2013 Football, Game 7: The Citadel vs. Georgia Southern

The Citadel at Georgia Southern, to be played in Statesboro, Georgia, at Allen E. Paulson Stadium, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 12. The game can be heard on radio via the thirteen affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for the network; the station will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game. It is also possible to listen to the game via a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Georgia Southern game notes

SoCon weekly release

Kevin Higgins on the SoCon media teleconference

Jeff Monken on the SoCon media teleconference

The Kevin Higgins Show

“Scouting Report” from The Post and Courier

A good article about a Bulldog football player (Terrance Martin), even more so because it actually doesn’t mention that he plays football

A profile of Justin Oxendine

My brief review of the Appalachian State game

A few more thoughts on the game against the Mountaineers:

- Time of possession doesn’t always tell the story. In the first quarter, The Citadel held the ball for almost 11 1/2 minutes but was outscored 7-0. In the third quarter, Appalachian State had possession for 10 1/2 minutes — and was outscored by the Bulldogs in that period, 7-0.

- Of The Citadel’s four scoring drives in regulation, three took less than 2:40 off the clock.

- The Citadel threw ten passes during the game. Four different players tossed the pigskin for the Bulldogs, resulting in an unusual passes-to-passer ratio.

- The Bulldogs actually threw more passes in the first half (5) than did Appalachian State (4).

- Each team had eleven possessions during regulation; four in the first half, and seven in the second half. Part of the reason the Mountaineers only attempted four passes in the first half had to do with the lack of possessions.

Appalachian State elected to run out the clock with a minute remaining in the first half (somewhat unexpectedly, at least to me). Thus, the Mountaineers only had three drives in which they attempted to score.

Given that Appalachian State did score 14 points in those three possessions, I’m not sure App head coach Scott Satterfield can be faulted for his offensive game plan, odd though it may have appeared to outside observers. The Mountaineers’ approach also surprised Kevin Higgins.

- Having said that, I was puzzled Sean Price wasn’t targeted more by the team from Boone. I believe it may speak to a lack of confidence in quarterback/line play, or perhaps a desire to avoid a time of possession differential like Appalachian State faced in its previous game against Charleston Southern.

- Satterfield made two calls which I thought were good decisions, but got burned both times.

Trailing 7-0, The Citadel picked up seven yards on a 3rd-and-9 play, setting up fourth-and-two on the App 44. However, a five-yard penalty on the Bulldogs gave Satterfield the option of moving The Citadel back and forcing a long third down play.

Satterfield took the penalty (rightly so, I think), but then Ben Dupree proceeded to complete a pass to Matt Thompson for seventeen yards and a first down. The Citadel went on to tie the game on that possession.

Then, on Appalachian State’s drive to open the third quarter, the Mountaineers were faced with 4th-and-1 on The Citadel’s 40-yard line. The drive had already lasted for twelve plays. Satterfield elected to go for it.

In my opinion, that was the right move, but Mitchell Jeter and several of his friends stuffed backup running back Ricky Fergerson for no gain. Two plays later, Ben Dupree scored on a 53-yard run, juking his way past several App defenders (but not needing to evade the Mountaineer who got run over by Jake Stenson).

- Four times this century, The Citadel has won a contest it was tied or trailing by making a field goal inside the last 90 seconds of the game/OT. Thomas Warren has been the kicker of record on two of those occasions. The first of his game-winners, of course, came last year against Georgia Southern.

When the Bulldogs met the Eagles last year, the historical record was not in the home team’s favor. Not only had The Citadel failed to beat a ranked opponent since 1997, the Bulldogs had not won a game at Johnson Hagood Stadium against a SoCon opponent since switching to the triple option offense.

It’s easy to forget that sometimes.

This year, Georgia Southern is ranked in The Sports Network’s poll, but not in the more or less “official” poll for the FCS, the coaches’ poll that is administered by the Southern Conference. That’s because, of course, GSU is ineligible for the FCS playoffs due to its transition to FBS. Next year, the Eagles will begin play in the Sun Belt.

This won’t be the last meeting between the two programs, however. The Citadel will travel to Statesboro in 2015 in what will be a non-conference matchup, with the visiting Bulldogs receiving $175,000 for their presence at Paulson Stadium.

The Citadel is also scheduled to face South Carolina that season. In effect GSU will serve as a replacement for East Tennessee State (which won’t begin SoCon play until 2016), only it won’t be a league game and The Citadel will add some much-needed cash to the military college’s coffers.

The fact that Georgia Southern was declared ineligible for the Southern Conference title this season clearly bothered some people in the GSU community. One of them was head coach Jeff Monken. In July, he had this to say:

We do get to play the eight Southern Conference teams. We have yet to go 8-0 in the Southern Conference. That’s been one of our goals. It would be hard to argue we’re not Southern Conference champions if we go 8-0 in the league.

He continued the theme in an “open letter” to his fan base in August:

This senior class has the goal of winning another Southern Conference championship, whether anyone else will recognize it or not. To go 8-0 in the SoCon would make a statement about this football team and this program…

The “whether anyone else will recognize it or not” part of that statement got some play, as did the “hard to argue we’re not Southern Conference champs” line from the month before. By September 14, however, the argument was moot.

That was the day the Eagles played their league opener, which turned out to be a 30-20 loss to Wofford in Spartanburg. Just like that, all the talk about running the SoCon table was over.

Perhaps more people should have seen it coming. From that July article:

…the Eagles were dogged by injuries during spring practice, so much so that the traditional Blue-White spring game was turned into an ordinary scrimmage. Senior slotback Robert Brown was forced to give up football because of injuries, and linebacker Patrick Flowe will miss the season after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament.

“We had 28 guys in red jerseys,” lamented Monken, referring to the red jerseys Eagles players when they are being held out of practice for medical reasons.

The injury situation has been a major story in Statesboro. Monken discussed it during this week’s SoCon media teleconference:

We are flat struggling right now with injuries…we’ve got twenty scholarship players, not including the redshirt guys…[that were] out for the game [against Samford]…we’ve got a lot of guys starting and a lot of guys playing significant snaps who’ve never played or don’t play a lot…hopefully we’re going to get some of those guys healthy [for the game against The Citadel].

Monken specifically mentioned the running back position as a trouble spot. GSU lost Robert Brown before the season started. Dominique Swope, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in both 2011 and 2012, suffered a torn labrum and is now done for the year. Two other Eagle running backs are also apparently out for the season due to injury.

The running back situation has led to Jerick McKinnon playing in a wide variety of positions, as Monken has tried to get his best athletes on the field. McKinnon has at times shifted from quarterback (his regular position since midway through last season) to slotback, wide receiver, B-back, kick returner, ticket taker…anywhere and everywhere.

McKinnon rushed for 1817 yards last season for the Eagles. Georgia Southern had 63 offensive plays in 2012 that went for 25+ yards; McKinnon was responsible for 30 of them (17 rushing, 13 passing). In a playoff game against Central Arkansas, he rushed for 316 yards.

This year, McKinnon has struggled as a passer. In three SoCon games, he is 1-9 for 16 yards (with one interception). Against Chattanooga, the Eagles only attempted two passes, completing neither.

