The Citadel begins its search for a new AD

On Tuesday, Larry Leckonby resigned as director of athletics at The Citadel to take a similar job at Catawba College, a Division II school in North Carolina.

In doing so, he became the first “modern” AD at The Citadel to take another full-time position. The previous three directors of athletics at the school (Eddie Teague, Walt Nadzak, and Les Robinson) all retired after their respective tenures at the military college.

The move was not unexpected. Indeed, last month a Clemson-oriented website breathlessly reported that “Clemson Associate Athletic Director Bill D’Andrea is the leading candidate to become the new athletic director at The Citadel”, which was news to just about everyone, since at the time the position was occupied (more on that later in this post).

At the time, Leckonby told The Post and Courier‘s Jeff Hartsell “Not that I know of,” in response to a question as to whether or not he was leaving. However, rumors persisted through the end of April and into May.

There is a whiff of “jump or be pushed” in assessing the reasons for Leckonby’s departure.

In six years, he developed a reputation as being good at balancing a budget. Some observers occasionally maligned him as a “bean counter”, which was probably unfair.

For one thing, bean counters are necessary. Leckonby had work to do on that front when he first arrived in Charleston. From all accounts, he handled it well.

However, Leckonby’s time at the school was marked by generally unsuccessful performances by The Citadel’s varsity teams. While he was AD, the department only won one SoCon team title (2010 baseball).

The rifle team did capture the SEARC championship in 2011 (the SoCon doesn’t sponsor rifle). It is also only fair to note that the wrestling team had some truly outstanding individual accomplishments in the last few years.

The Citadel’s highest-profile sports, though, were a sore spot. In the last four decades, the military college has only had five school years during which the football, basketball, and baseball teams all had losing records. However, three of those years have come in the last four campaigns.

Leckonby’s hiring of Chuck Driesell as head basketball coach has yet to produce on-court success, to say the least. The football program has continued a 15-year rut (and counting) of mostly sub-.500 seasons, and even the Diamond Dogs have scuffled as of late.

All of The Citadel’s varsity sports are important to the college, but the “big three” have a special place in the hearts of the school’s alums/supporters. It hurts the department as a whole when none of them are doing well.

Leckonby was perceived in some quarters as being largely indifferent to a variety of issues of varying importance. Just to name a few: the corps of cadets’ seating during football gamesthe overall ambiance at Johnson Hagood Stadium; the disposition of the cheerleading squad; the mascot program; and the much-criticized video streaming service.

I’m not going to throw him under the bus for all of that, largely because it’s hard for me to determine how much of that was him being difficult (or shortsighted) and how much was Leckonby simply following orders. You can’t blame him for everything.

In accepting the position at Catawba, Leckonby stated that he wanted to focus on “one-on-one engagement with Catawba’s coaching staff, its student-athletes and with all of those who support the athletics program.” That’s an admirable desire. I wish him well at Catawba. I’m sure everyone else who supports The Citadel does, too. 

I think the newly open position will be an attractive one. It isn’t an easy job by any means (and may get more difficult as the years go by).

However, there is a lot to be said for running the department of athletics at an outstanding school, located in Charleston, with a loyal fan base, and that has a history of being patient with administrators and coaches (the person hired for the job will become only the fifth AD at The Citadel since 1957). It’s a good gig.

Already, a number of people have been mentioned as candidates. The first name that popped up, as mentioned above, was Bill D’Andrea, a longtime Clemson administrator who is retiring from that school. D’Andrea has not been particularly shy about his interest (confirming as much late Tuesday morning in an email to WCSC-TV sportscaster Kevin Bilodeau).

I am more than a little dubious about the “sources” referenced by Clemson Insider‘s William Qualkinbush, who suggested in April that D’Andrea was “the leading candidate” for the position. His article also initially stated that The Citadel was a private institution; if a media member doesn’t know enough about the school to know that it is public, then I’m not really confident in any tips he is getting about the inner workings of the Board of Visitors.

Clemson Insider remains confident in its reporting. Fair enough.

D’Andrea has a fine reputation and is very popular in key Clemson circles. However, he is just one of many qualified people who will be in the mix. Other names that will be (or have been) mentioned for the job: Jerry Baker, John Hartwell, Fred Jordan, Geoff Von Dollen, Robby Robinson, Harvey Schiller, and Kelly Simpson. Some of them may not actually be interested. Many will be.

The search for a new AD should be a wide-ranging one that leaves no stone unturned. Gene Sapakoff of The Post and Courier wrote in his Wednesday column that there is “no need to search from sea to shining sea and bring in 11 candidates for first-round interviews.” I completely disagree.

I have no idea where he came up with the number eleven, but if it is in the school’s best interests to bring in that specific number of people for initial interviews, then the search committee should do so. And yes, I think a “search from sea to shining sea” is more than appropriate. It’s necessary.

This is an important hire. It has be made with due process and careful consideration.

Obviously, the new AD has to be able to grasp what The Citadel is all about sooner rather than later. That is just one of many attributes the new director of athletics must have. Two others are perhaps of the utmost importance.

1) He or she must be a great fundraiser. Not a good fundraiser, but a great one — both from a personal perspective, and in terms of organizational ability.

If a candidate tells the search committee, “I can raise $20 million per year,” the first question a committee member asks should be, “What about $40 million?”

2) The new AD has to have a long-term vision for varsity athletics, one that matches the needs of the institution.

There are some supporters of The Citadel (including me) who believe the school should have a more expansive sports portfolio. Not everyone is on board with that line of thinking, of course. However, I think most alums/supporters would agree with the idea that an educational institution should be treated as an investment, rather than a series of journal entries in a general accounting ledger.

I want the next director of athletics to be an imaginative thinker and a creative force of nature. I want him or her to have big plans, and possess the wherewithal to make those plans come to life.

The next few weeks are going to be fascinating. I hope they will also be productive.

I’ll be watching, and listening, and maybe pontificating from time to time.

Won’t we all…

Home football attendance at The Citadel, 1964-2011: an analysis

I’ve written about home attendance at The Citadel on the blog before, as far back as 2009. With this post, though, I’m going to compare yearly win/loss numbers with how many people were in the stands. Basically, I’m trying to see how a history of winning (or not winning) correlates with attendance.

There are a lot of factors that lead to attendance increasing or decreasing, but the biggest one is the product on the field. Fans want to see a winner. What I set out to determine, to the best of my ability, was whether ticket sales at The Citadel in a given year go up or down based on the team’s play that particular season, or if prior seasons also make an impact.

To do that, I compiled the attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium for every season since 1964 (seasonal totals; I don’t have that many of the individual game summaries). For some of the information, I received assistance from The Citadel’s Athletics Media Relations office, for which I am most grateful. Therefore, I promise to support Northwestern University football (preseason ranking: 59) throughout the 2012 Big 10 campaign. It’s the least I can do.

I’m going to take a few paragraphs to discuss the lack of available information for the pre-1966 years, and mention a few other odds and ends. Feel free to skip to the main section of this post if necessary…

Ideally, it would be possible to compare attendance totals all the way back to at least 1948, the year Johnson Hagood Stadium opened. However, compiling numbers from the pre-1966 years is problematic. I have checked newspaper accounts in an attempt to fill in gaps, but I am not confident in the accuracy of some of those listings. I am reasonably satisfied that the 1964 and 1965 seasons are accurate, so I included them in my study.

I value completeness as much as anyone, and I hope someday to have “good” attendance numbers for the 1940s/1950s/early 1960s. I know there are people interested in those years; I’m one of them. A few other notes on this subject:

- While I suspect newspaper writers of the time were generally good at estimating crowd totals, I was struck by how often scribes would suggest the crowd was actually larger than the stated attendance. In the 1960 home opener against Newberry, Ed Campbell wrote that “Citadel officials estimated the opening night crowd at 13,000 persons, although it was difficult to figure out how 8,000 more fans could have crammed into the [21,000 listed capacity] arena.”

On the front page of that same day’s paper, the estimated attendance was listed at “some 14,000 fans”, a “pleasant and generally sober crowd”.

The Citadel’s next home game that season was a notable contest against Florida State, a scoreless tie universally regarded as one of the Bulldogs’ all-time best results. Here again there were two different sets of attendance numbers in The News and Courier, with the game story describing “11,200 screaming fans”, while the front of the paper feature article listed a crowd of 12,000. That front-page piece includes one of the funnier alibis ever offered by a reporter unable to get a good quote or story:

The fans themselves were too interested in the ball game to provide material for journalistic comment.

Another example of a reporter questioning the attendance totals in 1960 (for the game against Presbyterian): was it 12,000 (per The Citadel) or “at least 15,000″ (the writer’s opinion)? Even the Homecoming game against VMI that year was subject to debate, as the official total was announced as 13,970 despite the fact that the crowd “looked to some veteran observers to be more like 17,000″.

- The totals in The News and Courier generally were rounded. For instance, the listed totals in the paper for 1962’s home games were as follows: 10,200 (Davidson); 10,500 (Presbyterian), 10,300 (William&Mary); 10,100 (VMI); and 10,600 (Memphis State). I don’t have much faith in those totals, based on how similar they are (10,X00) and the “rounded-off” nature of them. I also find it hard to believe attendance in 1962 only deviated by 500 people per game for the five games. I consider them decidedly “unofficial” until convinced otherwise.

- I do not have the newspaper’s estimated totals for one game in 1961 and one game in 1963, so I wouldn’t have included them anyway, even if I thought the numbers were accurate and/or official. This is too bad, particularly for 1961, as a listing of home attendance figures for that year’s SoCon title team would have been noteworthy. For the record, I’m missing the home opener that year against George Washington. Attendance for the other four home games that season had an estimated range of 7,250 (Richmond) to 16,200 (a big Parents’ Day battle with Furman with league title ramifications, won by the Bulldogs 9-8).

- A crowd of 10,600 (apparently a go-to number for attendance) watched The Citadel lose the 1963 home finale to Richmond. Included in that alleged 10,600 was the former king of Italy, Umberto II. I am guessing it will be a while before another Italian king watches a game at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

If the great Umberto Eco were to make an appearance at the stadium, however, that would more than make up for it. Stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus.

- Speaking of things that happened in 1963 that don’t really have anything to do with attendance, but which I encountered while doing some research and figured were interesting enough to throw in anyway: Vince Petno was the featured subject in the first “live” color photograph ever published by a South Carolina newspaper (at least, according to The News and Courier). The photo was in print “less than nine hours after the action occurred.”

Okay, table time. I took the average per game attendance numbers at JHS for 1964-2011 and compared them to the team’s win/loss totals in the following categories: winning percentage from the previous season, winning percentage for the current season, combined winning percentage for the previous season and the current one, and the combined winning percentage over three-, five-, and ten-year periods (with the current season being the final year in each category).

I wanted to test theories such as:

- Is attendance generally predicated on how a team did the year before, or is the current campaign more important?

- How much “goodwill” does a program buy if it is successful for multiple consecutive seasons?

I’ve posted tables listing the top 10 seasons in each category for 1964-2011, along with the corresponding bottom 10. Occasionally, there will be eleven seasons instead of ten, because of ties.

First, average attendance per game:

       Year         Wins       Losses         T-Att     Avg-Att
1991 7 4 92,476 18,495
1975 6 5 109,920 18,320
1976 6 5 90,830 18,166
1979 6 5 89,190 17,838
1992 11 2 141,477 17,684
1989 5 5 70,457 17,614
1980 7 4 105,415 17,569
1969 7 3 100,759 16,793
2003 6 6 83,794 16,578
1990 7 5 97,730 16,288
1997 6 5 73,036 12,172
1973 3 8 73,020 12,170
2005 4 7 58,369 11,673
2010 3 8 68,669 11,445
1974 4 7 55,597 11,119
1968 5 5 55,088 11,017
1964 4 6 52,600 10,520
1965 2 8 62,394 10,399
2004 3 7 40,435 10,108
1966 4 6 49,060 9,812

The first ten years are the best years for average attendance. The second group is the bottom ten. (That is how all the tables to follow are set up as well.)

Although 1992 comes in fifth place for average attendance in a season, in my opinion it was actually first. The Citadel claimed its second Southern Conference title that year, of course, and won a school-record 11 games. It also hosted eight home contests, due to two playoff matchups.

The official totals for those two playoff games were 12,300 (North Carolina A&T) and 13,021 (Youngstown State). As someone who attended both games, I can attest that those numbers are ludicrous, underestimating the actual totals by at least 5,000 people for each game. I assume the NCAA had something to do with that.

Even if you conservatively credit attendance for those games as including an extra 3,500 fans, 1992 would hold the per-game record.

