Friday, August 10, 2007

Anonymity, Woes, and New members

Who the heck are these guys? Well, the short answer is that they're members of the Wofford Terriers out of the Southern Conference, and a more complete answer is that Wofford could be the best team you've never heard of right now. On College Sporting News I mention three of these member on my All-Anonymous team, which includes the son of Lafayette head coach Frank Tavani (senior SS Dan Tavani). The idea was to point out some players that didn't make the pre-season all-American teams but could very well be names you hear about by the end of 2007.

You may recognize some Patriot League names on this team as well: senior T Jesse Padilla from the Leopards, and senior FB Josh DeStefano from Bucknell. Oh yeah, there's also a kid you may recognize whose last name rhymes with... Treat? Feat?

Also appearing on College Sporting News is a quick post on this year's Summer of Woe. It attempts to deal with many of the problems that have faced FCS schools this past offseason and put it into perspective. Mercifully, no Patriot League schools have been caught up in scandals like these - but that's no reason to become complacent, since these types of incidents can happen to anybody, anywhere, and anytime.

Finally, there's an interesting piece of NCAA news involving a four-year moratorium on members switching divisions or subdivisions. In other words, if you were holding out hope that Johns Hopkins was going to join the Patriot League in all sports, well, you're just going to have to wait at least four years before revisiting that possibility.

Of the schools that are currently moving to Division I (and are thus exempt from this moratorium), only Bryant College out of Rhode Island could potentially eventually fit into the Patriot League. After that, the only candidates for short term expansion could realistically be:

* private MAAC schools willing to play up to scholarship ball with AI restrictions
* private NEC schools willing to play up to scholarship ball with AI restrictions
* private CAA schools which want to leave the conference (in the low likelihood this would happen, they would most likely be associate members) and are willing to live with AI restrictions
* a current Division I school that doesn't have football and could be convinced to restart it (e.g., Boston University)

You could also throw into this mix private schools like Davidson (Pioneer associate in football) or VMI (Big South) into this discussion as well, but the fact remains that the number of potential schools for expansion just went down substantially. Patriot League expansion never seemed so far away.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Top 5 Goodman Moments, and The Personal Touch

Think you'd get this at Ohio State? In a busy week for Lehigh athletics, yesterday marked a first: a season ticket pickup event where holders could chat with coach Coen, assistant coaches, and the captains of the 2007 squad: senior QB Sedale Threatt, senior DB Ernest Moore, senior C John Reese, and senior DB Brannan Thomas. It took place at the Lehigh Athletics Hall of Fame (at Taylor Gymnasium in the middle of campus) and sounded like a fun event - I'd love for stuff like this to be an annual thing which emphasizes the personal and familial nature of Lehigh football. What better way to get folks excited than to talk to the players and coaches? (You can still buy season tickets if you click here.)

In other big news, our men's basketball coach Billy Taylor was hired away by Ball State this week, leaving the Lehigh basketball program in (what seemed to me) some disarray. The Morning Call report made it sound like Lehigh was somewhat caught flat-footed by the departure, with incoming recruits being unclear on the new direction and Lehigh Athletics Director Joe Sterrett heading a team to find an interim basketball coach.

First of all, I can't really blame coach Taylor for taking this opportunity to take a coaching position closer to his alma mater (Notre Dame). It sounds like a fantastic opportunity for him to climb the coaching ladder. Unfortunately, Lehigh also loses not only a very successful basketball coach who resurrected a program that was down in the dumps, but his presence also was one that served to welcome other African-American coaches and athletes into the Lehigh family. "Diversity" is an overused word, but Lehigh's diversity (for lack of a better term) has gotten better in recent years (for example, 11% of the class of 2010 was either African-American or Latino), and it's coaches like coach Taylor that we have to thank for that.

Coach Taylor hardly left a blank cupboard here, with a successful recruiting class and a team that isn't short on talent. Any incoming coach has a golden opportunity to make Lehigh the next Holy Cross or Bucknell in men's basketball in my somewhat-biased opinion. Here's hoping that the next coach will continue waht coach Taylor started.

Finally, Lehigh also kicked off their 20 seasons at Goodman promotion, where Lehigh Athletics will be compiling the Top 20 moments at Goodman Stadium. Lehigh Athletics is taking submissions from fans for their favorite games - just shoot them an email at sports@lehigh.edu with "Goodman 20" as the subject. When they're done on August 20th, they will compile the results and Lehigh's weekly sports magazine will count down the top 20 all-time games. Sounds like fun!