Redshirt freshman Kevin Ellison has been the quarterback when McKinnon has moved to other positions, getting the start at QB when the Eagles played Wofford. Ellison is completing almost 63% of his passes for the season, averaging 12.1 yards per attempt. He can run the ball a little bit, too (6.2 yards per carry).

Ellison was 7-7 throwing the ball against Samford, for 140 yards and two touchdowns. He was 6-14 versus Wofford (68 yards, with a pick) and only attempted one pass against UTC.

William Banks, a redshirt senior, started at B-back in the Samford game and rushed for 51 yards on 10 carries. Banks, McKinnon (181 yards), and Ellison got the bulk of the work in that contest, as the other GSU players carried the ball a total of six times for nine yards.

GSU had to replace both of its starting wideouts from last season. The o-line, however, features three of last year’s starters, although tackle Garrett Frye has been flipped from LT to RT (and then back to LT) this season due to injuries elsewhere.

Georgia Southern has fumbled fifteen times this season, but somehow has only lost three of them. “Fumble luck” has worked both ways, as the Eagles have only recovered one of six fumbles by their opponents.

Georgia Southern’s defensive statistics may not look that bad on the surface. The Eagles lead the SoCon (counting all games, non-league included) in defensive pass efficiency, passing yards allowed, and defensive 3rd-down conversion rate, and are second in the league in passes intercepted and first downs allowed.

There is an ominous number that pops up when you look at just SoCon games, however. GSU’s defense is giving up an increasing number of yards per play with each contest.

Against Wofford, Georgia Southern’s D gave up 5.5 yards per play. In the Chattanooga game, 6.36. Samford averaged 9.17 yards per play (on 71 snaps). Yikes.

Last season, Georgia Southern only allowed more than 5.7 yards per play in one league game; in half of GSU’s SoCon matchups, it allowed less than 5 yards per play (including 4.69 y/p against The Citadel).

Yards per play is a good way to determine a team’s effectiveness on both offense and defense; that’s particularly the case in the Southern Conference, which has a wide variety of offensive styles that result in significant differences in the number of plays each team runs during a game.

The Eagles held Samford to only 4.16 yards per play in 2012. That was a game in which the Samford offense ran 85 plays. The Birmingham Bulldogs more than doubled their average gain in last week’s victory over GSU.

The Eagles got burned through the air in that game (Andy Summerlin threw 3 TD passes of 58+ yards for Samford) and were also victimized on the ground (Fabian Truss had 14 carries for 125 yards). Against Chattanooga, GSU allowed 7.2 rushing yards per carry (Jacob Huesman rushed for 148 yards).

I think it’s clear that Georgia Southern misses Brent Russell on the d-line. It also had to replace both of last year’s starting safeties (though last season’s nickel back, Deion Stanley, has moved to strong safety and has three interceptions).

GSU’s defense also suffered a blow with the loss of linebacker Patrick Flowe to injury in spring practice. Flowe was an impact performer for the Eagles last season as a true freshman.

In general, there are a lot of good players starting for Georgia Southern’s defense. There just may not be a whole lot behind them this season, mostly due to injuries, but also possibly because GSU has one eye on next season and its move to FBS. Some redshirts that normally might have been “torn up” are more likely to stay intact, at least for this year’s campaign.

Georgia Southern has used two punters this season. Sophomore Ryan Nowicki is listed as the starter this week. GSU’s placekicker, freshman Younghoe Koo, kicked a game-winning field goal late in the Eagles’ victory over Chattanooga and won SoCon special teams player of the week honors as a result.

Punt returner Brandan Thomas had a 42-yard return earlier this season. As mentioned above, Jerick McKinnon will occasionally return kickoffs (he has three returns so far in 2013). The Eagles have had four different kickers on their kickoff team this year (with Alex Hanks getting the majority of the work); they have combined for 11 touchbacks in 39 kickoffs.

Odds and ends:

- Saturday will be Military Appreciation Day at Georgia Southern. Between the first and second quarters, there will be a swearing-in ceremony at Paulson Stadium for 35 new Army recruits. There will be various patches and decals worn by GSU players and coaches (Jeff Monken will wear four patches himself).

- GSU defensive end Lennie Richardson is an Army veteran who served as a tank gunner.

- Sources suggest that Georgia Southern is a 16-point favorite over The Citadel (the over/under is 63.5).

- When Georgia Southern’s offense and The Citadel’s defense is on the field, each team will feature a starter who was born in Haiti — cornerback Sadath Jean-Pierre for the Bulldogs, and center Manrey Saint-Amour for the Eagles.

- Apparently, there is a movie being made about legendary Georgia Southern coach Erk Russell. One of the grave injustices of college football is that Russell is not in the College Football Hall of Fame. That’s because he is ineligible. Seriously.

I’ve written about this before, but keeping Russell (and Howard Schnellenberger, or Bobby Ross for that matter) out of the Hall of Fame lessens the importance of the entity itself.

- Last week’s commissioned report by James Madison on whether or not it should move to the FBS reminded me that Georgia Southern did something similar four years ago. At that time, though, the powers-that-be at GSU seemed less than enthused about making the transition.

I wrote extensively (probably too extensively) about the report when it was released, in part because the raw data was very interesting. I didn’t think moving to FBS was in GSU’s best interests then, and to be honest I don’t think it is now, either. Having said that, I wish the school (and its loyal fans) the best of luck.

I think there is a good chance that some of the pressure of the Bulldogs’ season has been eased by the win over Appalachian State. I hope that leads to an even better performance in Statesboro. Georgia Southern is still a good team, one capable of making big plays at any time, but The Citadel has a chance to repeat last season’s dramatic victory.

To do so, the defense needs to force more turnovers. It is not an accident that two of the key plays against the Mountaineers were turnovers — a fumble that changed the tenor of the contest, and the interception in OT. If GSU puts the ball on the ground this Saturday, there needs to be a Bulldog nearby ready to pounce on it.

Offensively, I think it’s important to stay the course. Run, run, then run some more. Avoiding 2nd-and-long and 3rd-and-long is critical.

This is just a hunch of mine, but I think it’s time for The Citadel’s punt return unit to produce a game-changing block or return.

It should be a nice afternoon in south Georgia. It would be much nicer, though, with another Bulldogs victory.

Conference realignment, SoCon style: some actual news (Mercer, ETSU, and VMI?) and a little speculation

Previously in this series:

SoCon style: the football/hoops conundrum

SoCon style: a look at the varsity sports portfolios for candidate schools

SoCon style: it is definitely nitty-gritty time now

Finally, there has been some “real” news on the SoCon expansion front.

John Frierson of the Chattanooga Times Free Press and Randy King of the Roanoke Times both reported on Friday that Mercer, East Tennessee State, and VMI will be receiving on-campus visits from SoCon honchos over the next few weeks. Assuming those visits go well, it is expected that the league will vote on invitations at the end of May, at the annual league spring meetings on Hilton Head Island.

Of course, all three of those schools come with question marks. One of those questions, however, appears to have already been answered.

Mercer has a lot of positives — location, an upwardly mobile men’s basketball program, very good baseball, and a new football program. That football program was going to be non-scholarship, which was the main drawback to a potential SoCon invite, though not a dealbreaker. However, the Macon Telegraph dropped a minor bombshell in its story on Mercer’s potential inclusion in the league:

Mercer’s invitation would be contingent on committing to becoming a scholarship program, most likely for the 2014 football season.