Next up, the top 10 and bottom 10 teams by winning percentage:

       Year         Wins      Losses       Win %         T-Att     Avg-Att   Rank-Att
1992 11 2 84.62% 141,477 17,684 5
1971 8 3 72.73% 89,440 14,906 21
1969 7 3 70.00% 100,759 16,793 8
1981 7 3 (1 tie) 68.18% 105,725 15,103 17
1988 8 4 66.67% 94,509 15,751 12
1991 7 4 63.64% 92,476 18,495 1
1980 7 4 63.64% 105,415 17,569 7
1984 7 4 63.64% 75,050 15,010 19
2007 7 4 63.64% 82,541 13,756 31
1990 7 5 58.33% 97,730 16,288 10
2001 3 7 30.00% 78,333 15,666 13
2004 3 7 30.00% 40,435 10,108 47
1983 3 8 27.27% 79,825 15,956 11
1986 3 8 27.27% 83,348 13,891 29
1973 3 8 27.27% 73,020 12,170 40
2010 3 8 27.27% 68,669 11,445 42
2002 3 9 25.00% 93,491 15,581 14
1965 2 8 20.00% 62,394 10,399 46
1999 2 9 18.18% 86,898 14,483 25
2000 2 9 18.18% 71,712 14,342 27
1995 2 9 18.18% 83,209 13,868 30

The bottom 10 is actually eleven teams, as there is a tie. The “Rank-Att” category is the actual rank of each year in per-game attendance; for example, 1969 is the eighth-best attended season in the 48-year period in this study. This column will be included in the remainder of the tables.

Obviously, winning in the current season correlates strongly with improved attendance. Five of the top 10 winning seasons of all time are also in the top 10 for the most-attended campaigns. Only one year in that group (2007) is outside the top half for attendance.

Four of the bottom 10 in winning percentage are also in the bottom 10 for attendance. Average attendance for the top 10 winning teams: 16,150. For the 10 losing teams: 13,464.

What about success (or a lack thereof) from the year before? This time the category is “last year’s winning percentage”:

        Year         Wins       Losses   LY Win %         T-Att     Avg-Att    Att Rank
1993 5 6 84.62% 89,016 14,836 22
1972 5 6 72.73% 66,287 13,257 33
1970 5 6 70.00% 74,690 14,938 20
1982 5 6 68.18% 91,320 15,220 16
1989 5 5 (1 tie) 66.67% 70,457 17,614 6
1992 11 2 63.64% 141,477 17,684 5
1981 7 3 (1 tie) 63.64% 105,725 15,103 17
1985 5 5 (1 tie) 63.64% 88,603 14,767 23
2008 4 8 63.64% 73,568 12,261 38
1991 7 4 58.33% 92,476 18,495 1
2002 3 9 30.00% 93,491 15,581 14
2005 4 7 30.00% 58,369 11,673 41
1984 7 4 27.27% 75,050 15,010 19
1987 4 7 27.27% 83,490 13,915 28
2011 4 7 27.27% 76,758 12,793 37
1974 4 7 27.27% 55,597 11,119 43
2003 6 6 25.00% 83,794 16,578 9
1966 4 6 20.00% 49,060 9,812 48
2001 3 7 18.18% 78,333 15,666 13
2000 2 9 18.18% 71,712 14,342 27
1996 4 7 18.18% 76,860 12,810 36

Again, another “bottom 10″ with eleven teams. Just to make things clear, the record for each year is that year’s record; the “LY Win %” column lists the winning percentage from the prior season.

This category didn’t correlate as strongly to attendance as I thought it would. Only three of the top 10 attendance years are in this top ten as well, and the reverse is also true for the bottom 10. The difference in attendance between the two groups (15,407/13,602) is not as great as might have been expected.

Incidentally, the 1989 campaign only includes four home games. The two games played at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia following Hurricane Hugo are not counted as home contests.

The only other season with as few as four home games in the 48-year period was 2004, when another hurricane played havoc with the schedule, leading to the cancellation of the would-be home opener against Charleston Southern.

The 2004 season (the year of “half a stadium”) also included what may have been the worst-attended home game of the 1964-2011 time frame, a Thursday night matchup against Benedict that drew 5,127 diehard fans. The fact there was little interest in attending a game in a dilapidated stadium on a Thursday night against a Division II school should not have come as a shock.

This is a post about home attendance, but while checking numbers I read a summary for the 1987 contest against Boston University, played at historic Nickerson Field in Boston. Official attendance for that game: 2,103. Yikes. That may be the lowest attendance for any game involving The Citadel in the last 30 years, if not longer. Not coincidentally, BU dropped football a few years later.

Now I’ll factor attendance based on winning percentage over two-year, three-year, five-year, and ten-year periods. In each case the final season in the grouping is the “current” campaign — for example, for three-year 1992 the seasons included are 1990, 1991, and 1992. I hope that makes sense.

Two-year winning percentage:

        Year         Wins       Losses         T-Att     Avg-Att    2-yr W%    Att Rank
1992 11 2 141,477 17,684 75.00% 5
1993 5 6 89,016 14,836 66.67% 22
1981 7 3 (1 tie) 105,725 15,103 65.91% 17
1991 7 4 92,476 18,495 60.87% 1
1969 7 3 100,759 16,793 60.00% 8
1980 7 4 105,415 17,569 59.09% 7
1971 8 3 89,440 14,906 59.09% 21
1972 5 6 66,287 13,257 59.09% 33
1989 5 5 (1 tie) 70,457 17,614 58.70% 6
1970 5 6 74,690 14,938 57.14% 20
1999 2 9 86,898 14,483 31.82% 25
1987 4 7 83,490 13,915 31.82% 28
2011 4 7 76,758 12,793 31.82% 37
2010 3 8 68,669 11,445 31.82% 42
1974 4 7 55,597 11,119 31.82% 43
1965 2 8 62,394 10,399 30.00% 46
1966 4 6 49,060 9,812 30.00% 48
2002 3 9 93,491 15,581 27.27% 14
1996 4 7 76,860 12,810 27.27% 36
2001 3 7 78,333 15,666 23.81% 13
2000 2 9 71,712 14,342 18.18% 27

The bottom ten is yet again made up of eleven teams.

It appears that having two bad seasons in a row is definitely a bigger drag on home attendance than just having a bad season. The two averages for this category are 16,133 (top 10) and 12,956 (bottom 10). Compare that to seasonal averages for the top 10, as listed above earlier: 16,150 (top 10) and 13,464 (bottom 10).

Three-year winning percentage:

        Year         Wins       Losses         T-Att     Avg-Att    3-yr W%    Att-Rank
1992 11 2 141,477 17,684 69.44% 5
1993 5 6 89,016 14,836 65.71% 22
1994 6 5 90,158 15,026 62.86% 18
1971 8 3 89,440 14,906 62.50% 21
1981 7 3 (1 tie) 105,725 15,103 62.12% 17
1982 5 6 91,320 15,220 59.09% 16
1990 7 5 97,730 16,288 58.57% 10
1991 7 4 92,476 18,495 57.35% 1
1969 7 3 100,759 16,793 56.67% 8
1970 5 6 74,690 14,938 54.84% 20
1974 4 7 55,597 11,119 36.36% 43
2003 6 6 83,794 16,578 35.29% 9
2004 3 7 40,435 10,108 35.29% 47
2011 4 7 76,758 12,793 33.33% 37
1965 2 8 62,394 10,399 33.33% 46
1966 4 6 49,060 9,812 33.33% 48
2010 3 8 68,669 11,445 32.35% 42
2000 2 9 71,712 14,342 27.27% 27
2002 3 9 93,491 15,581 24.24% 14
2001 3 7 78,333 15,666 21.88% 13

This is very similar to the two-year category. Top 10 average: 15,947. Bottom 10 average: 12,835. The only bottom 10 season in either the two- or three-year winning percentage categories to actually finish in the top 10 in average attendance was Ellis Johnson’s 2003 squad, which went 6-6 (5-1 at JHS).

The home schedule that year, as it is in a lot of “odd-numbered” years, was conducive to a potential attendance bump, with games against Furman and Wofford (both of which were nationally ranked when they played The Citadel that season), along with Appalachian State and Charleston Southern. It’s still a bit of an outlier. Actually, home attendance for all three years of Johnson’s tenure was somewhat anomalous.

Five-year winning percentage:

        Year         Wins       Losses         T-Att      Avg-Att   5-yr W%    Att Rank
1992 11 2 141,477 17,684 65.25% 5
1994 6 5 90,158 15,026 62.07% 18
1993 5 6 89,016 14,836 61.21% 22
1971 8 3 89,440 14,906 57.69% 21
1972 5 6 66,287 13,257 56.60% 33
1982 5 6 91,320 15,220 55.45% 16
1981 7 3 (1 tie) 105,725 15,103 55.45% 17
1991 7 4 92,476 18,495 55.26% 1
1995 2 9 83,209 13,868 54.39% 30
1984 7 4 75,050 15,010 53.64% 19
1967 5 5 64,060 12,812 38.00% 35
2006 5 6 72,814 14,562 37.50% 24
1999 2 9 86,898 14,483 34.55% 25
2000 2 9 71,712 14,342 34.55% 27
2005 4 7 58,369 11,673 34.55% 41
1966 4 6 49,060 9,812 34.00% 48
2001 3 7 78,333 15,666 33.33% 13
2004 3 7 40,435 10,108 30.91% 47
2003 6 6 83,794 16,578 28.57% 9
2002 3 9 93,491 15,581 27.27% 14

The average attendance for the top 10 in this category: 15,403. For the bottom 10: 13,705.

Ten-year winning percentage:

        Year         Wins       Losses         T-Att     Avg-Att  10-yr W%    Att-Rank
1993 5 6 89,016 14,836 55.26% 22
1994 6 5 90,158 15,026 54.39% 18
1997 6 5 73,036 12,172 53.95% 39
1992 11 2 141,477 17,684 53.51% 5
1964 4 6 52,600 10,520 53.03% 45
1984 7 4 75,050 15,010 52.27% 19
1996 4 7 76,860 12,810 52.19% 36
1985 5 5 (1 tie) 88,603 14,767 51.82% 23
1998 5 6 66,453 13,290 51.77% 32
1995 2 9 83,209 13,868 51.32% 30
2011 4 7 76,758 12,793 38.39% 37
2010 3 8 68,669 11,445 37.84% 42
2009 4 7 65,147 13,029 36.94% 34
2007 7 4 82,541 13,756 36.36% 31
2006 5 6 72,814 14,562 35.45% 24
2003 6 6 83,794 16,578 35.14% 9
2008 4 8 73,568 12,261 35.14% 38
2002 3 9 93,491 15,581 34.55% 14
2005 4 7 58,369 11,673 34.55% 41
2004 3 7 40,435 10,108 32.73% 47

This can be looked at in two different ways…

Perhaps Larry Leckonby can take solace in the fact that there is no obvious correlation at all for this category. In other words, the difference in attendance for the top 10 (14,177) and the bottom 10 (13,252) can easily be attributed to more recent campaigns, and not any permanent decline due to a long stretch of futility.

On the other hand, look at that bottom 10. It is actually completely made up of the last 10 seasons!

That says it all about the current cycle of Bulldogs football, and the need for a sustained stretch of success. An argument could be made that The Citadel’s struggles on the field since 1995 have erased what possibly could have been a continued gradual increase in attendance. I personally do not subscribe to that view in full — there are many other factors at play — but it is true that the losing has made it difficult to determine what The Citadel’s “natural” attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium should be in this day and age.

One small caveat: over this 48-year period there have been four different ADs at The Citadel (Eddie Teague, Walt Nadzak, Les Robinson, and Larry Leckonby). It is possible (even probable) that they each had their own approach to reporting attendance. That is something to keep in mind when evaluating these trends over a long period of time.

It appears that good years for attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium are usually a result of the team being successful in that specific season, which is not big news. The fact that a “one-year lag” (a good season leading to improved attendance the following year) is not particularly evident in the numbers, however, does strike me as surprising. That may suggest something about the relationship between the number of season tickets sold versus the walk-up crowd; it’s hard to say.

One bad season does not in itself result in poor attendance, but two bad years in a row? The bandwagon begins to empty out in a hurry.

As stated earlier, there are many other factors that impact attendance, including weather, quality of opponent, time of game, modern restroom facilities, etc. I wrote three years ago that The Citadel needed to continue appealing to its alumni base while reaching out to “unaffiliated” fans in the Charleston area, and to make the experience of going to a game as family-friendly as possible. Those points are still valid today, although it’s easy to see that an effort in all those areas has been made.

I would like to see the Junior Bulldog Club become something more substantial than a “Coming Soon!” webpage, though.

Ultimately, the biggest attraction of the game, other than the game itself, is the Corps of Cadets. I trust that when it comes to making sure the Corps is at the forefront of an exciting gameday atmosphere, the administration has a plan of attack for this season.

This year’s home attendance will probably come down to how the team fares in its first four games, both at JHS and on the road. Charleston Southern (home), Georgia Southern (home), Appalachian State (road), North Carolina State (road) — that is a tough stretch, particularly the three games following the opener.

If The Citadel can complete the gauntlet with a record of at least 2-2, that should result in a better crowd showing for the September 29 home game versus Chattanooga. The difference between 1-3 and 2-2 (to say nothing of 3-1 or, dare we dream, 4-0) could be critical when it comes to packing the stands that day.

It won’t be easy. Then again, it never is.

Edited 8/1/13:

The Citadel averaged 13,574 fans per game at Johnson Hagood Stadium in 2012, the highest attendance figures since 2007. Not coincidentally, the Bulldogs had their first winning season since 2007. However, that average still wasn’t enough to crack the top 30 of season attendance averages at JHS (post-1964). 