If you don't live in the area or don't get one of the buffet of different channels that carry the Lehigh Sports Magazine (DirecTV, DISH Network, Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh, Fox College Sports Atlantic, and CSTV: College Sports Television, and Service Electric 2 Sports), you can click here on the Lehigh Athletics site to find out about subscribing to the Yahoo! Sports Pack so you can watch (or listen) to Lehigh sports (and not just football), Lehigh press conferences, and the Sports Magazine online. I'm an old-fashioned "just barely off of basic cable guy", but I am a proud user of the Yahoo! Sports Pack and I find it to be the best sports deal of the century - last year it was about $6 per month (I think).

To help with the discussion on the "Top 20 Moments at Goodman", I thought I'd rank my personal Top 5 that doesn't include some of the more obvious choices (like "The Catch" during Lehigh/Lafayette 1995, or the 43-42 almost-win versus Holy Cross in 1991).

5. "The Abdullah Show" - October 21st, 1995. In Goodman's history, the best individual performance could have been RB Rabih Abdullah's 266 yard, 5 TD effort against the Cornell Big Red, including 2 TD runs of more than 60 yards. Abdullah was responsible for 30 of Lehigh's points (!) in a 34-23 win.

4. "7th and Goal" - November 27th, 2004. Yeah, we did end up losing this game 14-13 to the eventual national champion James Madison Dukes - but this was a truly underrated game in the annals of Goodman (and one of my first I-AA diaries). A defensive war, the "D"'s toughness stood out by stopping a powerful JMU offensive line on six straight goal line stands from the 1 yard line after finally yielding.

3. "Stambaugh's Scramble" - September 26th, 1998. It was too early then to speculate that Lehigh would have an undefeated regular season, but this thriller at Goodman against a rising Tiger squad was a dandy that went into overtime. After a rushing TD saw Princeton come all the way back to tie it at 24, Aylsworth was intercepted with time remaining to bring the game to OT. Then, Stambaugh took off on a broken play and found his way to the end zone - and CB Sam Brinley would seal the deal on Princeton's possession with an interception in the end zone for a 31-24 victory.

2. "Halloween Revenge" - October 31st, 2004. I'm not biased in favor of my diary games - really I'm not. But this 21-14 win over Colgate didn't only break a 2-game losing streak to the Raiders - it was the moment that Lehigh needed to show that they could beat a team that had been to the national championship game the year before, with most of the supporting cast still there. Tied most of the way, a surprise option play to Eric Rath ended up being the go-ahead score. Colgate was driving for the winning TD when an end-zone interception with 13 seconds left sealed the deal.

1. "South Mountain Miracle" - December 8th, 2001. The 24-21 victory over Hofstra in Lehigh's first-ever home playoff win has to be near the top of the list of moments - especially the way it played out. Star WR Josh Snyder on crutches to start the game? The Pride jumping out to a 14-0 lead which had their head coach thinking "blowout"? An ineffective QB Brant Hall benched for a little-used backup, QB Luke Cianello? Yet somehow, against all odds, Lehigh would battle their way back. With 3 minutes to play, RB Trevor Dimmie fumbled for Hofstra and Cianello would embark on "The Drive", a 92-yard grind that saw RB Jermaine Pugh get the game-tying score (and K Brian Kelley getting the extra-point) with 19 seconds left. You know the rest of the story: the "D" would stop the Pride in OT, and Kelley converted the FG to win their first postseason game since 1979 - and the first (and only) one at Goodman.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Media Day Mash-Up

During the football season I frequently do a mash-up of the press releases regarding Lehigh's games and give my own commentary. At this time of year in the Lehigh Valley, though, sometimes the coverage gets lost in the spectacle of Musikfest and the day-to-day goings on at Eagles Training Camp at Lehigh. (Both of which are free admission, by the way - my wife, son and I went to both on Sunday and had a fantastic time.)

As I wait for the full text of Sedale's media day speech to become available somewhere, I offer a mash-up of the media day events and the big league news that came out of there. One of the issues I have was that too many local papers didn't even have a proper write up of the event. (The Utica Observer-Dispatch has to take the cake for the smallest-ever press release on the event - and that's more than New York City, Washington, DC, the Worcester Telegram-Gazette, and Daily Item, Bucknell's local paper, had!) It's a real shame - and they actually missed some big news as a result of that.

The biggest news by far, reported by me on College Sporting News and by Keith Groller of the Morning Call, was about a fast-tracked study about tweaking the league's academic index and the topic of athletic scholarships. This external study, made by independent consultants, is expected to be finished in the next two weeks and presented to the school presidents this October. (No word if a copy of my extensive report on the Academic Index and scholarships, published in the College Sporting News in May 2007, had a factor in any of this, but I encourage you to read it and judge for yourself.)