If so, that makes Mercer the most appealing contender for SoCon membership. It’s a good school, located in the geographic footprint (and in an area of league need), with improving facilities, scholarship football, and basketball and baseball programs on the rise. Check, check, check, check, check.

It has been suggested (but not confirmed) that the CAA has started to assess whether or not Mercer might be a fit in that league. According to William & Mary’s AD, the CAA is trying to add three schools. If it is true (and I am not sure it is) that the CAA has approached Mercer, it strikes me as being a little late in the game to have done so.

East Tennessee State is a pick made primarily for the benefit of the schools on the western side of the league. It’s a natural rival for Chattanooga. ETSU men’s basketball isn’t as good as it was in the days of Les Robinson/Alan LaForce, but it isn’t terrible either (RPI last five years: 111-118-89-172-135).

Now that it is restarting football, ETSU currently fields teams in every SoCon-sponsored sport except wrestling. It will have to add up to three women’s sports to become Title IX compliant in order to “offset” football, or drop a similar number of men’s sports.

However, there is still a major question to be answered, namely the stadium situation. There is no way the SoCon will sign off on the “Mini-Dome” as an acceptable stadium for football (something ETSU’s school president has essentially already acknowledged).

If Mercer’s SoCon invite is contingent on offering football scholarships, then surely ETSU’s invitation would have to come with the stipulation that the Buccaneers’ football team play in a new (and appropriate) facility, and sooner rather than later. Reports on the progress of the prospective stadium are a bit foggy right now. It is apparently second in line (in terms of major school facility additions) behind a performing fine arts center.

If ETSU wants to join the Southern Conference, a new football stadium can’t be second in line behind anything.

Then there is VMI, which when it comes to expansion has been the whipping boy on just about any SoCon (or otherwise) message board you would care to peruse, mainly because its football team has been regularly whipped on an annual basis for three decades.

VMI has two problems when it comes to league membership. The one that isn’t mentioned as often is its lack of women’s sports — or to be more precise, its lack of women’s sports sponsored by the SoCon (since VMI does offer women’s swimming and water polo). I wouldn’t be surprised if the league asks VMI to field a sport in at least one of women’s volleyball, women’s basketball, or softball.

There has to be a commitment by VMI’s administration to improve its varsity sports teams in general, but specifically its football program, which hasn’t had a winning season since 1981. Sometimes people think making such a commitment means sacrificing values or ideals. That isn’t true.

VMI simply has to figure out a way to become more flexible while maintaining its standards. For examples of how this can be done, it only has to look at several other like-minded schools in its prospective new (and former) conference, including one located on the banks of the Ashley River.

I believe VMI is an excellent fit for the SoCon if it can make that commitment to varsity athletics. It appears I’m not alone in that assessment, as two different reporters had sources tell them in recent weeks that VMI had the most support among the current league schools.

If VMI, East Tennessee State, and Mercer are all going to play scholarship football in the SoCon, that would give the league ten teams in that sport. Would there be a nine-game league schedule, or would there be divisions?

Is there a possibility of adding two football-only schools to get to twelve and have two six-team divisions? I say football-only because I have doubts the league wants to have more than twelve basketball schools. I could be wrong about that, though.

What about Davidson? Jeff Goodman of CBS Sports reported on April 14 that the Atlantic 10 was “close to adding Davidson to the league, likely in 2014-15″. Since that report, there has been a lot of official silence and a lot of unofficial chatter. The only news from the school itself came in a response to The Charlotte Observer:

A strong Southern Conference is in our best interest, but we have to consider all options best for Davidson in this volatile environment.

According to The Macon Telegraph, the Mercer/ETSU/VMI combo was SoCon commissioner John Iamarino’s recommendation as early as mid-April, but further moves were then tabled:

Word of Davidson’s possible departure surfaced, and Southern Conference athletics directors were tentative about following Iamarino’s recommendations.

Now, however, the league is comfortable moving forward with visits to Mercer, ETSU, and VMI. Is this because…

1) The league is no longer worried that Davidson is going to move to the A-10, or

2) The league has now come to the conclusion that Davidson’s decision cannot be influenced by any membership addition the SoCon makes

When it comes to moving to the A-10, Davidson’s risk/reward situation is well described by Jeff Eisenberg in this Yahoo! Sports column. Among other things, Davidson would have to make some adjustments in its long-established policies regarding missed class time, and the school would have to spend a lot more money on its basketball program (and presumably varsity sports as a whole).

There is also another potential factor worth mentioning. It appears Richmond is more than just a sleeper candidate for the new Big East. I had thought Richmond was behind Dayton in the race for what would in effect be the twelfth bid to a league that currently has ten members (St. Louis being team 11).

Now I’m not so sure. From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Richmond, an Atlantic 10 member in basketball and most other sports since 2001, is expected to be a strong candidate if the new Big East expands from a 10-school composition to 12, growth that at some point seems likely…

…Saint Louis, also of the A-10, appears to be a potential addition to the Big East’s five Midwest schools, while Richmond would fit as an addition to the five Eastern schools.

It is a rather curious little column. The lacrosse angle also mentioned in the piece is a bit puzzling. Still, it has a “I know something I can’t print in the paper yet” feel to it, at least to me. This blurb isn’t the only suggestion that Richmond is a serious contender for a Big East spot, either.

Could the possibility Richmond won’t be in the A-10 in future seasons have an impact on Davidson’s decision? I don’t know, but I think it might.

Incidentally, in an article in the Asheville Citizen-Times that was centered around UNC-Asheville and its SoCon chances, Iamarino said that he did not have “inside information with regard to Davidson, but [he would] certainly hope that they remain in the Southern Conference.”

Davidson’s Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet in mid-May. My guess is that is when we will find out Davidson’s decision.

The other SoCon school that has been bandied about as possibly leaving is Elon, though that has mostly been internet speculation and rumor-mongering. The league connected with Elon is the CAA, with Elon often mentioned as part of an expanded southern division that would also include Furman, Wofford, possibly UNCG, and maybe even Davidson (never mind the fact that Davidson has already turned the CAA down once and apparently has a better offer anyway).

The much-discussed “expanded CAA southern division” is probably the conference realignment equivalent of the Kingdom of Prester John.

Most of these rumors are floated by fans of CAA schools who don’t understand their league isn’t exactly the most appealing conference in the land (not that the SoCon is exceptionally beguiling). Just as a reminder, there are only four current CAA schools that play both football and basketball in the league. It’s a cumbersome setup, and not a naturally stable one.

One of those four schools that does play football and hoops in the CAA, James Madison, is exploring its options for moving to the FBS. That leaves Delaware, William & Mary, Towson, and a group of schools that play basketball but not football, or are in the CAA only for football, and which are spread all over the eastern seaboard, from Charleston to Boston.

Furman (or Wofford, or The Citadel for that matter) would almost certainly have no interest in such a league, whether Elon decides to move on its own or not. I don’t really know what Elon will do; no one really knows what Elon will or won’t do.

I’ve written about its meteoric rise before, but I’m still a bit uncertain as to what Elon’s ultimate goals are as an institution, including what its optimal enrollment numbers (or overall scope of offerings) might be. I assume any decision made by the university will be based on what it wants for its varsity athletics, and with which schools it most wants to associate.