To  increase the number of fans in attendance in 2013, the football team has to continue to win games. It’s that simple. The first two home games of the season will be critical in this respect.

In 2008, the Bulldogs went 4-8, and attendance declined by 11%. Let’s hope that scenario is not repeated.

Chal Port and his legacy

Chal Port was the best coach I ever had, and his love of his boys poured out of him the way it always does with the best of the breed.

– Pat Conroy, Prologue, My Losing Season

We are not reloading; we are in a rebuilding process.  Our team is made up of reserves of past years and freshmen who will get the opportunity to play this year and hopefully be up to the challenge…Our baseball accomplishments measured by victories this year could be moderate.  From our players we need a dedication of purpose, firm self-discipline and tenacious determination.  Hard work and aggressive play must overcome our limitations.

We will be playing off the enthusiasm of youth, and that should result in some entertaining baseball.  We must judge this team on the basis of their performance, according to their individual abilities and improvement throughout the season.  We want to teach them not to beat themselves and to always play with a fighting spirit and essential mental toughness.

We need to stay out of the way of line drives and recover foul balls so that we can stay within our budget.

– Chal Port, from The Citadel’s 1990 Baseball Media Guide

That last line is one of Port’s more famous witticisms, mainly because it is one of the most publicized, as it got a lot of press after the 1990 team reached the College World Series.  It is quintessential Port, to be sure.

Port died Saturday in Charleston after a long illness.  He was 80 years old.  You can read and view stories and tributes to Port in many places, including Jeff Hartsell’s article in The Post and Courier, WCIV-TV, WCSC-TV, and this selection from the 2005 documentary DVD “Who’d a Thunk It?”.

Chal Port won 641 games and seven Southern Conference championships at The Citadel, but the opening paragraph on any story about his career at the military college always prominently includes that 1990 squad, and justifiably so.  At the time, longtime Clemson coach Bill Wilhelm said he didn’t know of “a lower-budget team to go to the College World Series,” and he wasn’t being patronizing in any way.

Port was the only fulltime coach on the staff; his two assistants were a part-timer (Tom Hatley) and a GA (Ken Creehan).  As for how many scholarships Port had available, I have heard different numbers, though all sources agree that he had far from the maximum 11.7 schollies.  He probably had half that amount at his disposal, at best.

Winning 46 games with a team that had such limited resources, including the wins over North Carolina State and East Carolina at the Atlantic Regional, becoming the only team to ever win two games against Miami at Mark Light Stadium in a regional, and then actually winning a game in Omaha…that was some kind of run.  Nothing like it had ever happened before, and it is hard to imagine it ever happening again.

Port guiding his Bulldogs to Omaha was a godsend for both the local and national media in 1990, as he gave scribes and TV commentators all the material they wanted and then some.  Just a sample:

– [From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution] “After his team beat perennial power Miami to reach the CWS, ESPN’s Tim Brando asked Port how it felt to win in the shadow of the building named for Ron Fraser, Miami’s coach.

‘No big deal,’ he said.  ‘I’ve got a building at The Citadel named after me.  It’s the Port-O-Let next to the dugout.'”

(After that comment, the AJC‘s Tom Whitfield wrote that “Chal Port of The Citadel has been named college coach of the year by The Sporting News…when it comes to down-home wisdom and one-liners, he’s the coach for the ages.”)

– Brando interviewed Port at the Atlantic Regional in Miami.  Also at that regional, a young Miami Herald sportswriter named Dan Le Batard documented an exchange with Port that went in part like this:

Le Batard: “…but Chal, your team…is an impressive 41-12 and…”

Port:  “Good scheduling, don’t you think?”

Le Batard:  “But Chal, pal, your team had a 26-game winning streak this year, the nation’s longest, and…”

Port:  “Aw, we don’t win a lot of baseball games but we do pretty good in wars.”

– Port also gave an interview to columnist William Rhoden of The New York Times:

“When we looked at the calendar last fall, our goal for June 1st was to make sure that the kids had turned in all their equipment.” …

… “‘Baseball has never been big at The Citadel,” he said. ”It’s a military school, and as a military school, football is the god, then basketball. When baseball has a good year, we’re third. When we have poor years, we drop down behind golf.”

For all of the success of this year’s team, Port realizes that The Citadel will never become a perennial baseball power.

”Most excellent baseball players are not interested in marching and wearing uniforms,” Port said.

Of course, one team and a bunch of jokes don’t really define the man.  His overall record is extremely impressive, but when put into context, the adjective “amazing” may be a more appropriate term than “impressive”.  This next section is something I wrote a couple of years ago as part of a study of the records of Port and Fred Jordan, with some minor editing.

Chal Port had to make numerous on-field adjustments during his tenure, including the change from wooden to aluminum bats, and the Southern Conference moving to divisional play (and then dropping the divisions), among other things.  Then there were the off-field adjustments, which included integration, and the fact that going to a military school wasn’t exactly the cool thing to do in the early-to-mid-1970s (not that it’s ever been the really cool thing to do).   Consider what the baseball program accomplished, especially when compared to The Citadel’s football and hoops programs of that decade:

From 1971-1979, the football team was coached by Red Parker, Bobby Ross, and Art Baker.  Ross in particular is known as having been an outstanding coach, with major success at multiple levels of the sport.  The football team had four winning seasons overall in those nine years, with no league titles and a conference mark of 26-29 (47.2%).  SoCon finishes:  3rd, 4th, 7th, 5th, 4th, 6th, 3rd, 5th, 3rd.

The basketball team was coached from 1971-79 by Dick Campbell, George Hill, and Les Robinson.  Robinson would later prove his worth as a coach with an outstanding rebuilding job at East Tennessee State, but during this period the hoops program had just two winning seasons, bookends on seven straight losing campaigns, and had an overall conference record of 43-69 (38.4%).  Conference finishes:  4th, 5th, 4th, 6th, 7th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 3rd.

Meanwhile, from 1971-1979 Port went 85-43 (66.4%) in conference play, with three championships, nine winning seasons overall, and eight winning seasons in the league (and the other was a .500 season).  His SoCon finishes during that time:  1st, 4th, 3rd, 4th, 1st, 3rd, 3rd, 3rd, 1st.  He finished in the upper half of the league all nine years.

He wasn’t done yet, either.  He had his best teams up to that time in 1982 and 1983, with the ’82 squad finishing 40-8.  At that point another power arose in the Southern Conference, as Western Carolina hired Jack Leggett to upgrade its already promising program.  The Catamounts would win five straight league titles, a stretch dovetailing almost exactly with a gradual decline in The Citadel’s fortunes on the diamond.

Port outlasted WCU’s run and (even more impressively) Hurricane Hugo, however, and orchestrated a season that won’t soon be forgotten, plus a very nice coda (the ’91 campaign).

The 1990 season was incredible, but don’t forget all those terrific teams he had in the 1970s and 1980s.  A few of those squads were just a break or two away from being DVD-worthy themselves (the 1982 team in particular).

Port is, without much doubt, the best coach The Citadel has ever had, in any sport.  He got it done off the field, too, as almost all of his players graduated.

The State of South Carolina has had more than its fair share of outstanding college baseball coaches over the years, but Chal Port was arguably better than any of them, given his resources.  I say that as someone who has a great deal of respect for the wonderful job Ray Tanner has done at South Carolina (not to mention Wilhelm, Bobby Richardson, etc.).

Port’s influence over the game continues today.  Numerous former players went on to become successful high school coaches in the state, preaching the gospel of Chal.

Some of his disciples moved on to the college ranks, including three current D-1 head coaches:  his successor at The Citadel, Fred Jordan; Tony Skole (ETSU);  and Dan McDonnell (who made a little history for himself by leading Louisville to Omaha a few years ago, joining the exclusive club of individuals to have played for and coached a CWS team).

Port’s influence can even be seen indirectly with players like Baltimore Orioles All-Star catcher Matt Wieters, whose father Richard was an outstanding pitcher-outfielder for Port in the 1970s.

Chal Port’s ability to develop and nurture leaders inside and outside the game is his real legacy, even more so than his renowned storytelling ability and his championship-winning baseball teams.

Condolences to his family and friends.

Why exactly is The Citadel playing Arizona in the first place?

I didn’t touch on this in my preview of the game between The Citadel and Arizona, but I figured I could make a quick post out of the question:  why exactly is The Citadel playing Arizona in football in the first place?  I’m sure fans of both schools are a little curious about that.

Well, for money, of course.  The Citadel has to play at least one football “guarantee” game every season to balance (or attempt to balance) its budget for athletics.  On the other hand, surely The Citadel could find an FBS opponent a little closer to home, an ACC or SEC team, or even a Big East squad.  After all, the Bulldogs have played teams from all those leagues in the last few seasons, along with a Big XII team (Texas A&M), a Big 10 outfit (Wisconsin)…oh, wait a second.  I see a pattern — a pattern created by none other than Les Robinson.

That’s right, The Citadel’s national tour of BCS conferences is a result of one of former AD Les Robinson’s grand ideas.  You can read about it here:  Link

The game against the Pac-10’s Arizona is the last of the “BCS series” for The Citadel, which in the past five years has traveled to play against the aforementioned Texas A&M and Wisconsin, along with Pittsburgh of the Big East, Florida of the SEC, and North Carolina and Clemson of the ACC.

Just prior to that five-year run the Bulldogs traveled to Oxford to play Mississippi and Tallahassee to tangle with Florida State.  The coach for all these games has been Kevin Higgins, so keep that in mind when evaluating his 25-32 record at The Citadel. I think there is a good chance Higgins is the only head coach in the country to have played teams from all six BCS conferences in the last five seasons.

After this game the Bulldogs will have completed the Robinson Quest, having played teams from all six BCS leagues.  Robinson even set up a “bonus” two-game series with Princeton of the Ivy League.  I am not sure current AD Larry Leckonby is crazy about scheduling the likes of Arizona or (to a lesser extent) Wisconsin, as the travel for those games eats into the guarantee.  It was also a significant issue for the game at Princeton.

I can certainly understand that, and in the future I expect most, if not all, of The Citadel’s football guarantee games to come against SEC/ACC schools.  However, I don’t think it hurts the school to travel out of its home region on occasion.  I agree with the comment Robinson made in the linked article about such games providing needed national exposure.  Another thing they provide is an opportunity for alums living outside the southeast to attend a game.

The Citadel brought a very good crowd to the Princeton game last year.  I can attest to the number of PA/NJ/NY alums in attendance, most of whom showed up with their families, and some with friends too.  We need to play games like that once in a while, if only for those fans.

The game against Arizona will give some of our alums on the west coast a chance to see their team in action.  Admittedly, a game against UCLA or Stanford might have been a better bet in terms of Bulldog supporters showing up — I’m not sure how many alums live in Arizona — but still, it’s in the general area.

Anyway, I hope the following gives a little insight into how this game came to be.  I don’t think we’ll be seeing any other matchups on the gridiron between The Citadel and Pac-10 teams in the near future, but you never know.

Conference expansion: should The Citadel join the Big 10?

Nebraska, Missouri, Notre Dame, Texas — it’s hard to take in all that’s (not) going on right now…

With all this expansion talk, there is a chance the Big 10 (motto:  “Just ignore the ’10’ thing”) might wind up with an odd number of teams.  Of course, it has an odd number of teams right now.  However, I’m thinking that when all the dust settles from this latest realignment, Jim Delany and company are going to want to be at 12 or 14 or 16 teams, if only to end speculation the league might expand again (and thus prevent all those late-night telephone calls from the folks at Iowa State begging for admission).

If the Big 10 needs an extra team, The Citadel would be an obvious candidate and would presumably get an invitation.  The question is, should the military college accept the Big 10’s offer and leave the Southern Conference?  What are the positives and negatives of making the move?

Positives

– There would be no controversy over where the conference baseball tournament would be hosted, as the other schools in the Big 10 would have no problem playing in Charleston every May.  Charleston versus Columbus?  No contest.  No more carping from the likes of UNC-Greensboro.  (And do you see UNCG mentioned as a candidate to join the Big 10?  No.  The Spartans should be grateful just to be in the same hemisphere with the Bulldogs, much less the same league.)

The Citadel would be a favorite to win the league in baseball every season.  Also, we could probably demand that all of our conference games would be played at Riley Park.  Fun spring trip for the guys from Minnesota and Wisconsin, and an easy three-game sweep for us.

–All home games in football and basketball would be on TV, along with a lot of televised games for the other sports.  Also, the Big 10 Network has a slightly larger distribution nationally than the SoCon TV package.

It’s important for The Citadel to increase its TV presence, as I have written many times before.  I have previously advocated playing Big 10 teams in non-conference action so as to get on TV.  Now, the opportunity could be there to play Big 10 teams as league games.

–By 2012 or 2013 or whenever we joined the league, there is a chance Indiana still wouldn’t have its act together on the hardwood and we could snag a road victory at Assembly Hall, which would be neat.  Plus, you know Nebraska won’t be any good at hoops, and Northwestern would be a promising opportunity for a road W.  So we could be competitive almost immediately.

