Friday, August 14, 2009

Eagles Fans Howl at the Moon

(Photo courtesy Marcia White, The Easton Express-Times)

The plan was to write a nice summary about Lehigh preseason camp today, but sometimes a news story close to home causes everything to get upended - and the Michael Vick story does just that. Word spread through the preseason broadcast of the first Eagles preseason game last night, and rapidly found its way onto ESPN, the NFL network and everyone's front page today: Michael Vick, the talented QB fresh out of jail for torturing dogs and sponsoring dogfighting, was signed by the Eagles yesterday evening.

Despite an early radio campaign to drum up support (I actually heard a radio ad several weeks ago talking about Eagles fans dreaming of Michael Vick as an Eagle), almost to a person fans, commentators and observers think this is a horrible idea. Fans are not "excited" - as the radio ad would have you believe - they're sad. (And, no, not just the Eagle fans who happen to be dogs, like the one pictured.)

I have my own opinions on the matter.

First of all, I am of the belief that Michael Vick has done his time, and he deserves a second chance to play NFL football. Yes, (mostly white) dog-lovers might want to lock up Vick for the rest of his life, but the truth is that in a court of law Vick was convicted, was punished, and he's now a free man to pursue what he wants to pursue. There is a compelling reason for the NFL to punish Michael Vick more - losing dog-lovers and dog owners as fans in the future - but it's the NFL's decision whether that's something they care about or not. And, frankly, I don't think the NFL should go down the road of preventing him from playing - he's done his time, he should get the opportunity to show he can play.

However, the circumstances of his eligibility are a huge problem for any team. Currently, he's not allowed to suit up until Week 6 at the earliest - meaning Donovan McNabb has to sit around in limbo as the Eagles starting quarterback until mid-October. That's not fair to McNabb - who could be the only potential NFL hall-of-famer who has had to suffer criticism every year that he shouldn't be the starter, despite 4 NFC championship games and 1 Super Bowl appearance. (I mean, Eagles fans I know have actually tried to make cogent arguments that Kevin Kolb could step in easily for McNabb and replace him. This year. And, no, it wasn't Rush Limbaugh.)

The NFL, oddly enough, might have been better served by saying that Vick were eligible to practice and play with an NFL team right away. After all, he was an NFL starting quarterback when he left the game, and everyone has to assume he still has NFL-quality talent. It would not have been popular, but it would have minimized the distraction and not put a team in a strange limbo concerning Vick. And it would have given Vick a chance to play on a team right away that would be willing to use his services - and clearly, even with the distractions and the weird circumstances, multiple teams were interested.

(What - a pro sports league, hurt by dithering over issues regarding their stars? What is this, Major League Baseball?)

I know it will seem like some bitter Eagles fans don't want Vick because he's African-American and because he's spent time in jail. Vick, love him or hate him, sits squarely on the open sore of racism in this country, and whomever signed him was going to have to face (mostly white) fans and protesters in the face of the team that signed him. Perhaps since it's a black quarterback that might be the victim of Vick's return, from the Eagles' perspective that removes an important element of race from the signing that might be present at another club (imagine, say, it were Tony Romo's or Eli Manning's starting job that was threatened, and what those fans might say).

But the problems I have with the Vick signing have zero to do with race and everything to do with McNabb. I happen to beleive that McNabb deserves to start as long as he's physically able to do so. Hasn't McNabb done enough? Does he deserve having the distraction of Vick waiting in the wings until halfway through the year? I certainly don't think so. McNabb has been the heart and soul of the Eagles - and is the reason why many, many people have become Eagles fans. It's almost incomprehensible to see Vick take his place.

And now the Eagles - hated in the best of times by the rest of the NFL - becomes, to a lot of people, the team that sold their soul to get a championship, the Redskins of the modern era, or (even worse) the Yankees. A team that casts one hall-of-fame quarterback to the side to try to get another at a bargain, circuses be damned. It's not so much Vick, who deserves another chance. It's about McNabb, who has deserved a hell of a lot more admiration than he's been given over his time being the heart and soul of the Eagles.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What I Did (Or Am Doing) This Summer

I'm away on summer vacation, but I couldn't resist getting in a few tidbits of information about Lehigh before I left. (I wrote this post earlier.)

While I'm enjoying the seaside, junior RB Jaren Walker was volunteering at the Sports Camp at Lehigh. The Johnson-McCormick family tried to blog about the experience without me knowing, but - let's just say I have ways to find out things.