At any rate, I haven’t seen any legitimate source suggest that a move by Elon is imminent. Maybe it is.

If it were to move to the CAA, some of the same rambling internet sources say that Elon would be joined as an all-sports member by Albany. That school was just recently added to the CAA for football.

Stony Brook, which like Albany is a recent football-only CAA selection, would by some distance be a superior all-sports addition to the CAA. However, it is reportedly being blocked from full CAA membership by a northern cabal led by Hofstra. If that is really true, it is high comedy…or maybe low comedy. I can’t decide.

Again, it is hard to imagine the likes of Furman, Wofford, or The Citadel having any desire to become part of such a conference.

I just hope that in a few weeks time, most of the SoCon realignment is going to be over, one way or another. Something tells me it won’t be, though.

Conference realignment, SoCon style: the football/hoops conundrum

Previously:

It is definitely nitty-gritty time now for the SoCon

A look at the varsity sports portfolios of SoCon candidate schools

After Georgia Southern and Appalachian State announced they would be leaving the Southern Conference for the Sun Belt last week, SoCon commissioner John Iamarino held a media teleconference. All in all, he did a good job, sounding reasonably confident about his league’s future. Among other things, he had this to say:

If we assume we’re adding three schools to replace the three we are losing, you don’t get that opportunity often. We could strategically look at what can help us where we need help, and I’ve said I’d like us to get better in basketball.

But we also have to look at football. We are losing two outstanding programs, and football matters in this league and in this part of the country.

This came on the heels of an interview in the Chattanooga Times Free Press in which Iamarino stated:

No matter how much success we’ve had in football, and we’ve had a lot of it, FCS football doesn’t pay off on a national level the way winning games in the NCAA tournament does for you.

Unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more evident that the one common component of the mid-majors who’ve had some of the greatest success in basketball — Gonzaga, Butler, Davidson — is that they don’t play scholarship football. It’s difficult to find a FCS program that’s also successful in basketball.

He isn’t wrong. Part of the reason for that is schools that spend the most money on their men’s basketball programs tend to be the most successful, and schools that field scholarship football teams at the FCS level generally don’t have the resources to commit to both sports (in some cases, they have the resources but not the focus).

Only one school with a full-scholarship FCS program is ranked in the Top 60 in men’s basketball expenditures. Villanova is 31st.

Note: all references to expenses are per the 2011-12 school year, as reported to the U.S. Department of Education.

It is not an accident that four of the eight schools that advanced to the NCAA regional finals in men’s basketball this season also rank in the top 8 in terms of money spent on hoops. Duke ranked first, with almost $16 million in expenses, followed by Louisville. Syracuse was fourth, and Marquette eighth. Kentucky was third; the Wildcats missed the NCAAs this season, but won the national title the previous year.

Another regional finalist, Florida, wasn’t far out of the top 8 (thirteenth). The exception, in a sense, was Wichita State (68th), but basketball is clearly a focal point for the school, as it does not field a football team.

A majority of SoCon schools don’t put that type of emphasis on men’s basketball. Southern Conference institutions averaged about $1.44 million in men’s hoops expenditures (that includes the three departing schools), while spending a total on average of $14,117,677. That means only 10.2% of expenses went towards men’s basketball.

Iamarino mentioned Gonzaga, Butler, and Davidson. Men’s basketball accounted for 28.6% of Gonzaga’s expenses and 26.6% of Butler’s. For Davidson, that number was a more modest 16.3% — but that percentage is the highest in the SoCon.

Davidson may not spend the most money on hoops in the league (in 2011-12 Samford did), but clearly it puts more emphasis on the sport than any other school in the league. In smaller leagues, that may matter almost as much as the actual gross expenses. It certainly goes a long way to explaining Davidson’s success in basketball within the conference itself.

In contrast, men’s basketball expenses for South Carolina ranked 20th nationally ($7.3 million), but only made up 8.39% of its total expenses. The Gamecocks are still searching for their first NCAA tournament victory since 1973.

Before the Southern Conference adds schools, the powers that be are probably going to have to decide whether to begin a transition to a hoops-first league, or continue as a conference that historically values football over basketball. While Davidson is clearly a “basketball school”, as is UNC-Greensboro (since it has no football program), most of the current membership savors fall Saturdays above all else. This is certainly true for The Citadel and Furman, the two schools with the longest continuous membership in the league.

The conference’s dilemma may perhaps be best demonstrated by comparing Furman and Davidson. They are fairly similar private schools, though Furman is larger and has a much bigger budget for varsity athletics.  Furman offers (or will offer) 20 varsity sports. Davidson offers 21 varsity sports. Furman plays scholarship football and treasures it; Davidson fields a team, but doesn’t offer schollies in the sport.

– Furman total athletic expenses: $20,531,292. Davidson total athletic expenses: $10,603,460.
– Furman men’s basketball expenses: $1,679,288. Davidson men’s basketball expenses: $1,727,330.

Davidson spends more money on men’s basketball despite Furman spending twice as much money on its total sports portfolio.

The major difference is football, of course. Furman’s athletic expenses in football for 2011-12 were $5,414,705. Davidson spent only $790,295 on football.

Football may be part of the reason why 45% of Furman’s expenses are for athletic aid (scholarships), while Davidson, with comparable tuition costs, spent 28% of its total expenses on athletic aid.

I put together a spreadsheet that lists various athletic expenses for a cross-section of Division I schools. Most of these schools are not candidates to join the Southern Conference, but I wanted to show (and also get an idea myself) of how schools in general spend money, at least at the non-BCS level.

There are 75 schools listed on the spreadsheet. All are in non-BCS leagues and most of them are east of the Mississippi. I included every SoCon school, and a majority of schools from the Big South, Atlantic Sun, CAA, Patriot League, and Atlantic 10. I also noted the current league affiliation for each school (through the 2012-13 school year).

The spreadsheet can be accessed at the following link:

2012 expenses, varsity athletics — selected schools

A few (okay, more than a few) caveats: I’m not an accountant, but I do know that some of these numbers could be a little…tricky. Different schools may have different ways of counting expenses, etc. Exact comparisons can be dicey, especially when you take a look at the numbers of, say, the Ivy League institutions.

Also, I try to avoid referring to budgets rather than expenses, because there is a difference.

I compiled five expense categories: total expenses, football expenses, men’s basketball expenses, athletic aid, and coaching salaries. It wasn’t hard to do, just a touch monotonous.

Observations about various schools that are in the SoCon, that are candidates for the SoCon, and a few that aren’t:

- Richmond spent $5.56 million on football, more than any Southern Conference school, and more than any FCS school on the list except James Madison ($6.6 million), Delaware ($5.6 million), and Liberty ($8.3 million). Old Dominion also spent more than Richmond, but ODU is transitioning to FBS. Richmond also spent $3.9 million on basketball.

- William & Mary spent $4.5 million on football, fitting comfortably in the middle of a group that includes Furman, Samford, Elon, and The Citadel.

- Athletic aid is a significant part of expenses for all schools, but especially private schools. Of those schools I surveyed, fifteen of the sixteen that had the largest percentage of athletic expenses allocated to athletic aid were private. The one exception: The Citadel.

Of The Citadel’s total expenses, 40.4% were for athletic aid. It is possible that is the highest percentage for a public school in all of Division I.