–A new recruiting territory would open up, and with the advantage of offering recruits the best weather in the conference (unless Texas joins the league, and even then it’s a push).  The Citadel has already had some good luck recently with players from Big 10 country (Ohio is the home state for basketball’s Austin Dahn and baseball’s Justin Mackert).

If Texas winds up in the conference along with the Bulldogs, that opens up the Lone Star state even more to The Citadel’s predatory hoops recruiters (see:  Cameron Wells, Zach Urbanus, Mike Groselle).  With that type of opening, regular trips to the Final Four would be inevitable.

–The extra money from being a Big 10 member could go toward expanding Johnson Hagood Stadium.  The Big 10 could also flex its collective muscle and break the NCAA’s silly postseason ban in the Palmetto State.  That, combined with the newly expanded JHS, would result in a new bowl game for Charleston, so the community would also benefit.

Negatives

–Well, the road trips would feature a lot of snow and ice (excepting UT-Austin, which would probably be worth a mandatory travel game for the corps of cadets).  There is only so much places like East Lansing and Iowa City have to offer (not to mention Lincoln).

That’s why you can expect a lot of the league meetings to get moved to Charleston. Also, look for a lot of the Big 10 coaches to acquire beachfront property in the Low Country, a la Roy Williams, Ralph Friedgen, Les Robinson, etc.  It’s just a natural thing for them to do.

–Big 10 basketball can often be unwatchable.  Actually, you could say that about a lot of Big 10 sports…

–The Citadel probably would not be able to play schools like Chowan or Webber International in football.  Wait, that’s a positive!

–Women’s sports:  The Citadel has a limited number of women’s teams, and the ones we have would probably struggle in the Big 10.  We don’t have a women’s lacrosse program, though, which may be just as well.

–The other schools in the Big 10 would be much larger than The Citadel, which could lead to their fans trying to take over our home parks/arenas.  If we made sure the corps of cadets was fully armed before games, however, I think we would maintain our home field advantage.

–There is a possibility that a spot in the ACC or SEC could open up.  If that happens, it’s important for The Citadel to explore all its options.

All in all, I’m undecided about a potential berth in the newly constructed Big 10.  One thing I can say for sure, though, is that The Citadel will be okay wherever it lands.  Can Rutgers or Kansas say the same?

The New Big 10

The Washington Post looks at Chuck Driesell’s move to The Citadel

This is just a quick blog post, which is a little different for me, to be sure.  However, I wanted to briefly comment on this article by Steve Yanda in The Washington Post:  Link

From the story:

Those familiar with The Citadel athletics said the most daunting challenge Chuck Driesell will face is persuading quality players to commit to four years of a military environment. But sitting in a still-barren office just more than two weeks after he was hired, Driesell said he plans to confront that factor the same way he has dealt with perpetually being known as Lefty’s son — by embracing it wholeheartedly.

“I think you have to sell it,” Driesell said of The Citadel’s military component. “I don’t think it’s something you paint as a negative, because it’s not. It’s a positive. Here, they get a leadership degree in addition to their regular degree. And everyone needs leaders.”

Quick thoughts:

1)  How about Yanda actually referring to “The Citadel athletics” and not “Citadel athletics”?  Good for him.  It’s nice to see someone (or someone’s editor) paying attention.  Now if only we could get more people within our own department of athletics to do the same…

2)  Driesell again noted that he wanted to use the military aspect of the school as a positive.  As I said in a previous post, he’s talking a good game.

Further along in the story:

After Ed Conroy left last month to take the head coaching job at Tulane, calls from hopeful candidates began to flood Les Robinson’s home in nearby Sullivan’s Island. The former Citadel coach and athletic director immediately was drawn to an aspirant he had recruited to the school 29 years earlier. The other callers pried for inside information on competing applicants or their own chances for landing the gig.

“But Chuck was strictly asking me about what it is like coaching there, which is the most important question,” said Robinson, who led The Citadel from 1974 to 1985. “Now, if I was coaching at Wofford or Georgia Southern, that wouldn’t be that important a question. It wouldn’t be a lot different coaching at Appalachian State or Georgia Southern. But it’s different coaching at The Citadel.”

Robinson said he “oversold” the military aspect while recruiting players to avoid near-immediate attrition once they arrived on campus in the fall. In his first 10 years at the helm, Robinson noted, not one player transferred out because the military discipline was too intense.

1)  Okay, so Yanda didn’t use the “The” in this section, but in this case it is acceptable usage.  I would have called Les Robinson the “former Bulldog coach” instead, but no matter.  There is no question that the name of the school can be problematic for a grammarian, much less your typical sportswriter.  There is also no question that I pay too much attention to this subject.

2)  Again, we have a positive insight on Chuck Driesell, who recognized that coaching at The Citadel is not quite like coaching at other Southern Conference schools.

3)  Also, Robinson’s suggestion that he “oversold” the military aspect of the school is something all coaches at the military college would do well to emulate.  Of course, they might avoid emulating his first four seasons as head coach, as Robinson’s first four teams had a combined record of 31-70.

In his fifth year, though, he went 20-7.

Finally, while the article notes that The Citadel has never received a bid to the NCAA tournament, Chuck Driesell said that making the NCAAs would be “an annual goal” and “attainable”.  Good.  No “every four years, maybe we’ll have a decent team” line, which I’ve heard one too many times before.

There is, after all, an NCAA sub-regional next year in Charlotte.  That’s an easy trip up I-77 for me…

Open letter to Chuck Driesell

Dear Coach Driesell (mind if I call you Chuck?) –

Congrats on being named head coach at The Citadel.  I liked your choice of tie at the press conference.  You and your family will enjoy Charleston.  Whether or not you enjoy your new job will depend on how you approach it.  Here are some tips:

–  Know your history.  I assume Larry Leckonby told you all about The Citadel’s hoops past.  If not, here is a primer:  Link

I hope you’re not having second thoughts…

Now, that post in the link covers everything up to Ed Conroy’s last two years at The Citadel, which were really good by Bulldog standards.  Conroy won 20 games in 2009 and went 16-16 this past season; he parlayed that into a nice gig at Tulane.  This is good news for you, Chuck, if you have designs on moving up the D-1 coaching ladder. Imagine if you actually won the Southern Conference.  That might be worth an ACC job.

(Who am I kidding.  That would be worth an NBA job.)

–  If you want to make the NCAAs from The Citadel, you will have to win the Southern Conference tournament.  The Southern Conference is a one-bid league; there hasn’t been an at-large bid out of the SoCon since 1950.

Winning the SoCon tourney while at The Citadel will be a tall order, however.  The school’s postseason tournament history?  Ugly.

Now, you remember your father’s struggles in the ACC tournament, so you can appreciate a tourney hex — maybe not one quite on the scale of The Citadel’s foibles at the SoCon tourney, but you probably understand the frustration.  Of course, you also were on the team the year Lefty finally won the ACC tourney, so you know it’s possible to climb the mountain. Admittedly, you aren’t going to have the services of anyone as talented as Len Bias while at The Citadel.

–  Speaking of the left-hander, feel free to invite your father to show up at McAlister Field House whenever he wants.  We’re used to celebrities with connections to the program showing up at basketball games now, since Pat Conroy jumped on the bandwagon the last two seasons.  All I ask is that whenever there is an article in The New York Times about the team’s success, or if Wright Thompson writes a long, thoughtful piece on ESPN.com about the basketball program, that maybe the stories might actually mention a current player.  Just once?

It’s like the program got overshadowed by an ancillary figure.  5700 combined words, no mention of any player.  Sigh.

(By the way, there has to be a great photo op involving General (the bulldog, not Rosa) and Lefty Driesell.  Russ Pace, be ready.)

–  Learn as much as you can about The Citadel, but don’t sweat it if you don’t understand everything about the school. I’m a graduate, and I do not understand everything about the place, and never will.  If you really understand everything about The Citadel, you are certifiably insane.

One thing I will say is that you can’t quite lean on your time in the Navy, or at NAPS. There are some similarities but also some major differences.

You’re going to have to get a crash course in a new culture from somebody who was recently in your situation (Leckonby), and you should seriously consider having at least one guy on your staff with connections to the school. It’s kind of like having an interpreter.

–  You have a reputation as a solid talent evaluator.  I’m glad to hear that is the case, because I think that skill is critical to having success at The Citadel, much more so than just being a “getter” of players.  You’re going to have to look for under-the-radar types.

I’ll give you an example, Chuck.  Remember when Maryland was recruiting Jai Lucas? Of course you do, you were front and center on that recruitment.  Maryland didn’t get him, though, which must have been very disappointing, especially with his father (the great John Lucas) having played for your father at Maryland.

Jai Lucas wound up going to Florida, and then later transferred to Texas.  He was a big-time recruit.  Big-time recruits don’t go to The Citadel.

When you were watching his high school games, though, did you happen to notice the other guard for Bellaire?  Skinny kid, but a solid player.  Wasn’t getting offers from any of the high-majors, or any of the mid-majors for that matter.  I’m guessing you noticed him, at least enough to recognize him…even if you saw him now, in his cadet uniform.

His name was and is Cameron Wells, and he’s currently on pace to be the all-time leading scorer at The Citadel.  I would argue that he has had a much better college career than Jai Lucas, and that’s even taking the level of competition into consideration.  That’s the type of player you are seeking.  Wells wasn’t a McDonald’s All-American, but it’s not inconceivable he could eventually become the first alum from The Citadel to play in the NBA.

–  Besides finding “hidden” talent, Chuck, there is something else you need to keep in mind, something very important, and something quite a few coaches at The Citadel have found out the hard way.  When you recruit, you have to recruit cadets and make them players.  You can’t recruit players and make them cadets.

You have to bring in guys who are willing to embrace the challenge that is The Citadel. That’s what you’re selling, basically — a unique challenge, one that will stay with you all your life, along with a scholarship and the opportunity to play D-1 basketball.

It isn’t easy. No matter how good a salesman you are, The Citadel is never going to become the UCLA of the East.

The key to long-term success for any coach of any sport at The Citadel is to keep attrition low.  I can’t emphasize that enough.  You have to develop players over a four-year period.  It doesn’t do you any good to recruit some on-court stud if he’s only around for a year or two because he can’t handle the military system.

Also, remember to work with the system, not against it.  Don’t enable your players at the expense of the military side of things, as it will do you no good and will turn the corps of cadets (and a significant number of alumni) against you.  You need to have the corps on your side.

That line you had at the presser about players “taking that experience [of The Citadel's military system] to the court” — that was solid, Chuck.  You at least talked a good game there.

–  Speaking of the corps of cadets, you need to confer with Leckonby and General Rosa and some of the cadet leadership to figure out how to make McAlister Field House a decided homecourt advantage again.  It wasn’t last season, and that’s a concern, because in the SoCon, you need to defend your homecourt.

The big problem is that league games are usually played on Thursdays and Saturdays.  On Saturday, the corps is generally on leave, and a leave that is both much-anticipated and much-needed.  On Thursday nights, you have a combination of things working against you, but I think you can work with the corps on that night.

See if you can arrange it so that a minimum of one-fourth (or at least one-fifth) of the corps is in attendance on Thursday nights, at least for SoCon games.  Saturday is a tough nut to crack; at the very least, make sure cadets stuck on campus are at the games.  Try to get cadets some rewards for supporting the team.

You have to understand, Chuck, that by and large cadets at The Citadel are not sports fans.  At Maryland, you could count on a large student body with a healthy number of hoops nuts.  You had a built-in student fan base.  That isn’t the case at The Citadel, with just over 2000 members of the corps of cadets, only a very small percentage of whom grew up following college basketball on any level.

–  That’s why, Chuck, you also need to reach out to the community.  In terms of selling the program to outsiders, you’re going to have to be a little bit more like your father, I think.  You’re competing with a lot of entertainment options, and Charleston is not really a sports town. However, it’s something you have to do.  The Citadel has one of the oldest fan bases in the league, if not the country.  You need to find some fresh blood.

– This is sort of an aside, Chuck, but I wanted to warn you in advance about Southern Conference officiating.  It can be, uh, inconsistent.  This is particularly true on Saturdays, when all the high-profile officials are working major-conference games.

Weekday games usually aren’t so bad, because there is sometimes a quality ref or two available for SoCon games. Saturdays, though, are often just short of an officiating debacle (actually, last season’s Davidson-Wofford game in Spartanburg was a debacle).

It’s just another reason why you need to have a good, boisterous crowd at McAlister for Saturday night games.

– Also, if you don’t mind, I would like for you to fix the uniforms.  The next time we break out new duds, please be sure that the lettering on them reads “The Citadel” and not “Citadel”.  It’s a pet peeve of mine, but still.  Get the name of the school right.  I bet General Grimsley would shake your hand if you made a point of correcting that, and it’s always good to be on the right side of the Grimmer.

–  Your predecessor, Ed Conroy, made a point of scheduling quality non-conference opposition, with occasional home games against the likes of Michigan State and Southern California.  I really liked this approach, and hope that you keep doing it.  You probably are going to have to play two or three “guarantee” games at a minimum every year, anyway.

