig potentially facing off against Harvard's #2 Louis Caputo - who won at Lehigh on a first-period takedown.

Add to that, Lehigh will certainly want to exact some revenge from their dual loss to Navy earlier in the year. A Paul Weibel/Ed Prendergast bout was extremely close, but ultimately went in Prendergast's favor.

So many compelling storylines here. And don't forget we're looking to qualify wrestlers for the NCAA championships in two weeks. Certainly worth following this weekend.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Lehigh Screwed

Our basketball season is over. But should it be?

Granted, Lehigh played horribly. But there's a controversy brewing over this game. Read the Morning Call's recap:

Stunned Lehigh Plans to Appeal Loss

Freshman Josh Miller made a running bank shot after the buzzer sounded (as video from Lehigh's Web site, lehighsports.com, showed) that lifted Army to a 47-46 win over Lehigh in the Patriot League tournament quarterfinals at Stabler Arena. Lehigh coach Billy Taylor, more animated than ever, said he planned to appeal.

''We have to fight the fight because it was clearly after the light went off, so we are going to continue to fight until they say we can't anymore, and then we'll fight some more,'' Taylor said.

...

It was the only Lehigh home game this year against a Patriot League opponent that Service Electric TV2 did not broadcast. Therefore, officials Jeff Smith, Jeff Bryant and Jack Sweeney did not have television video to review.

But Lehigh officials were willing to let them review their online video.

''There was at a courtside monitor at the table,'' Taylor said. ''The officials did not review it. They left the court.''

This is a first - officials refusing to review evidence that will help them make the right call. They should be fired as a result.

Look at this from a national perspective. Why should the Patriot League be governed under different rules than the rest of the big-money D-I conferences? If we want to be considered a big-time conference - or even a mid-major conference - these are NOT the headlines that are going to be good for the league.

Why would it have been appropriate to review if Service Electric broadcast the game, but not appropriate since lehighsports.com had a video feed? It makes no sense. Hell, it's the same monitor that they would have been using! If you have access to lehighsports.com, feel free to review the video for yourself. Still think Army won?

Having said that, Lehigh played pathetically in this game... but they cannot let that call stand. Army won on a blown call, period.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Tonight: Round 1 for the Men

Tonight at 7:00PM, the Lehigh men's basketball team will be battling Army in the first round of the Patriot League tournament, and if you're in the area you had better show up! It's postseason basketball, man, and anything can happen. Win, and we play again; lose, and the season is over.

During the regular season we lost at Army 64-59, but we beat the Black Knights at Stabler 75-64. In our loss, senior G Jose Olivero had 7 points. In our win, Olivero had 30 points. No bonus stars as to what we need to do to win tonight and move on (probably) to Sojka in Lewisburg, PA to face Bucknell.

In a bit of a surprise, coach Taylor is starting a three-guard lineup with two good ballhandlers in freshman G Marquis Hall (no surprise) and sophomore G Tim Szalachowski (a surprise), which means senior C Jason Mgebroff will be coming off the bench. I love Patriot League tournament time, and I'll be following on the radio. (If you're not near a radio, you can also follow along on lehighsports.com.) Notice that it looks like the game will NOT be on Service Electric 2, so either you have to get to a radio, get to a computer, or get your butt to Stabler, to find out what happens.

This is a first for the Patriot League tournament venues hosting all the first and second round games. In an article written by Andre Williams of the Morning Call, Patriot League executive director Carolyn Femovich, Bucknell head coach pat Flannery and Lehigh head coach Billy Taylor weigh in on the new format:

''I expect that we are going to stay with this for a number of years,'' said Carolyn Femovich, the Patriot League's executive director. ''I think the one thing that might cause us to go in a different way is that, if we found a neutral site that was somewhat central for our membership, that would allow us to bring everyone together without a home-court advantage, and I think we'd look seriously into that.''

Not all coaches are in favor of this current format.

''I'd love to see the tournament at one site,'' said Bucknell coach Pat Flannery, whose Bison could possibly host all three tournament games. ''I'd love to see us go to Hershey or the Wachovia Center [in Philadelphia] or something. I just think that's fantastic.''

The neutral-site format is beneficial for other reasons.

''I also like it for our team because I think you can prepare for teams quicker,'' Flannery said.

The quarterfinal and semifinals in the 2002, 2003 and 2004 tournaments were held at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, Md., a rural suburb of Washington, D.C.

It attracted few fans, but at least all eight teams opened play at the same site.

The Patriot League women's quarterfinals and semifinals will be contested at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., March 3-4.