- Schools that had 20% or more of their expenses go for coaches’ salaries included Davidson, Georgia Southern, Western Carolina, VMI, and North Florida. Among the schools below 12% in that category: Furman, Wofford, Presbyterian, James Madison, and Tennessee Tech.

- Not referenced in the spreadsheet but of interest: UNC-Wilmington has formed a committee to review its varsity sports programs, after its chancellor said the department had been neglected for a decade.

- Unless you consider Belmont and JMU serious candidates, UNCW is the only school regularly or even semi-regularly mentioned as a possible addition to the Southern Conference that spent as much money or more on men’s basketball as did Samford, Davidson, or Furman — despite the fact that several candidate schools (Mercer, Kennesaw State, and East Tennessee State, just to name three) didn’t have football programs in 2011-12.

Of course, Florida Gulf Coast’s spending on men’s hoops would have put it in the bottom half of the SoCon, and that school seems to have done all right. It should also be pointed out that Mercer had a fine team this past season and finished ahead of FGCU in the Atlantic Sun standings. I think the real conclusion to draw is that the Mercers and the ETSUs of the world are going to have to seriously ramp up their fundraising as they add football, especially if they move to a new conference, and that additional money will be spent on other sports besides football.

- When it comes to total expenses, James Madison and Liberty probably wouldn’t have many issues in moving to FBS, as both schools compare favorably to most Sun Belt and MAC schools. Appalachian State is a little behind them, but not totally out of line (though I wonder about travel expenditures). Georgia Southern has a lot of work to do. A lot.

I wrote about GSU when if first considered making the FBS jump, back in 2009 (when it released its initial “Football Reclassification Analysis“). I thought it would be a mistake then, and I’m still a bit dubious today, even with (or perhaps because of) the changing landscape of college athletics.

- Davidson has been mentioned as a candidate for the Atlantic 10. One problem the school would have is that its current men’s hoops budget would be the lowest among all A-10 schools, and there would be a major increase in travel expenses (not unlike last year’s proposed move to the CAA that Davidson declined to make). One A-10 member, Rhode Island, spent $4.6 million on men’s basketball in 2011-12, almost $3 million more than Davidson. Of course, the Rams have a cumulative record over the last two seasons of 15-45.

There were a few expense-related items not contained in the spreadsheet I wanted to briefly mention, for no particular reason other than I thought they were interesting, if not surprising.

- When Duke lost to Lehigh in the 2012 NCAA tournament, it was a case of a men’s basketball team with $15.9 million in expenses losing to a team with $1.4 million in expenses. That may be some kind of record.

- While Texas has the largest varsity athletics budget ($129 million, including over $20 million in coaching salaries alone), it appears that Alabama spent the most on football in 2011-12: $36.9 million. Right behind Alabama in football expenses was Ohio State, with $34 million. Alabama has won three of the last four BCS titles; Ohio State was undefeated last season. I guess they got their money’s worth.

- SEC schools as a group spent $262 million on football in 2011-12. That did not include the expenses for Texas A&M or Missouri.

- Kentucky ranked fifteenth nationally in total athletic expenses. That was only the eighth-highest total for an SEC school.

There is another aspect to the football/basketball emphasis question that has to be considered. It was most recently mentioned by John Iamarino after the Barry Alvarez “we’re not playing FCS schools anymore” brouhaha in February. While being interviewed about that, Iamarino said:

The only reason to have 63 scholarships is to be eligible to play FBS teams and count toward their bowl eligibility. If those games go away, the entire subdivision would have to look at if 63 is the right number. Could we save expenses by reducing the number of scholarships? It would seem to me that’s one thing that would have to be looked at.

This may be the elephant in the room.

First, I believe Iamarino was mistaken when he said that “the only reason” to have 63 scholarships is to count to bowl eligibility for FBS opponents, but that’s not really the issue here. Saving money is the issue.

If the Southern Conference wants to become a hoops-centric league while maintaining viable scholarship football, it may be that the league will push for the division as a whole to lower scholarship limits. My guess is that the new limit would be around 50, a significant reduction but still distinguishable from the Division II maximum of 36.

The money saved from reducing scholarships and related expenses could be used to improve men’s and women’s basketball, or perhaps it could be spread around to enhance athletic programs across the board. However, I suspect the league wouldn’t make the move unless the entire division did the same. I am more than a little unsure about that, though.

There are two main problems with reducing scholarships. One is the risk of devaluing the product. At a certain point, customers (and donors) will conclude that the quality of what is being offered is not worth their time or their money.

The more immediate concern is the reduction in opportunities for potential students. One would hope that the scholarships not used in football would at least be used to fund scholarships in other varsity sports, but there is no guarantee that would happen.

I don’t know if this subject will come up when league officials and school administrators meet on April 10, but I would be mildly surprised if it doesn’t. It could be a factor in how the league approaches adding new schools, even if the potential reduction wouldn’t come to fruition for several years down the road.

In a few weeks’ time, league observers should have a very good idea of the SoCon’s strategy moving forward, both in terms of membership additions and any philosophical change in its outlook on football and basketball.

Or maybe we won’t have any idea at all…

Conference realignment, SoCon style: a look at the varsity sports portfolios of candidate schools

As a follow-up to my most recent post on conference realignment, including the SoCon, this is just a quick post on what sports various schools offer, etc…

The SoCon sponsors 19 sports (counting indoor and outdoor track separately). Ideally, a school joining the league would field teams in most of them. A rundown of the offerings for some of the schools that have been mentioned for membership:

Mercer

Mercer has teams in 14 of the SoCon’s 19 sports. The exceptions: football, men’s track and field (both indoor and outdoor), and wrestling.

It also has teams (or will soon have teams) in several sports not sponsored by the SoCon, including men’s and women’s lacrosse and sand volleyball. Mercer will begin playing football (non-scholarship) this year.

VMI

VMI has teams in 11 of the SoCon’s 19 sports. Exceptions: women’s hoops, softball, men’s and women’s tennis, women’s cross country, men’s and women’s golf, and women’s volleyball.

It also fields teams in men’s lacrosse, women’s water polo, men’s and women’s swimming, and rifle.

If VMI were to re-join the SoCon, it may have to add at least one women’s sport that is sponsored by the league.

East Tennessee State

ETSU has teams in 17 of the SoCon’s sponsored sports. It does not have teams in football and wrestling. Of course, ETSU is expected to re-start football in time for the 2015 season.

Kennesaw State

Kennesaw State fields teams in 16 of the SoCon’s 19 sports. There are no KSU teams in football, men’s soccer, and wrestling. Kennesaw State will begin playing football in 2015.

William & Mary

William & Mary has a fairly diverse sports portfolio. It fields teams in 17 SoCon-sponsored sports. W&M doesn’t have a softball team or wrestling squad. It does have men’s and women’s gymnastics, men’s and women’s swimming, women’s lacrosse, and women’s field hockey.

Belmont

I don’t really think Belmont is a serious candidate for the SoCon, but I decided to take a look at its offerings anyway. Belmont does not have a football team or a wrestling squad, but fields teams in every other SoCon-sponsored sport.

Coastal Carolina

Coastal Carolina competes in 18 of the 19 sports sponsored by the SoCon. The exception is wrestling. CCU also fields a women’s lacrosse team.