With that in mind, Chuck, see if you can schedule games against Big 10 and/or SEC opponents.  Every Big 10 home game is televised on the Big Ten Network (BTN), and many of the SEC games are on one of the various ESPN platforms.  Even a game on ESPN3.com is worth it for The Citadel.

Last season the Bulldogs were on television a grand total of three times, once on ESPNU and twice on SportSouth.  To raise the profile of the program, and for recruiting purposes, I think it’s important to get on TV as much as possible. Besides, if we’re going to play elite teams to pay the bills, we might as well get something else out of it other than cash.

–  You are going to be in an unusual situation at The Citadel for a new coach, in that you will be inheriting a team that has the potential to be good next season.  I already mentioned Cameron Wells, but you have several other excellent players with whom to work.

At the press conference you mentioned that next season’s team could be “very special”.  I was interested in the way you described the number of returning starters. Instead of saying that “all five starters will be back,” you noted that (I’m paraphrasing slightly) “at the end of the season all five starters were coming back.”

There have been some rumblings that at least a couple of players are considering leaving the school, including two regulars in the rotation, so your first recruiting job is going to be trying to keep them from bolting.  It appears you are well aware of this, which is good.  I hope they stay, as if everyone comes back next season really could be special.

Despite the expectations for next year, you won’t really be under any pressure to win immediately, and can think long-term.  Ed Conroy left for a better job after four seasons.  The three coaches before him had a combined winning percentage of 41.2%, but despite that coached for 11 (Les Robinson), 7 (Randy Nesbit), and 14 (Pat Dennis) seasons at The Citadel.

The job isn’t a career-killer like it’s occasionally been made out to be.  Four of the last eight coaches, in fact, left to coach other Division I schools; one of them, Norm Sloan, would later win the national title.  Sloan and Robinson would actually coach two other D-1 schools after leaving The Citadel (counting Sloan’s two stops at Florida just once).

Congrats again for getting your first shot as a D-1 head coach, Coach Driesell.  Your opportunity comes at a place that is unusual and not for the faint of heart, but very special nonetheless.  Cherish the experience.

We’ll be rooting for you.

Sincerely,

SS

Southern Conference tourney time

Last year, I wrote about The Citadel’s abysmal record in the Southern Conference tournament.  The next few paragraphs are an updated version of that piece.  Feel free to ignore them if you have a weak stomach.  The preview for this year’s tournament (from The Citadel’s perspective) follows the history lesson.

One of the more curious things about The Citadel’s wretched history in the SoCon tourney is that there is no firm answer to just how many times the school has lost in the event.  That’s because the league has mutated so many times there is a dispute as to what year the first “official” conference tournament was held.

Before 1920, The Citadel was one of many schools in a rather loose confederation known as the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association.  (The Citadel initially joined in 1909.)  There were about 30 colleges in the SIAA by 1920, including almost every member of the current SEC and about half of the current ACC, along with schools such as Centre, Sewanee (later a member of the SEC  — seriously!), Chattanooga, Wofford, Howard (now called Samford, of course), and Millsaps, just to name a few.  As you might imagine, the large and disparate membership had some disagreements, and was just plain hard to manage, so a number of the schools left to form the Southern Conference in late 1920.

In the spring of 1921, the SIAA sponsored a basketball tournament, which would be the forerunner to all the conference hoops tourneys to follow.  Any southern college or university could travel to Atlanta to play, and fifteen schools did just that.  Kentucky beat Georgia in the final.  The Citadel did not enter the event, but several other small colleges did, including Newberry (for those unfamiliar with Newberry, it’s a tiny school located in central South Carolina).  The tournament featured teams from the new Southern Conference, the old SIAA, and squads like Newberry, which wasn’t in either league (it would join the SIAA in 1923).

In 1922 the SIAA held another tournament in Atlanta, this one won by North Carolina, which beat Mercer in the final.  The Citadel entered this time, losing in the first round to Vanderbilt.  The SIAA tournament remained all-comers until 1924, when it was restricted to Southern Conference members.

Some sources suggest that the 1921 tournament is the first “official” Southern Conference tournament, some go with the 1922 event, and others argue for 1924.  From what I can tell, the league itself is a bit wishy-washy on the issue.  On the conference website, it states:

The first Southern Conference Championship was the league basketball tournament held in Atlanta in 1922. The North Carolina Tar Heels won the tournament to become the first recognized league champion in any sport. The Southern Conference Tournament remains the oldest of its kind in college basketball.

That’s great, but the conference’s own record book lists Kentucky as having won the first tournament title in 1921 (on page 113; oddly, that year is excluded from the game-by-game tournament results that begin on page 114).  Of course, the edition of the record book on the conference website is several years old and lists The Citadel as having once lost 37 straight games, which is incorrect, so take it for what you will.

Personally, I think that the idea of having a conference tournament is to determine a league champion, and it stands to reason that such a tournament would only include league members.  So the first “real” Southern Conference tournament, in my opinion, was held in 1924.

There is a point to this, trust me.  The difference between counting the Vanderbilt loss as a SoCon tourney loss and not counting it is the difference between The Citadel’s alltime record in the event being 10-56 or 10-57.  Not that they both aren’t hideous totals, but as of now The Citadel shares the NCAA record for “most consecutive conference tournament appearances without a title” with Clemson, which is 0-for-56 in trying to win the ACC tournament.  Counting the Vanderbilt game would mean The Citadel is alone in its conference tourney infamy.  No offense to the Tigers, but I don’t believe the 1922 game should count, because it wasn’t really a Southern Conference tournament game.

By the way, you read that right.  The Citadel is 10-56 alltime in the SoCon tournament.  That’s just unbelievably bad.  It comes out to a 15% winning percentage, which is more than twice as bad as even The Citadel’s lousy alltime conference regular season winning percentage (35%).  The Citadel lost 17 straight tourney games from 1961-78, and then from 1985-97 lost 13 more in a row.

Tangent:  The single-game scoring record in the tournament is held by Marshall’s Skip Henderson, who put up 55 on The Citadel in 1988 in a game Marshall won by 43 points.  The next night the Thundering Herd, which had won the regular season title that year, lost to UT-Chattanooga by one point.  Karma.

Those long losing streaks didn’t occur in consecutive years, as The Citadel didn’t always qualify for the tournament, particularly in the years before 1953, when there were up to 17 teams in the league at any given time, and only the top squads played in the tourney.  The Citadel’s first “real” appearance, in 1938, resulted in a 42-38 loss to Maryland.

The Citadel would lose two more tourney openers before winning its first game in 1943, against South Carolina.  That would be the only time the Bulldogs and Gamecocks faced each other in the tournament, and so South Carolina is one of two teams The Citadel has a winning record against in SoCon tourney play (the Bulldogs are 2-0 against VMI).

The next time The Citadel would win a game in the tournament?  1959, when the Bulldogs actually won two games, against Furman and George Washington, and found themselves in the tourney final.  Unfortunately, the opponent in the title game was West Virginia, led by Jerry West.  West scored 27 points and the Mountaineers pulled away late for an 85-66 victory.  This would be the only time The Citadel ever made the championship game; it’s also the only time the Bulldogs won two games in the tournament.

After a 1961 quarterfinal victory over Richmond, The Citadel would not win another tournament game until 1979, when the Bulldogs defeated Davidson before losing to Furman.  The game against Davidson was played at McAlister Field House and was the final victory of a 20-win campaign, the school’s first.

The Citadel would win single games in 1982 and 1985 before going winless until 1998, when it finally broke a 13-game tourney losing streak by beating VMI.  The Keydets would be the next victim as well, in 2002, and were apparently so embarrassed they left the league.  The Citadel’s latest win in conference tournament action came in 2006 against Furman.

Twenty-one different schools have defeated The Citadel in tournament play, with Davidson’s eight victories leading the way (against one loss to the Bulldogs).  East Tennessee State went 6-0 against The Citadel while in the league.

Ed Conroy is 0-3 in the SoCon tourney as head coach of The Citadel (he was also 0-4 as a player).  If The Citadel were to win its conference tournament opener against Samford, and then lose the next day to Appalachian State, Conroy’s record would improve to 1-4.  That would be the second-highest winning percentage in the tournament for a Bulldog coach since the days of Norm Sloan.

Sloan was 2-4 in the tourney; his successor, Mel Thompson, won his first tournament game as head coach.  He would never win another, finishing with a record of 1-6.  Dick Campbell was 0-4.  George Hill was 0-3.  Les Robinson was 3-10 (a record which by winning percentage leads all of the post-Sloan coaches).  Randy Nesbit was 0-7.  Pat Dennis was 3-14.

(By the way, the best record for a Bulldog coach in SoCon tourney play is that of Bo Sherman, who went 1-1 in 1943, his lone season in charge.  Sherman’s Bulldogs defeated South Carolina before losing to Duke.)

The Citadel’s record against current SoCon teams in the tournament:  Furman 2-5, UT-Chattanooga 0-1, Elon 0-1, Samford 0-1, College of Charleston 0-1, Georgia Southern 0-2, Western Carolina 1-1, Appalachian State 1-6, Davidson 1-8.  (The Citadel has never played Wofford or UNC-Greensboro in the tournament.)

Last season The Citadel was flying high, having won 20 games for only the second time ever, and had high hopes entering the tournament.  Those hopes came crashing down against Samford, a team The Citadel had defeated by 25 points during the regular season.  Samford’s patient, Princeton-style offense scored 76 points on only 55 possessions, as the Birmingham Bulldogs got off to a great start and never really let The Citadel into the game.  It was a very disappointing finish to an otherwise outstanding season.

This season The Citadel appeared on the verge of making a nice run into the SoCon tourney, having reeled off five straight victories, and needing just one more to clinch a winning season, both overall and in  league play.  It didn’t happen, though, as the Bulldogs lost their last three games. The loss at Furman, in particular, was very poor.  The Citadel is now 15-15 for this year’s campaign, and would have to win at least two games in the tourney to garner its first back-to-back winning campaigns since 1980.

Instead of a bye into the quarterfinals, The Citadel finds itself playing in the first round on Friday, finishing as the 4th seed in the South division.  Friday’s opponent, Samford, struggled to an 11-19 record (5-13 SoCon) and is the 5th seed from the North division.  The winner will play Appalachian State, which finished first in the North, on Saturday night.

The two teams met twice during the regular season, with The Citadel winning both games.  The first game, played in Birmingham on January 16, was the definition of slow tempo, with The Citadel’s patient motion offense (61.4 possessions per game, 8th slowest nationally) outlasting Samford’s Princeton-style attack (58.1 possessions per game, slowest in the country).

The cadets had but 51 possessions in the contest, and made just enough of them count to prevail 51-50.  Cameron Wells had 19 points, while Austin Dahn had 17 (making 4 three-pointers).  For Samford, Bryan Friday and Andy King combined for 28 points.  The Citadel’s edge on the boards (26-20) proved critical.

In the rematch in Charleston, Samford led by 10 points with less than 10 minutes to play but was unable to hold on, thanks to a fine outside shooting performance in the second half by The Citadel.  Freshman Ben Cherry had his best game of the season with 3 three-pointers, including two big shots late in the game.

Austin Dahn, who had made 4 three-pointers in the first meeting, hit four more in the second game to finish with 15 points and offset a poor shooting night for Wells (2-10 FG).  Harrison DuPont added 13 points and 7 rebounds, good enough to survive an excellent game by Samford’s Josh Davis (24 points on only 11 FG attempts).  The Citadel had 54 possessions in that game.

For The Citadel, the key to beating Samford for a third time this season is confidence. Last year in the tournament game, Samford ran out to an early lead.  I think The Citadel’s players got a little nervous, especially because trying to play from behind against a team as patient as Samford can be very frustrating (just like it can be for teams playing The Citadel).  The fact that the game was an elimination game in tournament play just exacerbated the tension.

It cannot help that The Citadel has no history of success in the SoCon tourney on which to build.  That is why I think it is important for the Bulldogs to win this game. Even if The Citadel does not go on to win the tournament (winning four games in four days is extremely unlikely), enjoying just a taste of victory in the tourney may go a long way next season, when The Citadel figures to field a squad capable of contending for the SoCon title.  This current crop of players needs to know it can win games in the tournament.

One thing working in The Citadel’s favor is that while it has lost three straight games, so has Samford.  Also, while Cameron Wells did not shoot well in the latter part of the season, he was 10-16 from the field in the season finale against Wofford.  That bodes well for the Bulldogs, which will need point production from Wells in the tournament.

The Citadel needs to start well, maintain its confidence, and not spend the whole night in “here we go again” mode.

If the Bulldogs advance, the next opponent would be Appalachian State, a team The Citadel defeated 62-58 in Boone early in the season.  Appy star Donald Sims scored 22 points, but got no help from his teammates, none of whom scored more than 7 points, while Wells had 21 and Dahn 14 for the Bulldogs.  Since then, the Mountaineers have fashioned an excellent season, and if not for the draw would be my pick to win the league tournament.

Wofford won the regular season and has the best draw, and I suppose should be the favorite, but for some reason I’m not quite convinced the Terriers have what it takes to win three straight games in three days.

It should be an interesting four days in Charlotte.  It would be nice if The Citadel added to the interest.

Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Princeton

Tune every heart and every voice,
Bid every care withdraw;
Let all with one accord rejoice,
In praise of Old Nassau.

In praise of Old Nassau we sing,
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
Our hearts will give while we shall live,
Three cheers for Old Nassau.


**Quick Facts**

- The Citadel’s game against Princeton will be broadcast by Sirius/XM Radio as the “Ivy League Game of the Week”.  The game can be heard on channel 130 (the contest starts at 3 pm ET).
– FIOS1 of New Jersey will televise the game.  The telecast does not appear to be available on any other outlet.
– This will be the Tigers’ first game of the 2009 season, which will be the 141st season of Princeton football.
– The Citadel defeated Princeton at Johnson Hagood Stadium last season, 37-24.  That was not only the first time the two schools had played, it was the first time Princeton had ever faced an opponent from the Southern Conference.

Princeton, of course, played in what is considered the first college football game, losing to Rutgers 6-4 in 1869.  That game was played in New Brunswick, New Jersey.  In a return match the following week, Princeton beat Rutgers 8-0 at Princeton (the first of 33 consecutive victories for the Tigers over the Scarlet Knights), thus claiming the first of what the school’s media guide trumpets as “28 national titles”.

Princeton’s football history has a lot of historical significance, but the “28 national titles” bit is pushing it, in my opinion.  None of those titles were recognized at the time the games were played.  They are all “retro titles”, awarded by various college football historians.  Also, the game was far from “national” in the 19th century, when Princeton had most of its championship teams.

There were only two games played in 1869, so Princeton is generally considered to have shared the mythical national title with Rutgers, since the two schools split the games.  A couple of  authorities give the title to Princeton alone, probably based on point differential, and possibly the fact that Rutgers as a national title winner in football just seems instinctively wrong.

There were also only two games in 1870.  Rutgers played in both, beating Columbia but losing to Princeton.  With a 1-0 record, Princeton claimed (many years later) its second consecutive national championship.  The media guide notes this particular championship was “unanimous”.

Another 1-0 record in 1872 was enough to garner a share of the national title.  In fact, from 1869 to 1877 the Tigers would play 11 games, winning 9 (with one tie).  That 9-1-1 record over a nine-year period was enough for Princeton to retroactively claim eight national titles, either undisputed or shared, only missing out in 1871, a year in which no college football games were played.  (I am mildly surprised Princeton does not claim at least a share of the 1871 title.)

Princeton continued to have success on the gridiron in the 1880s and 1890s, as well as the early 1900s, racking up many more national titles, and actually playing more than one or two games per season.  The Tigers’ status as a “national” power began to wane when the game started to become truly national.  Princeton continued to play like-minded institutions in its home region, rarely venturing outside the east.

In fact, in 141 years of football, which includes 1197 games, Princeton has only played 82 different opponents (and that’s counting opponents like Lawrenceville Prep, Columbia Law School, and Princeton Seminary).  In contrast, The Citadel (which historically has tended to play close to home itself) has played 93 different opponents, 11 more than Princeton, despite playing 211 fewer games than the Tigers.  Princeton has never played a current member of the Big XII or Pac-10, and has played only one SEC school (Vanderbilt).

Michigan comes to mind as an example of a school that became a football power near the end of the 19th century, and maintained a national presence.  The Wolverines have played 138 different opponents in 1207 games.

So if you hear a Princeton alum boast that his team won the national title in ’89, just keep in mind that he’s talking about 1889, and that all the games took place in the east, against opponents like Stevens Tech and Wesleyan, and that the national title was not based on an 1889 poll, but rather was retroactively awarded to the Tigers in 1932 by Parke Davis.  Davis was the pre-eminent college football researcher of his day.  He was also a Princeton alum who happened to play on the 1889 team.

(Davis also determined that in 1896, Lafayette and Princeton had shared the national title.  The two teams had played a scoreless tie early in the season; each had then won the remainder of its games.  The head coach of Lafayette in 1896?  Parke Davis.)

I don’t really intend to belittle Princeton’s football history; far from it.  I just think claiming a bunch of “national titles” which are something less than national detracts from the larger point, which is that the Tigers’ football past is both long (longer than any other school save Rutgers, obviously) and fascinating.  I could write about it all day, but nobody wants that.  I will mention a few things, though:

- Princeton has been known as the “Tigers” since at least 1880, a nickname that came to be when the team played a game wearing black shirts with orange stripes.
– The Tigers’ career rushing TD record is held by Knowlton “Snake” Ames, who scored 62 times in a career that ended at the close of the 1889 season.  I’m guessing that may be the longest-held individual school football record of consequence, for any school.
– Hobey Baker, who is the namesake of college hockey’s version of the Heisman Trophy, played hockey and football at Princeton.  Baker was the captain of the 1913 gridiron squad.  He is the only person to be a member of both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Hockey Hall of Fame.
– The first non-Princeton grad to coach the football team was Fritz Crisler, who coached the Tigers from 1932-1937.  Crisler was very successful at Princeton before leaving to coach Michigan (where the basketball arena is named for him).  He is generally credited with creating the two-platoon system (different players for offense and defense), and the distinctive Michigan helmets were his design.  Crisler had originally created the “winged helmet” look at Princeton.  When he left, Princeton dropped the look, only to bring it back in 1998.
– Princeton had a great run of success from 1950-52, going 26-1 over those three years.  The coach of the Tigers during this period, Charlie Caldwell, had pitched briefly for the New York Yankees.  Caldwell would eventually be elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.
– In 1951, Dick Kazmaier would win the Heisman Trophy, the third and last player from a current Ivy League school to win that award.  His performance that year against Cornell was so good it would be the subject of a Sports Illustrated piece ten years later.  Kazmaier (who also won the Maxwell Award that season and was named the AP’s Male Athlete of the Year) was drafted by the Chicago Bears, but turned down the NFL in favor of Harvard Business School.
Charlie Gogolak, the younger of the kicking Gogolaks (older brother Pete played for Cornell), kicked for Princeton in the mid-1960s.  The Gogolaks, born in Hungary, were the first “soccer style” placekickers to make an impact on the college and pro football scene.  Charlie Gogolak was the first placekicker ever selected in the first round of the NFL draft, by the Washington Redskins.
– Dean “Superman” Cain is both the single-season (12) and career (23) record holder for interceptions at Princeton.  Cain’s 12 interceptions in 1987 came in just 10 games, an FCS record on a per-game basis.
– For 82 years, Princeton played its home games at Palmer Stadium (which had a capacity of anywhere between 45,000 and 70,000, depending on era and what source you believe).  In 1998, the Tigers began playing at the new Princeton Stadium, which has a listed capacity of 30,000.

Princeton certainly doesn’t need more than 30,000 seats anymore.  Attendance used to be much higher in the days when Ivy League football was more prominent.  An estimated crowd of 49,000 watched the 1951 Cornell-Princeton contest referenced above, and similarly-sized or larger crowds would occasionally watch league games as recently as the 1970s.  However, with the Ivy League’s “demotion” to I-AA (now FCS) status in 1981, attendance (and the quality of players in some cases) began to decline.

Last season Princeton averaged 9,384 fans in five games at Princeton Stadium.  This wasn’t a one-season blip, either.  Average attendance in 2007 was 10,215; in 2006, 12,220; and in 2005, 9,370.  When the new stadium opened in 1998, the initial attendance figures rose to a season average of 20,475, but as the draw of the stadium wore off, attendance gradually declined to its current level.

This has happened despite inexpensive ticket prices, and when I say inexpensive, I mean it:  season tickets are just $25, with single-game tickets going for $7.  There can’t be many better deals than that in all of Division I football.

Declining interest in Princeton football, and Ivy League football in general, can be traced to the aforementioned transition to I-AA in 1981.  An article in The New York Times (from 2006) details the decision by Ivy administrators to go along with the move down the gridiron ladder, which still angers a number of former players, coaches, and alumni.

The supporters argue (I believe with some merit) that the Ivies could have continued to play non-conference games against the service academies and other upper-tier private schools (like Duke or Northwestern), maintaining I-A (now FBS) status.  After more than 25 years at the lower level, however, I think the window of opportunity for the Ivy League to move back up to I-A has passed.  As it is, Princeton’s last game against Rutgers came in 1980, which is perhaps symbolic of the Ivy League’s move down the football pyramid.

Another issue that rankles some is the Ivy League’s continued refusal to participate in the FCS playoffs.  From the linked article, former Harvard president Derek Bok was quoted as saying:

“Once you start worrying about a national football championship, then you begin to worry about getting the quality of athlete, and the numbers needed, to win a national championship…that worry leads to pressure to compromise academic standards to admit those athletes. That’s how even responsible institutions end up doing things they don’t like doing.”

Sorry, but I’m not buying that.  First, the Ivies compete in championships in other sports, including basketball, lacrosse, soccer, and baseball.  Are academic standards being compromised to admit athletes in those sports?  Bok’s comment also implies that other schools that do compete in the playoffs compromise their standards.  It’s essentially an insult to leagues (and their member institutions) that do participate.  He’s looking down his nose at schools like The Citadel, or Colgate, or William & Mary.

There can be a fine line between being elite and being elitist.

Of course, I can’t write a preview of the game without at least briefly discussing the events surrounding the appearance by the Princeton band at last year’s football contest in Charleston.  From an article in The Star-Ledger of New Jersey:

In a clash of cultures that threatened to spiral into bloodshed, the Princeton University band received a harsh welcome from offended cadets at the Charleston, S.C., military college when the two schools’ football teams squared off for the first time over the weekend.

The band’s president, Princeton senior Alex Barnard, said some 80 over-aggressive cadets roughed up two people, broke a clarinet, stole members’ hats and cursed the band when it inadvertently marched along the “Avenue of Remembrance,” a campus street that honors The Citadel’s war dead.

Later, as the band performed its unusual routine during the halftime show, the crowd of 13,000 booed relentlessly, chanting “Go home, Princeton” and shouting profanities and anti-homosexual slurs. Several videos of the display have made it onto YouTube.

After the show, a group of cadets again gathered around the band members, reducing some to tears before police intervened, Barnard said.

Of course, that was one viewpoint.  There were others, like this one.

Princeton’s band is what is known as a “scramble band”.  The point of having a scramble band, from what I can tell, is…well, I’m not sure there is a point.  Princeton’s version has been banned from appearing at West Point (at least two other Ivy League schools have also suffered the same fate; the folks running the U.S.M.A. do not suffer fools gladly), and was also not allowed to play at Lafayette for many years.

Probably the most well-known example of a scramble band inadvertently hurting its own school’s cause occurred in 1982, when Stanford’s band helped archrival California win the annual “Big Game” during what is arguably the most famous play in college football history.  Another such band, the University of Virginia’s “pep band”, is no longer allowed to play at its own school’s varsity events, a ban in place since 2003.

It’s possible that such bands tend to attract students who are naturally go-against-the-grain types.  For example, last year’s Princeton bandleader was a fellow named Alex Barnard.  When not leading the band, Barnard led protests against Ugg boots (one of several animal rights protests in which he participated) and enjoyed the benefits of dumpster-diving.  (Of course, protesting Ugg boots may not be out of the mainstream.)

That’s fine and all — life would be rather boring without some different viewpoints — but there is something to be said for being respectful of others, especially when in their “home”.  Princeton’s band chose not to show such respect last year when it made its brief tour of The Citadel’s campus, and the cadets responded in emphatic fashion.  Maybe they were a bit too emphatic (and some of the, uh, “rhetoric” was not needed), but speaking as someone who is probably more mild-mannered than the average alumnus of The Citadel, I don’t have much of a problem with the overall response.  I am sorry that a wind instrument lost its life in the fracas, however.

I don’t know if The Citadel is sending its band to Princeton for Saturday’s game.  I doubt it, both for financial reasons and because administrators at both schools are undoubtedly going to strive to avoid any repeat of last year’s confrontation.

Last year Princeton led The Citadel 17-7 at halftime.  The Tigers were efficient on offense and kept the Bulldog offense at bay for much of the half.  Princeton did not look like a team playing its first game of the season.

Momentum changed early in the third quarter when Mel Capers blocked a Princeton punt that was subsequently returned for a TD.  The Citadel would score 30 unanswered points to first take the lead, then put away the game, as Princeton was unable to sustain a drive until late in the fourth quarter.  Once Princeton lost control of the game, it was simply unable to get it back.

This year Princeton returns four starters along its offensive line (although there are several changes in position along that line).  Also returning for the Tigers is running back Jordan Culbreath, who impressed many observers during the game at Johnson Hagood.  Culbreath gained 74 yards rushing that day, much of them hard-earned.  He’s a good, tough runner (who can also catch passes out of the backfield).  Culbreath was a unanimous All-Ivy selection last season.

The Tigers need to find new starters at both receiver positions, tight end, and quarterback.  The returning QBs for Princeton have a combined two career pass completions between them.  Figuring out who will start at quarterback is likely to be the Tigers’ biggest challenge.

On defense, Princeton must replace several starters along the line.  The Tigers do have an interesting candidate to play nosetackle in 6’5″, 285 lb. Matt Boyer.  Princeton (which runs a base 3-4) has solid returning starters at inside linebacker, and experience on the outside (although two of the potential regulars there have significant injury histories).