''We've tried a number of different formats just in my five years being in the league, so I'll see how this works,'' Lehigh coach Billy Taylor said.
I happen to agree with all the folks quoted above that we should have a centrally-located location for the Patriot League tournament. And I have the perfect venue in mind. Why not the Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton, NJ?

Aside from the fact that it's a stone's throw from where I live (and, by the way, many Patriot League alumni), it's fairly centrally located (almost equidistant from Worcester, MA and Annapolis, MD), it's a reasonable-sized venue for schools of our size (its capacity is 9,000, not as cavernous as the Wachovia center, for example), and just last year they were hoping to host part of the NCAA women's basketball tournament. For them, hosting the Patriot League men's and women's tournaments would be the perfect precursor to hosting men's or women's tournament games.

It looks to me that all you'd need to do is talk to the Trenton Titans (an ECHL club) to go on a road trip the first week in March. Am I the only person thinking that this sort of arrangement would be a win/win for everybody?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The New Realities: Part II

Last week, I talked a little bit about some of the realities in regards to athletic recruiting in the Patriot League in today's world. If you hit the link above, you'll see an in-depth talk about the Academic Index (or AI) used by the Patriot League (modeled after the Ivy League's own AI), as well as a talk about the shrinking pool of athletic recruits available to all Ivy and Patriot League schools, and some of the idiosyncrasies that scholarships offer Patriot League institutions in our sports that allow them.

Today I'll talk more about the Ivy and Patriot League's AI system, and how it fits in with the big world of football recruiting on a national level. But first, it's worth talking about donuts.

Donuts, Chuck? What the Hey!?!
Not only are donuts tasty (and against all odds are a popular breakfast "food"), the best way to describe athletic recruiting in terms of the Ivies and Patriot League teams is using the analogy of donuts.

Let's think of an athletic team as a circle on a graph. On one axis is number of accepted athletes, and on another is the amount of aid they are going to receive.

Let's think of (say) Harvard. Their circular graph will look just like a Dunkin' Donuts jelly donut. Many, many players will simply play for Harvard since they're considered academic champions in the court of public opinion (which I consider to be the "Hey, we're HA-VAHD" effect). Plenty of kids will go who can afford to pay their way, but also many, many kids will go to Harvard that can only pay part of their way or almost all of their way as well. Basically, it's a nice, full, round, delicious jelly donut.

Now, let's think of (say) Holy Cross. Their circular graph will look more like an Entenmann's plain donut. There will be a significant number of players who will make the team and are willing to pay their way to get into Holy Cross (since Holy Cross is a pretty damned good school). There will also be a significant number of athletes who qualify for educational grants-in-aid for football players (which, in effect, have the same effect as a football scholarship), which make up the large lower end of the donut. What's missing is that kid in-between that Harvard (and Dartmouth, Cornell, Brown, or Columbia) gets but we don't - that kid that qualifies for some financial aid from either Holy Cross or an Ivy League school. Most of the time, Harvard, Yale, Penn or Princeton simply say "hey, we're HA-VAHD" (or the equivalent) and they're in.

Now, this is a little simplistic. The Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Penn donuts are clearly jelly donuts. However Ivies and Patriot League schools compete for a lot of the same athletes, so the Columbia, Cornell, Brown, and (most notably) Dartmouth donuts also are closer to the Entenmann's than the jelly donuts as well. But the donuts with the biggest squeeze on them are clear. They're the donuts with the schools listed as "most selective" by US News and World Report. This not only includes Dartmouth, Cornell, Columbia and Brown. It also - quite firmly -includes Colgate, Georgetown, Bucknell, Lehigh, and Lafayette (with Holy Cross and Fordham not far behind).

Who's Eating the Donut Holes?
Complicating matters is the relationship that other scholarship schools bring to the plate that affect all these "Entenmann's" schools. In the real world, it's not just Ivies and Patriot League schools competing for the same talent. Schools like Delaware (of the Colonial Athletic Conference, or CAA) are pretty damn good schools in their own right -- and they are competing for some the same recruits, with the key difference being they can offer scholarships as a result.

Delaware is a very good example since they are also in our Division I subdivision of FCS. Both Lehigh and Delaware compete for the FCS National Championship. Suppose hypothetical recruit Joe X has a 3.6 GPA, is a great football talent and is recruited by Penn, Lehigh, and Delaware. If playing for a national championship is the most important thing for him, Penn falls out of the race, and it's between Lehigh and Delaware.