Richmond

Though I think Richmond is really only an SoCon option for football, I’ll include a rundown of its sports too. For the 2013-14 school year, it will compete in 13 of the 19 sports sponsored by the Southern Conference. Somewhat controversially, Richmond’s administration has decided to drop men’s soccer and men’s track and field while adding men’s lacrosse.

Besides men’s soccer and men’s track and field (indoor and outdoor), UR does not field teams in wrestling, softball, and women’s volleyball. In addition to men’s lacrosse, Richmond has or will have women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s swimming, and women’s field hockey.

Delaware

Like Richmond, Delaware would almost certainly be a football-only candidate for the SoCon (and even that would be a longshot). It has teams in 15 SoCon-sponsored sports, not having teams for men’s track and field (indoor and outdoor), men’s cross-country, and wrestling. Delaware also fields squads in women’s field hockey, women’s rowing, men’s and women’s swimming, and men’s and women’s lacrosse.

James Madison

If JMU decides against a possible invitation to the Sun Belt Conference and remains in FCS, it may become a target for the SoCon. Like Delaware, James Madison competes in 15 of the 19 SoCon-sponsored sports. It does not have teams in men’s cross country, men’s track and field (indoor and outdoor), and wrestling. JMU has three women’s teams in sports not sponsored by the Southern Conference: field hockey, swimming, and lacrosse.

UNC-Wilmington

UNCW competes in every SoCon-sponsored sport except football and wrestling. It also has men’s and women’s swimming.

Jacksonville

JU fields teams in 13 of the SoCon’s 19 sports. It does not have men’s track and field (indoor and outdoor), men’s and women’s tennis, and wrestling, and its football team is non-scholarship. Jacksonville does have men’s and women’s rowing teams, men’s and women’s lacrosse, and also sponsors women’s sand volleyball (which is an “emerging” NCAA sport; in February, South Carolina became the 31st school to sponsor the sport at the varsity level).

Campbell

Campbell’s football team is non-scholarship. It competes in every other SoCon-sponsored sport, and also has women’s lacrosse and women’s swimming.

After reviewing these schools and a few others, I came to the conclusion that the Southern Conference is likely to sponsor at least two more sports in the not-too-distant future, namely men’s and women’s lacrosse. Some of the schools in the SoCon’s general geographic footprint that have or will soon have lacrosse for either men or women or both: Mercer, VMI, Kennesaw State, William & Mary, Richmond, James Madison, Furman, Elon, Presbyterian, Campbell, Jacksonville, Howard, Coastal Carolina, Stetson, Delaware, and Winthrop.

More realignment excitement will be coming our way soon, I’m sure…

Conference realignment, SoCon style: it is definitely nitty-gritty time now

On Wednesday, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State are expected to announce that they have each accepted an invitation to join the Sun Belt Conference. Both schools have been desperately trying to wangle an invite from an FBS league; it looks like it is finally going to happen.

I wrote about this possibility a few weeks ago. Now that it has come to pass, I want to revisit what it means for the Southern Conference and what schools are candidates to join the SoCon as replacements — and also what schools, if any, are candidates to leave the league.

Conference realignment analysis is complicated, to say the least. A move on one side of the country can cause repercussions on the other. No one really has a handle on the hopes and dreams of every single school out there. The difficulties in trying to see what leagues and schools will do can best be encapsulated by this quote from an AD at a Missouri Valley Conference school:

We’re just sitting here wondering if Creighton goes [to the Big East], which of the 26 schools in our footprint that make some sense should we be pursuing.

That’s right. To replace Creighton, there are more than two dozen reasonable candidates, and whichever one is chosen will set off a chain reaction all over the nation — but each different school may set off a different chain reaction. It makes long-range predictions more or less futile (as does the entire process of musical chairs in general).

Despite that, I’ll muddle through this post anyway…

With Appalachian State and Georgia Southern leaving, the SoCon will look like this:

The Citadel
Furman
Wofford
Elon
Western Carolina
Chattanooga
Samford
Davidson*
UNC-Greensboro*

* no scholarship football program

First, let’s discuss the current league schools rumored to be candidates to leave for another conference. That would be all of them.

Seriously, every school in the league has been the focus of various rumors, some with solid sourcing, some just made up. The internet is a wild and crazy place.

The most realistic contender to jump may be Davidson, which has a good hoops program with no scholarship football. If Davidson were a person, however, he would be a very cautious accountant who happens to love basketball (and not much else). This is a school that isn’t changing leagues unless it knows it’s the right decision. It’s not going to jump into a lake like the College of Charleston did and find out the level of the water has dropped eighteen feet overnight.

Elon is the league wild card, as I’ve noted before. At this point I would be surprised if it decided to move to the CAA, but who knows. Chattanooga has (somewhat curiously) been mentioned as a potential Sun Belt candidate, which I think even most of its fan base finds puzzling.

That is what the SoCon has right now. What is going on in the rest of the land that may impact the league? A brief review follows.

- Big East (newly minted version)

The new league formerly known as the Catholic 7 is adding three schools. Butler and Xavier are joining from the A-10, and Creighton is moving from the Missouri Valley. For at least one year, the number of league schools will stay at 10. It is widely believed that the new Big East will add two more schools in time for the 2014-15 season, and that both additions are likely to come from the A-10. One will probably be St. Louis, and the other will come from a group that includes Dayton, Richmond, and VCU, with the Flyers being a slight favorite.

The MVC will replace Creighton, but that won’t affect the SoCon. The A-10, however, has already moved forward, will undoubtedly continue to do so, and those decisions will have a trickle-down effect that will be watched by SoCon observers.

- Atlantic 10 (which actually had 16 schools this past season)

The A-10 was already losing two schools, Charlotte (which is starting a football program and moving to CUSA) and Temple.

The Owls are moving to the “old” Big East for all sports, and to avoid confusion I’m going to call that conference the Metro, which is surely a better league name than the “America 12″.

With Xavier and Butler gone (Butler having been in the league for about an hour), the A-10 decided 12 schools weren’t enough and added George Mason on Monday. It is quite possible the A-10 will add another school in the near future. Davidson has been mentioned as a candidate for this spot, but there is a catch, as there are reports that Davidson would like a fellow southern school to go with it for travel reasons. The school most often named as pairing up with Davidson is the College of Charleston.

However, Davidson is not the leading contender to be the next A-10 pickup, according to Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports. That would be Siena. Another school reportedly in the mix is Iona.

My fearless (and meaningless) prognostication: Siena joins the A-10, and Davidson becomes a more serious candidate when the A-10 loses St. Louis and one of the Dayton/Richmond/VCU trio next year.

- Metro

Tulsa is expected to join this league any week now, leaving CUSA. This would lead to Western Kentucky leaving the Sun Belt and taking Tulsa’s place. Massachusetts may eventually wind up in this conference (though that is far from certain), which would presumably open up another spot in the A-10 in hoops (UMass currently competes in the MAC in football).

- Sun Belt

League commissioner Karl Benson wants a conference championship game in football, and he is apparently going to get it. Georgia Southern and Appalachian State will become football members 9 and 10, so the conference needs two more schools to stage a title matchup. According to Dennis Dodd at CBS Sports, New Mexico State and Idaho are going to be added as football-only members.