The Tigers have three regulars back in the secondary, including three-year starting cornerback Carl Kelly, who will probably draw the assignment of covering Andre Roberts (who only caught four passes in last year’s game, although he did have a 54-yard punt return).  Kelly will get plenty of help defending Roberts.  The other corner spot appears to be open, with several candidates vying for the starting role.

Princeton has an experienced placekicker but needs to find a new punter.  The Tigers’ return game last season was rather mediocre and needs to improve.

While Princeton has not played a game yet, it did scrimmage Rowan University (a Division III school with a solid football program) in an effort to be prepared for “live” game action.

It’s hard to draw many conclusions from The Citadel’s game against North Carolina.  I am going to assume (hope?) that the offensive line won’t be overmatched quite like that again this season.  In fact, it’s possible the o-line will be a team strength.

The Bulldogs need Bart Blanchard’s ankle to be fully healed.  It appears that Terrell Dallas and Van Dyke Jones may be ready to play against Princeton, which is good, although I worry a little about Dallas coming back relatively quickly from an ACL injury.

I thought the defense acquitted itself well against UNC.  Forcing turnovers should continue to be a major priority for that unit.  It will be interesting to see how the defensive front fares against Princeton’s experienced offensive line.  Mel Capers, whose play in the game against the Tigers last season was so critical to changing the game’s momentum, may not play football again, which is a shame (although a final decision has apparently not been made yet).

The Citadel’s special teams were mostly good against the Tar Heels.  Sam Keeler’s performance, in particular, was encouraging.  The kicking game will need to be just as solid against Princeton.

I like the idea of this series, which was conceived by current Princeton AD Gary Walters and Les Robinson, former director of athletics at The Citadel.  I think it would be neat if The Citadel played other schools from the Ivy League or Patriot League in home-and-home series from time to time.  However, my guess is that this will be the last such home-and-home for a while, particularly with an additional SoCon game (due to Samford joining the SoCon) and the resumption of the series with VMI in 2010.

I should note that Princeton has scheduled some other schools out of its normal “comfort zone” in recent years.  Besides The Citadel, the Tigers have played two games against the University of San Diego, and have also faced Hampton.

I look forward to seeing Old Nassau.  I just hope that the hospitality includes a Bulldog victory.  I’m not counting on it, though.

Trying to fill a stadium

Note:  Yes, this is long.  It needs to be, though.  (Believe it or not, it could have been longer — I did some judicious editing.)  It can be read in stages if necessary, I suppose.  It’s one of the two longest posts I’ve made on this blog, along with my rundown of The Citadel’s brutal hoops history, which was made prior to basketball season.  After I made that post, the basketball team had one of its best campaigns ever.  If that’s the kind of karma attached to long essays, then the average attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium will approach 20,000 fans this season.

In 2007 The Citadel went 7-4, its first winning season in a decade.  There was plenty to be optimistic about in 2008, especially since the major renovation work to Johnson Hagood Stadium had been completed in the off-season.  Lots of folks were expected to come out to see if the Bulldogs could maintain their success while enjoying the comforts of a stadium with actually decent restroom facilities.  Instead, the school averaged almost 1,500 fewer fans per game than it had in ’07 (and 2,000+ fewer than it had in 2006).  What happened?

Well, the answer to that is complicated.  I want to address some of the issues related to attendance, and attendance specifically at The Citadel’s home football games.

I want to start, though, by pointing out something that is obvious, but gets forgotten about sometimes when alums talk about attendance.  For a school of The Citadel’s size, its historical football attendance is great.  Not good, great.  Even in a disappointing year (last season the average attendance per home game was just 12,261), The Citadel had an attendance-to-undergrad ratio of 6 to 1.  Do you know how many schools out there (especially FCS schools) would kill for even a 2 to 1 ratio?  Schools with just 2,000 students and a small alumni base really shouldn’t be doing that well.  It says a lot for the school’s loyal alums and fans that the attendance is as good as it is.

Having said that, attendance has been better before, and needs to be better again.  Anyone who looked at the budget numbers presented in an article by Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier a few weeks ago can see the importance of having Johnson Hagood Stadium filled with fans.  If attendance doesn’t start to get better, Ed Conroy is going to have to start scheduling road games against every Big XII school, not just Texas and Missouri.  The money from football props up the entire department of athletics.

The key to increasing attendance, of course, is winning.  Win more games, get more fans.  It’s a simple concept.  The only thing you have to remember about it is that success on the field generally leads to more ticket sales in the following season; there tends to be a one-year lag.  Of course, that’s if you have just one good year at a time (like going a decade between winning seasons).  Putting together a string of successful campaigns usually (but not always) leads to a more permanent base of fans.

When I opine about issues, I tend to illustrate my points in a statistical manner.  Numbers usually don’t lie, so I use them to back my point of view.  (Also, I use them because I’m a dork.)  Now, there are plenty of stats available when it comes to attendance, and I’m going to use some of them, but with a little bit of a caveat.  Let me explain what I mean.

The Citadel has had four modern-day directors of athletics — Eddie Teague, Walt Nadzak, Les Robinson, and the current AD, Larry Leckonby.  I have no way of knowing how each of them approached counting attendance at home games.  There are different ways to add up the numbers, and there is no guarantee that the way The Citadel’s numbers were counted was consistent over time.  It may be, for example, that sometimes season ticket holders were counted whether they were at the game or not, and it may be that sometimes they were only counted if they actually showed up.

I have occasionally wondered if other schools secretly counted the folks tailgating during the game, along with the teams, on-field personnel, the working (and non-working) press, concession stand employees, and mascots.  That’s not likely to be the case at The Citadel (and in the case of the non-game attending tailgaters, you’re talking about a not insignificant number.)

I have had multiple sources suggest to me that Larry Leckonby counts people who actually show up — no more, no less.  If that is the case, I applaud his philosophy.  I would count attendance the same way, although I would also count General, because he certainly deserves to be counted.

This uncertainty about published attendance figures was brought home to me one day while I was looking at the 2006 football media guide.  I spotted game writeups for the two playoff games in 1992, the win over North Carolina A&T and the loss to Youngstown State, each played at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

I attended both of those games.  I distinctly remember there were worries about the attendance, particularly for the first game against the Aggies, which took place on the Saturday after Thanksgiving Day, while the cadets were on furlough.  The Citadel had to have at least 12,000 folks show up to A) not lose money (there was a guarantee to the NCAA involved) and B) show that it merited hosting another playoff game.

Well, everything came up roses for The Citadel.  Plenty of folks showed up on a beautiful November afternoon to watch the Bulldogs pummel the MEAC champs, 44-0.  The next day’s edition of The Post and Courier featured a column by Ken Burger in which he detailed the “drama” behind the scenes, as representatives from the NCAA seemingly kept putting up roadblocks to the Bulldogs’ chances of hosting another game, only to eventually be bullied into submission by a pushy Walt Nadzak.  Burger wrote:  “although Citadel officials cannot announce the official attendance until after an NCAA audit, crowd estimates are about 17,000 were on hand.”

I was one of those on hand, seated right next to The Man From Macon (my ears are still ringing from his delirious shouting), and that estimate of 17,000 sounds about right to me.  Even more fans attended the game the following week; I would say that slightly over 18,000 came to see that matchup.

Then I came across the box in the ’06 media guide, and there were the “official” attendance figures:  12,300 for the North Carolina A&T game; 13,021 for the Youngstown State game.  What?

The NCAA came up with those numbers, after an “audit”.  Both figures are laughable.  I’m fairly confident that 5,000 people didn’t sneak into each game for free.  At any rate, it’s just another example of how you have to be careful when evaluating historic attendance trends.

While I wouldn’t want to bet my life on the complete accuracy of the numbers, I think evaluating them under certain parameters is instructive.  Also, I’ve got a theory on attendance that needs at least something solid behind it.  Anyway, here we go…

If you take the per-season home attendance average of the last four seasons, and then average those seasons together, you get a cumulative season average of 13,073.  That’s for 2005-2008.  If you then go back exactly twenty years, to the 1985-1988 seasons, you get a cumulative season average of 14,582.  That’s a difference of 1,509.  One reason I picked those years as a comparison is that the record on the field was very similar — 20-25 (2005-08), and 20-24-1 (1985-88).  It’s not an exact match, to be sure — the ’80s record includes Tom Moore’s last two campaigns and Charlie Taaffe’s first two seasons, while the last four years are the sum total of the Kevin Higgins era — but I think it’s a pretty good comparison.

If you go back to 1975-1978, the cumulative average for that four-year period is 16,584.  However, The Citadel in those four seasons had a slightly better record (22-22).  That period marked the transition from Bobby Ross to Art Baker.  Perhaps a better comparison to the two eras in the preceding paragraph would be the first four seasons under Ross, 1973-1976, when the Bulldogs were 19-25 overall.  Attendance in those seasons averaged out at 14,902.

So basically, from two and three decades ago until now, with similar teams, there appears to be a dropoff of between 1500-2000 fans.  You will find a lot of longtime Bulldog fans who will tell you that over the years the “base” has declined by just that amount (some will say even more, but I believe they’re thinking about stretches when the school had several successful seasons in a row).  1500-2000 fans is a big deal for a school of The Citadel’s size.  That would be like South Carolina or Clemson drawing 10,000+ fewer fans per year, and we’re talking about a longterm decline, not just a one- or two-season blip.

In comparing recent attendance to that of past seasons, I had to be careful and select similar, or at least remotely similar, circumstances, both on and off the field.  For instance, you can’t compare anything to 1989, when Hurricane Hugo disrupted not just the season, but the entire Charleston area, nor can you match “apples to apples” with 2004, the year following demolition of the West Stands, when the seating capacity of JHS was listed at 12,500.

2004 also featured the cancellation of a game against Charleston Southern (thanks to another hurricane threat), a season finale against Western Carolina that took place at the same time as a televised Clemson-South Carolina game, and a Thursday night “special” against Benedict that turned out to be an attendance disaster, with only 5,127 fans showing up.  (What I remember most about that Benedict game was “voice of the Bulldogs” Sam Evans beginning his public address announcements by saying, “Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to what’s left of historic Johnson Hagood Stadium.”)

I also didn’t want to compare the recent attendance issues to periods of consecutive winning seasons, like 1979-81 and 1990-1992, or to the malaise of the late 1990s-early 2000s.

The key to the difference in the compared eras lies in the makeup of The Citadel’s base of supporters, which can be divided into two groups:  alums and their families, and those fans without an obvious connection to The Citadel.  I believe the eroding of the base has much more to do with the second group.

First, however, I want to discuss the “alums” category, including some things on which not everyone may agree, and for which I can’t point to a specific statistic.  What I believe, though, is that by and large graduates of The Citadel are significantly less likely to be natural supporters of the school’s athletic teams than, say, alums of larger state schools.

Not only are there more students at larger schools, but a higher percentage of those students grow up rooting for that particular school.  Quite a few of them actually choose to go to school based on their lifelong support of its athletic teams.  Those students eventually graduate, and so there is a fairly sizable base of true-blue fans just from that group.

Nobody who is not on athletic scholarship chooses to go to The Citadel because of its varsity sports teams.  Because of this, I think that a smaller percentage of its students are destined to become lifelong devoted fans of college football, hoops, etc.  That’s true of most small schools, of course.  (I believe The Citadel has fewer sports fans among its students than even among other small schools, however — at least, that was my impression when I was in school.  That also applied to things tangentially related to sports.  Was there buzz on campus for Bull Durham or Hoosiers?  No.  Full Metal Jacket, yes, a thousand times yes.)

That makes the fact the athletic teams are supported as well as they are by the alumni all the more remarkable.  I think it has a lot to do with the natural camaraderie built up by four years in the corps of cadets.  Alums come back for the games, but they really come back to see each other, or just to be part of the experience that is The Citadel again, even for just a Saturday afternoon.  It’s a nice vibe, complete with the justly-celebrated tailgating scene (which may be too good a scene when it comes to trying to increase attendance inside the stadium).

One of the things I have noticed, though, is that there is a bit of a “doughnut hole”, if you will, among alums attending games.  Basically, when I go to games I see a lot of alums representing the over-50 crowd, and I see a fair number of young grads, but there is a gap between those two groups in the gameday support.  You don’t really see a lot of guys in their 30s and 40s, at least in comparison.  Some might disagree with me on that, but this has been my observation.  I could be wrong, of course.

Obviously those alums in their 30s and 40s are more likely to have school-age kids, and perhaps because of that, they don’t have as much free time (or discretionary income).  I would guess that’s not particularly unusual for a college alumni fan base.  That isn’t to say there aren’t a good number of kids at the games, because there are.  However, the lack of grads in that age group at football games is noticeable (at least to me).

Okay, that’s my riff on alumni support.  Now I want to talk about the other potential game attendees, and why there aren’t as many of them as there used to be.  Here comes my theory.  (Drum roll.)

Television.