This past week Kyle and Owen were in Sports Camp at Lehigh. They had their most fun week yet of the entire summer! They LOVED LOVED LOVED it. They just soaked it all up and could not have been happier with it.
Last week, fall practice started. In the official release, coach Coen makes one very interesting note:

Freshman RB Zach Barket and freshman RB Tony Kablan have a great opportunity in front of them; the running backs always see a lot of action and get a high number of reps during camp so each one of those guys will have a chance to show what he’s capable of.”
I haven't made an official determination (yet) of preseason camp needs, but you can bet No. 1 is the battle between Barket, Kablan, Walker, junior RB Jay Campbell and sophomore RB Matt Fitz. You've got to believe that Walker has the inside edge - as long as he's 100% - but after that it gets real, real interesting.

Sharp-eyed roster watchers saw a new face on the Lehigh roster: sophomore OL Blake McCroskey, a 6'5 300 lb lineman who transferred to Lehigh from Cincinnatti of the Big East. He originally was planning to come to Colgate - but it was reported to be Lehigh's business school which tipped him to come to Lehigh instead. Will he step into the "O" line right away? We'll see.

Lehigh also added a name to the coaching staff a few weeks ago: young Moravian coach Sal DeWalt, who will be coaching the "O" line. He did a great job with D-III Moravian's line the past two years. Coach Coen had this to say about him:

"I am excited to announce Sal as a member of our staff," Coen says in a news release. "He comes highly recommended as a football coach and as a person.

"In the short time he has been with us, I am impressed and I know he will help us as we work towards our goal of winning a ninth Patriot League championship."

Finally - since I've got to get going - if you saw someone who looked like Matt Millen at a Lehigh game last year, it was probably him:

"This off-season, after I got fired in Detroit, I watched high school football, I watched Division III football, I’d go to Muhlenberg, Moravian, local high schools around there (in Pennsylvania). I went to a couple Lehigh games, I watched Lafayette and went to the Lafayette-Harvard game, and that was really interesting. You can see where football’s going and how the top influences the bottom. It’s really fascinating. I went to the Harvard game and was shocked how much is taken away from the field and is on the sideline. I couldn’t believe it.”
Yes, Matt, we really do play football here at Lehigh (and "that school in Easton").

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Sunday's Word: Craps

Even though I'm on vacation, I did want to post a quick "Sunday Word" on a subject that may not seem to affect Lehigh - but it does.

Recently, Delaware state's government rolled the dice about allowing sports gambling in the state. In an effort to plug the massive hole in the state budget, they instituted a plan to take advantage of a federal loophole to re-institute a form of sports gambling that they had dropped in 1976.

Whatever the motivations of Delaware governor Jack Markell, he had to know that the NCAA doesn't take kindly to sports gambling - they've largely upheld a ban of sanctioned NCAA postseason events, for example, and none of the big-money events - so he must have known that the NCAA would be likely to bring the hammer down on Delaware schools if sports gambling were legalized.

And this Friday, the NCAA delivered what was expected: a ban on NCAA postseason competition for schools in the First State. For those Patriot League fans scoring at home, that means Delaware and Delaware State, should they qualify for the playoffs, will be playing on the road. Delaware's governor rolled the dice, in effect, on the schools' postseason opportunities - and it came up "craps".

Now, I'm no friend of gambling. I don't like the state of Delaware trying to do this to balance their budget since it won't work. The Sands won't balance Pennsylvania's budget, and neither will this endeavor. And I don't think table games or sports betting has any place next to an institution of higher learning.

But Delaware's gamble will hardly mean 'craps' for Lehigh's athletic conference. The collateral benefit is: for any of the Patriot League teams that might win the autobid to the playoffs this year, this offers a whale of an opportunity. If Delaware wins the CAA's autobid or qualifies as an at-large team, the playoff subcommittee will be looking for venues to host the Blue Hens, and tops on that list will most likely be a Patriot League school.

It's very unclear how long this postseason ban on Delaware schools might last. It's certain to be challenged in court, and even so the last time Delaware tried sports gambling to balance the budget they actually had to stop it in 1976 since it actually started to lose money. This may be only a limited-time offer.

Now I don't know if Lehigh has what it takes this year to make the FCS playoffs. But as a Lehigh fan I've never seen Delaware play at Murray Goodman - they played twice there, the last time in 1997, and I'm dying for the rematch. This might be the best opportunity in a long time - nay, perhaps the best opportunity ever - to see it happen again.

It's not all that important now - but maybe it should be in the back of everybody's head, just in case it happens. It would be sad to have a limited opportunity to get to play Delaware at home in the playoffs - and instead come up 'craps'.
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