Lehigh brings their AI calculators and find out that Joe X's parents make modest money and Joe could qualify for some financial aid. But Delaware turns around and says that they can offer a full scholarship as long as he's a part of the football team. It's not really a contest: Joe X's parts can go into serious hock to pay for Lehigh, or barely pay anything to go to Delaware. Delaware is in the "more selective" category of US News and World Report's college rankings (putting them with Fordham and Holy Cross), while Lehigh's in the "most selective". But a Delaware education is still pretty damn good - and it's paid for.

Delaware is a good example of a very good FCS school that competes with Patriot League schools for recruits. But those are not the only northeastern schools in the hunt for football players. The Northeast Conference, or NEC, just last year announced that they were going from a limited grant-in-aid model (similar to the Patriot League) to a limited scholarship model. Now Albany, Central Connecticut State, Sacred Heart, Monmouth, St. Francis (PA), Wagner, and Robert Morris now can compete head-to-head for us for some recruits. They'll be offering some full and a lot of partial scholarships, even though the NEC champion doesn't get an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. In addition, Albany, Monmouth and Central Connecticut State can shop the fact that they beat well-established FCS programs on the road last year (Lehigh, Delaware, Colgate, and Georgia Southern).

But CAA and NEC schools are only part of the picture. What is emerging as the biggest sucking sound of donut holes isn't in FCS at all, but FBS. That sucking sound is coming from Storrs, CT and Rutgers, NJ - that's right, the Big East is finally starting to fulfill its promise as a football league.

On Thursday, November 9th, 2006, a lot of area fans ecstatically watched Rutgers beat nationally-ranked Louisville at home 28-25 at a sold-out Rutgers stadium. No better recruiting video for Rutgers football could have been concocted. Long a laughingstock of I-A football, Rutgers exploded on the national scene. Lee Corso spent weeks talking about Rutgers' chances for a national title. Were it not for a heartbreaking double-overtime loss to West Virginia, Rutgers would have been playing in a BCS bowl for mega-money and a top ranking. Rutgers' recruiting pitch used to be "Play against the best". Now, it's "Play for a BCS championship."

UConn's move from the A-10 (now the CAA) to the Big East has also had a major impact. After playing in their first bowl in 2005, UConn's profile on the national scene is rising as well as the Big East as a conference continues to regain the respect it lost when losing Virginia Tech, Boston College and Miami (FL). The Husky recruiting video probably also includes Rutgers' improbable win. Their recruiting pitch could be, "It was them last year. Why not us this year?"

The impact in recruiting in the northeast of these two emerging FBS programs has been immediate for the three Patriot League schools who have announced their recruiting classes. In 2006, Lehigh nabbed eight recruits from New Jersey. This year, we only nabbed three. In 2006, Lafayette nabbed six Garden State recruits; this year, only two. I don't have Fordham's incoming class numbers from 2006, but I'd be willing to bet they had more athletes from their tri-state area last year than this year - five from NY, three from NJ, and one from CT, or nine athletes from their incoming class of twenty-five. And remember, Fordham is rated as "more selective", not "most selective" in US News & World Report.

So, Boo to the AI?
Talk about doomsday. So, why don't we simply get rid of the AI and start offering football scholarships? Problem solved, right? Of course, it's not that easy - nor would it be desirable.

I think it's safe to say that most Lehigh alumni, students and fans are quite happy with Lehigh's stature as a superb academic school. Although there are a few voices who thick we should jump to FBS, they're mostly voices in the wilderness. Lehigh epitomizes the Patriot League/FCS school perfectly, and all the while it exists academically as a school no less great or selective as Dartmouth, Cornell, Brown or Columbia. (I think we resemble these schools a lot more than most people care to think.)

There are a lot of voices (that aren't necessarily football fans) within the Patriot League and Ivy League which would be up in arms about jettisoning the AI. Theoretically, the Ivy League could refuse to play us since we would be a "scholarship league" rather than an AI (read: similar to the Ivy) league. There are also many folks who developed the Patriot League that would be up in arms at the league finally ditching one of the principles upon which it was founded. Whether you agree or disagree with this principle, there ARE folks who will guard this principle to their bones.

Furthermore, I wouldn't be very happy about it either. Say what you want about the AI in terms of competitiveness, but it delivers student/athletes that for the most part can handle the academic workload of a premier academic school. And at a school like Lehigh, it's premier academics and the chance to compete for championships that makes Lehigh special and important, but ultimately, it's the degree which matters the most.

The AI also gives us identity as a league. It does show that we care about creating academic champions - that we're not going to compromise principles to get kids who do not fit academically in our school. Getting rid of the AI completely will give the opposite message - that we ARE ready to compromise to have good sports teams.

I happen to think that ditching the AI and going full scholarship is not the ultimate solution. I think there is a better, middle way - one I'll talk about next week.
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