Back in the good old days (which weren’t really all that great), the NCAA controlled regular-season college football broadcasting.  It had extremely restrictive rules on how often schools could appear on TV, and also limited the number of overall telecasts.  As late as 1978 there were a total of 58 college football games broadcast on TV during the regular season (13 of which were televised nationally).  Last season there were 58 televised games involving FBS and FCS schools just in the third week of October.

Change came as a result of a 1984 Supreme Court decision that ruled the NCAA’s way of doing things violated the Sherman Antitrust Act.  Schools (and conferences) were thus free to negotiate TV deals for themselves.  The decision also coincided with the rise of cable television, notably ESPN.  Suddenly there were outlets that needed programming, and schools and conferences that had programming to offer.  The world of college football hasn’t been the same since.

It used to be that if you lived in the Lowcountry and wanted to see some college football action, but you didn’t want to drive up I-26 to Columbia (or further up the road to Clemson/Athens/Atlanta), your one option was to head to Johnson Hagood Stadium to watch The Citadel.  The odds that you could watch one of the state’s major college teams on TV instead were not good.  Between 1969-1978, there were seven televised Clemson regular-season football games  (one national, six regional).  In that same period, South Carolina only appeared on TV during the regular season five times (all regional broadcasts; the Gamecocks did not have a nationally televised regular-season game until 1980).

Even after the Supreme Court decision opened the floodgates, South Carolina did not draw a lot of TV time; for example, in 1989, the Gamecocks appeared on television during the season just once (in a 45-0 loss at home to Clemson — ouch).  This was partly due to South Carolina still being an independent in football at the time.  Once the Gamecocks joined the SEC, appearances on the tube became a more regular occurrence.  Clemson was on TV more often during the 1980s, thanks to deals the ACC had with Raycom and ESPN, although the Tigers’ appearances on TV during the early part of the decade were mostly on tape-delay, due to Clemson being on probation.

Now, of course, you can see the Tigers and Gamecocks almost every week on TV, along with many other major college programs, at every time of day and night.  You can also see a select number of FCS teams in action, but not nearly as many, and mostly as part of regional telecasts.  The Southern Conference has a modest agreement with SportSouth to show eight league games all season (The Citadel will appear in just one of them).

The constant TV exposure for Clemson, South Carolina, and the rest of the FBS schools is great for them.  It promotes their programs, and increases their respective fan bases.  For schools like The Citadel, though, it can be a problem.  Trying to attract fans who aren’t naturally affiliated with the program means competing against a lot of other entities, especially in a city like Charleston.  The Citadel isn’t on TV enough itself to get the publicity benefits that accrue to the bigger schools, and then football fans have the option to watch those other schools on television.

As an example, let’s look at last season and what the folks selling tickets at The Citadel were up against for each home date:

  • The home opener (8/30) was a night game against Webber International.  Attendance was announced as 11,247.  Quite honestly, I think The Citadel was lucky to get that many fans for what was a de facto glorified scrimmage.  South Carolina had played on Thursday night, but Clemson played Alabama in primetime in a much-hyped affair (the lesson, as always:  don’t believe the hype).  Locally, the ticket office also had to compete against a bluegrass/BBQ festival held at Boone Hall Plantation.
  • The next game at JHS came against Princeton on 9/20.  13,120 fans attended that game, most of whom would be mystified by what went on at halftime.  This was an afternoon game.  South Carolina played Wofford at night in Columbia (that game was on PPV).  Clemson played an afternoon home game against South Carolina State.  Another game of interest in the region, Florida-Tennessee, was played that afternoon as well.  An extra local competitor was the Scottish Games and Highland Gathering, held at Boone Hall, which drew 6,000 people that Saturday.  I’m guessing bagpiper groupies were not sure which event to attend.
  • On 9/27, Western Carolina came to town for a 1pm showdown.  Clemson played Maryland that afternoon in a game televised by Raycom.  South Carolina had another PPV home night game, this time against UAB.  North Carolina played Miami at noon in the only other regional game of any consequence.  Attendance for this game was only 11,216, and I don’t think the presence in town of the MOJA Arts Festival had a whole lot to do with it.
  • Elon played at The Citadel on 10/11 in a game slightly impacted by rain (but more impacted by hideous SoCon officiating).  This day was a good example of how 21st-century college football TV choices are different from those in the ’70s and ’80s.  The Citadel hosted Elon at the same time as the all-important Texas-Oklahoma game (that ultimately wasn’t quite important enough for the Longhorns) AND a road game for South Carolina that was televised by Raycom.  Also on TV that day were Georgia-Tennessee and Notre Dame-North Carolina.  The City of Charleston also conspired against the ticket office with its Taste of Charleston weekend (although the main event was held on Sunday).  Total attendance:  12,582, on a Parents’ Day Weekend.  Oof.
  • Georgia Southern played at Johnson Hagood on 11/1, opposite the Coastal Carolina Fair and a host of locally interesting TV games:  Georgia-Florida, Tennessee-South Carolina, and Clemson-Boston College.  11,190 people made it to JHS.  Many of them probably wished Kevin Higgins had gone for two in overtime.
  • Homecoming (on 11/15) was held opposite South Carolina-Florida (on CBS) and Duke-Clemson (on Raycom).  14,213 fans watched The Citadel escape (thanks, Andre) with a win over a wretched UT-Chattanooga squad.

Another thing that wasn’t around in 1978 (or even 1988) is the Charleston Southern football program.  Heck, back then CSU wasn’t even CSU; it was Baptist College.  I’m not sure how much of an effect the Buccaneers’ home games have on Bulldog home games played the same day, to be honest.  They may not have much impact, but every potential ticket not sold counts, in a manner of speaking.  For the record, last season CSU and The Citadel played at home on the same day on 9/27 (CSU attendance:  2,541), 11/1 (3,213), and 11/15 (2,434).

In 2009, incidentally, CSU and The Citadel will again have three home games on the same day, the first three home dates on the Bulldogs’ schedule.  Clemson or South Carolina will play home games on each of The Citadel’s five home dates, although for none of them will both of those schools be at home.  Times for those USC/Clemson games won’t be known until later in the season because of television.  Those TV “windows” also mean that it’s impossible to guess what other national/regional games might have an impact on the schedule (other than Florida-Georgia, which is pencilled in for 3:30 pm on 10/31; The Citadel plays Samford at 1 pm that day).  Also, as far as special local interest events are concerned, this year’s Scottish Games will take place the week before The Citadel’s home opener, much to the relief of the bagpiper groupies.

Compare today’s options for local area sports fans to those of 1978.  South Carolina had no games televised that year.  Clemson had only two regular season games televised (despite an 11-1 season).  If one or both were on the road or playing a rather lame opponent at home, then your choices were usually limited to a sole TV game, often featuring teams of limited interest.  A big football fan might very well be inclined to watch the local team play VMI or Delaware or Marshall (all of which were on the home schedule that year).  He would probably bring his transistor radio along and listen to Bob Fulton or Jim Phillips (or perhaps Larry Munson, which might have been more fun) while watching The Citadel.

I think that’s a big deal.  It’s hard to get the casual fan to the stadium these days.  Now, once you get him to Johnson Hagood (or at least to the tailgating areas), then you stand a decent chance of keeping him.

Anyway, that’s my theory.  The non-affiliated fan who might have been a potential customer/convert twenty and thirty years ago has more sporting options on a gameday Saturday, because of television.  He is probably more inclined to become a fan of an FBS school if he wasn’t already, because it’s easier to follow those teams now even from a distance, because of television.  FCS schools like The Citadel don’t benefit from increased exposure because they simply aren’t on the tube nearly as often as the FBS schools.  They could make up lost ground if they were on at least as often, but they’re not, so they don’t.  It’s a triple whammy.

So, what to do about it?

Well, that’s the million-dollar question.  The Citadel has hard-working, competent people whose very jobs involve trying to improve its numbers at the gate.  They know what they’re doing, and I’m not going to pretend to be as expert as they are on the subject.  Having said that, I have some opinions, some of them of the macro variety, some micro…

Obviously, I think it’s most important to cater to the local “outsider” to bring up the numbers.  At this particular time, though, it also wouldn’t hurt to redouble efforts with the alumni base, which has seen a decade of poor on-field results overseen by a series of coaches, and games played in an aging stadium with facilities that were, frankly, unacceptable.  Out-of-touch alums need to be introduced to the “new” Johnson Hagood Stadium, which is clean, has a cool video board, is wheelchair-accessible and family-friendly, has an electrical system that won’t fail when the french fry machines are turned on, etc.  Plus, the current coach is entering his fifth season.  Stability!

I think it’s important to emphasize what makes going to a football game at The Citadel unique and fun.  The essential uniqueness, of course, is the corps of cadets.  That’s what The Citadel has to offer that other schools don’t.  It is key that the corps be energized for those three hours on a Saturday afternoon or early evening.  I believe the administration needs to make it worth the cadets’ while (weekend/overnight privileges, that type of thing) to be a primary source of entertainment.

The corps needs to be at least semi-organized for providing its special brand of mayhem.  I actually like that the cadets have been moved to the East Stands; it makes them more visible (and, for the visiting team, noisier).  Now it’s time to accentuate their enthusiasm, preferably in as zany a fashion as possible.  All I ask is that “Hey Baby” gets dropped.  Please?

Speaking of music, the band needs to be more incorporated into the scene than it is now.  There needs to be some coordination between promotions and the band in terms of not just when music is played, but what is played.  Note to some alums:  quit asking them to play “Dixie”.  Those days are over.

My other comment about music is that (old fogey alert!) the pre-game rap/hip-hop/heavy metal routine at about 200 decibels is extremely grating and, to me, not in keeping with the general gameday experience at The Citadel.  I know the football players like to get wound up by listening to some of that stuff, but there is too much of it right now.  I’m not asking for the current mix to be replaced by Frank Sinatra tunes (although that would cool in a retro-hip way), but there needs to be a little balance.  Also, I can go to any game and listen to somebody abuse the sound system while playing the latest in headbanging drivel.  Games at The Citadel need to be (and should be) different.

In keeping with trying to impress potential new fans, it never hurts to accentuate the military aspects of the gameday experience.  Pre-game flyovers are always good.  Guys parachuting in with the game ball, halftime shows featuring various specialty outfits (military marching bands or drill units) — those things tend to go over well.

That reminds me — what happened to the Touchdown Cannon Crew?  Now there just seems to be a Touchdown Cannon Dude.  Where are the riflemen?  There is probably a story behind their absence.  One thing this brings to mind is that, whenever possible, it’s nice to keep some continuity in the school’s gameday traditions.  The Citadel is big on tradition, although you would never know it by looking at its football uniform history.

Another thing to emphasize when trying to recruit new fans is the affordability aspect of going to games at Johnson Hagood.  In the current economy, in particular, this has to be a plus.

If you want to have decent seats at South Carolina games, for example, you have to give a lot of money to the Gamecock Club just to have the option of buying season tickets.  Then you have to pay a “premium” on those same seats.  Then after finally getting to buy the tickets the sucker customer needs to buy an expensive parking pass just to be able to park near Williams-Brice Stadium.  When you include travel costs, concessions, etc., soon (to paraphrase Everett Dirksen) you’re talking about real money.  All that for USC games, and we’re not talking about the USC that wins Rose Bowls, but the USC that has never played in a major bowl.  38-35!  Enough said.

Another thing to emphasize, or improve, is to make the games “kid-friendly”.  There are plenty of kids at games, but there needs to be a lot more.  Ticket promotions, giveaways with children in mind, the whole nine yards.  Some of this is already happening, which is good.  Another idea would be to have a specific organization just for youngsters — the Junior Bulldog Club, say.  Members could get perks, like being able to go out onto the field with the players before the game for the coin toss or some other type of ceremony, not unlike what you see at international and domestic European soccer matches.  After all, indoctrination should occur early in life.

Speaking of kid-friendly, one of the best things The Citadel has done in recent years is re-establish the live mascot program.  General and his good buddy Boo are kid magnets, as is their cartoon friend Spike.  I’ve actually heard a few gnarly old codgers grumble about Spike (some of the gnarliest codgers aren’t that old, either).  Those people are morons.  Mascots, in general, aren’t really meant to entertain somebody who is busy trying to figure out where he put his flask.  They’re largely there to keep children entertained while their father is screaming at the coach for running the ball on third-and-ten.  Just keep that in mind.

Finally, I have to say something about the cheerleading program.  Larry Leckonby needs to take a hard look at that issue and make some decisions.  It’s a part of the gameday experience that is currently a complete disaster.  Whether we outfit the cheerleaders in camo and go the gung-ho route, or revert to the days of importing them from other schools (probably not feasible), or simply not have cheerleaders at all, something needs to be done.  The current situation is not good at all.  The lack of enthusiasm for the program from the corps of cadets (and from the cheerleaders themselves) is disturbing.

In conclusion, I do think attendance should improve this season, barring something unusual happening.  The home schedule is much more interesting, with games against instate schools Presbyterian, Furman, and Wofford, along with a visit from Appalachian State.  The best way of increasing attendance going forward, of course, was best expressed by former Bulldog assistant coach Al Davis:  “Just win, baby.”  Since you can’t always count on wins, though, you have to do all the “little things” to try to fill a stadium.  Here is hoping that Johnson Hagood will be packed with fans this season and beyond.

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