Idaho has to get permission from its State Board of Education to make the move, which is probably a formality. Not everyone thinks adding New Mexico State and Idaho to the Sun Belt (even for just football) is a good idea.

However, if WKU leaves as expected, the Sun Belt would actually need one more football-playing school to get to 12, and would have to look further into the FCS ranks to find it. From the SoCon’s perspective, the most interesting candidate for that spot (other than longshot Chattanooga) is James Madison of the CAA, which has been left behind in that league by all of its fellow Virginia schools except William & Mary. Losing JMU would be a very tough blow for the CAA. Liberty is also a Sun Belt hopeful, as are a couple of Southland Conference schools (Lamar and Sam Houston State) and Jacksonville State.

- CAA

Before delving into the CAA situation, I wanted to mention the press release issued by its commissioner after George Mason decided to join the A-10:

As a result of the George Mason University Board’s decision to withdraw from CAA membership…and in accordance with conference bylaws:

-George Mason’s teams in seven spring sports…will become ineligible for CAA spring 2013 championships.

-George Mason will forfeit its projected 2013 conference distribution of approximately $330,000 and future distributions (through 2017 totaling an additional $1.32 million). George Mason will also pay a minimum liquidated damages fee of at least $1,000,000. Total forfeited funds will be no less than $2.65 million…

…We are disappointed by George Mason’s decision to withdraw from the CAA after 30 years as a charter member.  We wish them well as they strive to achieve the same level of competitive success in a new conference. The CAA’s Council of Presidents will continue to aggressively pursue institutions committed to providing the finest academic and athletic opportunities for our student-athletes.

To me, that comes across as incredibly petty, especially considering GMU was (as stated) a charter member of the conference. As was the case for other schools that recently left the CAA, the athletes were punished for their (obviously huge) part in the crime of leaving the league. Imagine being a senior baseball or softball player and finding out halfway through the season that you wouldn’t be competing for the league title.

Here is the current CAA lineup (at least, as of this second):

Hofstra*
Northeastern*
Drexel*
Delaware
Towson
James Madison
William & Mary
UNC-Wilmington*
College of Charleston*
Richmond#
Rhode Island#
Stony Brook#
Albany#
Maine#
New Hampshire#
Villanova#

* no scholarship football program
# football-only member

Eleven schools for football, but only four of them are full-time members. Nine schools for basketball.

This league is a mess. In my opinion, it’s even more of a mess than the SoCon. It resembles two or three conferences unwillingly jammed into one. In addition, I think at least half of the schools in the basketball version of the league would gladly jump to the A-10 at a moment’s notice, given the opportunity. Heck, some might even consider the SoCon.

Would UNCW be able to resist an offer from the SoCon? It has “reaffirmed [its] commitment” to the CAA, but some think it needs to consider all of its options. Is the College of Charleston feeling buyer’s remorse? Supposedly not, though one suspects that any CofC return to the SoCon could only happen if the SoCon leadership were allowed to throw sharp objects at CofC AD Joe Hull.

Then there is William & Mary, which is going to be really out in the cold if JMU leaves. It would be hard for William & Mary or UNCW, though, to give up the significant amount of money currently on the table for the remaining CAA members.

I’ve written a couple of times about the possibilities for SoCon additions. A few things have changed since the last time I posted about this subject. My thoughts as of right now on a few of the schools in question, plus some off-the-wall ideas:

- Mercer is probably a lock, with the only issue being that the school has not yet committed to scholarship football. As I’ve said before, though, Mercer’s new facilities are not those of a non-scholarship program, or at least not those of one planning to stay non-scholarship. At any rate, Mercer can fill the spot left by the College of Charleston for the immediate future, with a hoops program at least as good and a fine baseball team as well.

- VMI, from a historical perspective, should be in the Southern Conference. Instinctively, VMI should be in the SoCon. However, VMI has issues, and I am not as confident in its chances of rejoining the league as I would have been a couple of months ago. A perceived lack of institutional commitment to varsity athletics may doom the hopes of those hoping to see the Keydets back in the SoCon. I’m not counting VMI out, though.

- William & Mary is possibly more of a sleeper candidate than it was before, thanks to the CAA’s crumbling edifice. I’m still not quite buying the Tribe to the SoCon, but I could be persuaded to rent.

- Richmond would be a football-only pick, and while I’m not crazy about a football-only SoCon member, the idea of grabbing UR for football in order to further attract William & Mary to join in all sports may have merit.

- If the SoCon wanted to be really aggressive and try to fully dismantle the CAA before the CAA tried to destroy the SoCon, it might consider approaching Delaware as a football-only member.

- If James Madison doesn’t wind up in the Sun Belt (or the MAC), the SoCon ought to seriously consider approaching the folks in Harrisburg, too. They might be willing to listen.

- Kennesaw State is starting a football program, and just hired its first coach. The Owls’ first season on the gridiron will be 2015. There has been marginally more chatter about KSU to the SoCon in recent weeks, although I am still a touch dubious about that. If Kennesaw State did join the league, it would help the SoCon maintain its quota of triple option teams, as new coach Brian Bohannon has worked for Paul Johnson at both Navy and Georgia Tech over the past 17 years, coaching quarterbacks and B-backs.

- East Tennessee State is also likely to start (or rather, re-start) its football program in 2015. ETSU may have to make a decision about what league it wants to join, if it has options (the OVC possibly being one of them). It won’t be in any league without a new football facility, though. (Nobody is going to play football at the Mini-Dome.)

It’s possible that ETSU may wind up in the SoCon at the expense of VMI. I wouldn’t be shocked if neither got in, though.

- Coastal Carolina, if anything, is less likely to wind up in the SoCon than before — and it wasn’t going to get in then, either. If I were in the CCU administration, I would fax an application to the CAA every day. It’s probably their best shot at moving out of the Big South.

- Campbell has been suggested as a potential candidate. Like Mercer, it’s one of several southeastern schools (including Jacksonville and Stetson) that have started or are about to start non-scholarship football programs. I’m not really sure what Campbell could bring to the table that the SoCon would want, though. Jacksonville and Stetson would add new markets but are not in the league’s geographic footprint, which I suspect will be a major factor in determining what schools are added.

- Other schools mentioned here and there that I don’t think are serious candidates for the SoCon (but you never know): Presbyterian, Winthrop, Tennessee Tech, Eastern Kentucky, North Alabama, West Georgia, Gardner-Webb, High Point, South Carolina State, and USC Upstate.

USC Upstate was suggested on Twitter by Gene Sapakoff, a columnist for The Post and Courier, who was throwing out the idea of a proposed Atlantic Sun-SoCon merger. Uh, no.

SoCon commissioner John Iamarino has preached patience and a waiting game. I haven’t had a major problem with that. It was inevitable that Appalachian State and Georgia Southern would leave, but there wasn’t anything wrong in letting a few other things shake out nationally before making a move. The league had time.

It doesn’t really have time now. Once Appalachian State and Georgia Southern are officially out, the SoCon has to act, and with decisiveness. I hope the conference has been preparing to do just that. I realize that Iamarino may be hamstrung a bit by a disparate membership, but he has to put together a consensus. He has to add new members that will improve the league.

It’s nitty-gritty time.