Not to be neglected is the word from Paul Solokowski at the Easton Express-Times about removing the I-A and I-AA football terminology and the autoqualifier. As of last November we're no longer considered I-AA football: it's now Football Championship Subdivision (or FCS for short) while Penn State plays in "that other division" called Bowl Subdivision (or FBS for short).

Here's the mash-up:

"There was some confusion [about I-A and I-AA]," said [Lafayette coach Frank] Tavani, "Football was the only sport that had the I-AA designation. Now it's all Division I.

"It makes it a lot clearer to people," Tavani continued, "just differentiating between championship series because we actually play a championship series as opposed to a bowl championship series."

"Being called I-AA gave people the impression that we were something less than Division I," [Executive Director Carolyn] Schlie Femovich said. "We feel strongly that all our athletes are Division I."

...

Ms. Femovich, on the Academic Index study: "We are getting close to the end of the study. We are expecting a report in the next two weeks from the consultant group that we dealt with. The study was really based on a statistical analysis so we had good information as opposed to anecdotal information. When it's done, that study will be forwarded to the presidents, athletic directors and our policy committee people. We will take up recommendations that come out of that report at an October retreat that the [Patriot League] presidents are having. Hopefully, decisions can be made then, or certainly by December when they have their formal council presidents' meeting. So it's being fast-tracked: it certainly takes time to collect the data and make the analysis, but I feel we're moving in a good direction.

"I think the Academic Index in and of itself seems to be serving the league well, but I think there are some issues that need to be addressed with respect to some of the metrics and how we manage the variables. I don't think the index inself will be going away, but I think we will make some adjustments."

...

In 2006, Patriot teams were 13-23 against outside foes and 4-14 against the Ivy League. Lafayette and Lehigh, the league's co-champs, were 2-9 in non-league games, including the Leopards' playoff loss, and a combined 0-7 vs. the Ivies.

"All of those things are a concern to the coaches because the Patriot League hasn't been doing very well [against outside competition]and losing our automatic playoff berth is a concern down the road," Georgetown coach Kevin Kelly said. "Our school is expensive as are all the schools in our league. It costs $51,000 for one year to attend Georgetown. That's an eye-opening figure for the parents of potential recruits.

"Kids are starting to go to lower-tier academic schools because they can't make financial ends meet to attend a Georgetown, Lafayette or Lehigh. So, we need to push for scholarships. We want to be competitive with everyone and we want to keep that automatic playoff bid, which the Ivy League doesn't have."

In contrast to what coach Kelly said, Bucknell Athleticc Director John Hardt said that "The Patriot League's in very good shape... we are maintaining our automatic qualifier as far as playoffs are concerned."

Holy Cross coach Tom Gilmore, a former Lehigh assistant who played at Penn, said scholarships would help.

"They allow you to recruit a higher level athlete and compete with everyone in the country," he said. "When you don't have that scholarship, some families, some prospects, will turn their back on you early on in the process.

"In the context of our league institutions, it would permit us to increase the level of student-athlete in our programs and allow us to compete with the Ivies and the Northeast Conference. When the Northeast Conference went to scholarships, some people snubbed their noses and said 'That's not going to affect us because we're recruiting a different type of student-athlete.' That's no longer true.

"We're all approaching $50,000 a year to come to one of our schools," Gilmore added. "Even with a significant amount of financial aid, a large gap exists. The financial reality is that kids are going to take the scholarship route."

"We have some issues we're trying to address, not only in football, but every sport," [Ms. Femovich] said. "The admissions process and maintaining the academic quality of our student-athletes are always of concern to us. We're looking at the academic index and looking at data to analyze how it's been working. The academic profile of all of our students continues to increase and that forces the expectations on the incoming athletes to also increase. It means it's getting harder and harder for coaches to recruit and bring in quality athletes with also the same high academic standard.

"There's more and more pressure to play Bowl Subdivision schools. And issues like this raise the question on whether the Patriot League should offer scholarships. It is being talked about. What we have to evaluate is philosophically if it's the right thing to do in football and whether or not it's something financially we can afford to do. Additionally, on some of our campuses there's a strong feeling that we started out as a need-based conference in football to play against the Ivies. It's part of our heritage. The question is: is it time to change that?

"It will be in discussion throughout the fall, and it will be a part of the discussions in the retreat and in the president's council meeting in December."

...

On the field, Patriot League fans will notice a few rules changes -- which were approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel.

Most importantly to league coaches, the clock will start on the snap after change of possessions like it did prior to 2006. Last year, the clock started when the official signaled the ball ready for play -- which achieved the desired effect of quickening games but rankled coaches who believed they lost around 14 offensive plays per game.

Kickoffs will be moved to the 30-yard line this year from the 35 in an effort to bring more excitement to the return game.
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