Spring football, SoCon baseball, and some Beautiful Bulldogs

It was a busy weekend at The Citadel. Corps Day Weekend always is, of course. This year, there were also a number of varsity sporting events that took place at around the same time.

The basketball team was in Asheville for the Southern Conference tournament there, while the wrestling team was in Lexington, Virginia, for the SoCon championships in that sport. The tennis team played on campus on Sunday, and the baseball team hosted Samford in a three-game series to open league play. The football team played its spring game at Johnson Hagood Stadium on Saturday.

The wrestling team finished third in the league, and had three wrestlers win individual titles. Odie Delaney won his fourth Southern Conference title, the first time a wrestler at The Citadel has ever done so. The program appears to be in fine shape for the future as well, despite this being Delaney’s final year.

Saturday was a really nice day in Charleston, sunny and almost warm if you weren’t in the shadows. I wandered onto campus in time to see the end of the morning parade, which was very well attended. I don’t remember Corps Day being that popular, but maybe things have changed. The weather also helped, I’m sure.

After the parade, I walked over to Johnson Hagood Stadium for the spring game, although I first stopped to take a gander at the contestants for the “Most Beautiful Bulldog” competition, many of which were in costume. There were ballerina outfits, a dog dressed like a biker (complete with motorcycle goggles), a Batman-and-Robin combo…you get the idea.

The contest is a hoot, and a nice bit of PR for The Citadel. There is a short video synopsis of the event on Youtube: Link

You can also see some good pictures of the dogs/event via the school’s Facebook page: Link

I’m a big fan of the live mascot program; as I have often noted, re-instituting it is one of the better things The Citadel has done over the past decade. General and Boo were both around to see the other bulldogs put through their paces. Those two still look good, but it is also true that both dogs are now nine years old. General will turn 10 in June, and that’s a relatively advanced age for the breed. I was reminded of that while watching them “inspect” a bullpup on Saturday.

After leaving that area, I then watched the spring game, leaving late in the third quarter to get over to Riley Park for the baseball contest.

I’ll make a few comments about the football game, even though I won’t pretend to have much of an opinion on any of the action. I’ve always felt a bit ambivalent about the spring game, mainly because I don’t know who I should support. The Citadel? Or The Citadel?

(I posted that conundrum on Twitter and immediately got an appropriate answer: always root for the medical staff.)

The passing game wasn’t very good on Saturday. This was not entirely due to the quarterbacks. The receivers have to do a better job of, well, receiving. There was a very nice TD throw from Aaron Miller to Dalton Trevino, though. That was an interesting pass pattern, something to watch this fall.

Brandon McCladdie had an outstanding interception on a long pass attempt downfield. He was in midseason form.

Trey White looks like he is going to be a fine player (though he had a fumble that was returned for a TD). It’s always good to have depth at the quarterback position.

If you need something to worry about, worry about the punting. Based on what I saw on Saturday, the Bulldogs have work to do in that department. Luckily, there is still plenty of time to iron things out.

It was good to see guys like Rickey Anderson and Chris Billingslea in the stands cheering on their teammates.

Kudos to the marketing/sports information folks for getting the game sponsored (by Coke Zero), and for handing out plenty of posters, koozies, and even game programs. Nice job.

The baseball game was excellent. The Citadel beat Samford 2-1 on Saturday, and also won the series by a 2-1 count after dropping the Sunday contest. All in all, the opening conference series for 2013 was encouraging. This team has the potential to be very solid. It has not been as good defensively as it should be. If the squad continues to pitch and hit as well as it has so far, and improves its fielding to at least last season’s level, I believe the Bulldogs can contend for the league title. They have to put together all three of those elements, however.

I took some pictures of some of Saturday’s festivities, including a few shots of the parade, the Beautiful Bulldogs, the spring game, and a few baseball shots. As always, please remember that my photography skills are limited.

Next year’s football schedule: Who will The Citadel’s opponents play before they play the Bulldogs?

This is just a quick post on something I was looking at this past week. One thing that a triple option team sometimes has going for it is that its opponent doesn’t have time to prepare adequately for the offense, because it is so different from the “typical” offense. Of course, these days I’m not sure there really is a typical offense.

There is also something to be said about the quality of the opponent’s immediate prior opposition and how it affects its preparation, regardless of offensive or defensive setup.

The Citadel has announced its 2013 football schedule. Just for the record, here are the Bulldogs’ opponents’ opponents the week before they play The Citadel:

August 31: Charleston Southern — well, it’s the season opener

September 7: Wofford — the Terriers will travel to Florida State Baylor the week before playing The Citadel at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Advantage, Bulldogs.

Edit (2/25/13): Instead of Tallahassee, Wofford will head to Waco on 8/31, thanks to a late change in the Seminoles’ schedule.

Incidentally, Wofford’s game the next week is at home against Georgia Southern. That’s quite a stretch to begin the season.

September 14: at Western Carolina — the Catamounts are tentatively scheduled to play Virginia Tech in Blacksburg prior to facing The Citadel. Yikes. That’s after an opening game at Middle Tennessee State. Later in the year, WCU plays Auburn. Yes, three FBS programs in one season. Great for the financial bottom line, not so hot for trying to build a program.

September 21: at Old Dominion — the Monarchs host Howard on September 14. That follows consecutive games against FBS opposition (East Carolina and Maryland) for ODU, which is making the transition to FBS itself.

September 28: Furman — the Paladins are off the week of September 21. Rats.

October 5: Appalachian State – Edit (2/25/13): App State will host Charleston Southern on September 28. The Citadel will be the first of the SoCon’s three triple option teams that the Mountaineers will encounter during the 2013 season.

October 12: at Georgia Southern — the Eagles are at Samford the week before tangling with the Bulldogs in Statesboro. Will this be the last time The Citadel plays at GSU?

October 19: off week

October 26: at Chattanooga — the Mocs travel to Elon prior to facing The Citadel.

November 2: Samford — Pat Sullivan’s crew plays two straight games in South Carolina, traveling to Wofford before making an appearance at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

November 9: at Elon — November 2 will be an off week for the Phoenix. The matchup against The Citadel will also be Elon’s homecoming game.

November 16: VMI — the Keydets, like Samford, will venture to the Palmetto State in consecutive weeks, as they will journey to Presbyterian on November 9 to take on the Blue Hose.

November 23: Clemson – Edit (2/25/13): The Tigers will have two extra days off before playing The Citadel, as they will host Georgia Tech in an ESPN Thursday night game on November 14.

Clemson apparently tried to get out of the game against the Bulldogs. The Tigers have two FCS opponents in 2013 (The Citadel and South Carolina State) primarily as a result of the ACC waffling on having an eight- or nine-game league slate.

Just for comparison, last season’s opponents’ prior opponents:

Charleston Southern — season opener

Georgia Southern — the Eagles hosted Jacksonville

at Appalachian State — the Mountaineers hosted Montana

at North Carolina State — the Pack hosted South Alabama

Chattanooga — the Mocs hosted Appalachian State

at Samford — the Birmingham Bulldogs traveled to Georgia Southern

Western Carolina — the Catamounts hosted Georgia Southern

at Wofford — the Terriers traveled to Appalachian State

Elon — the Phoenix hosted Furman

at VMI — the Keydets traveled to Stony Brook

at Furman — the Paladins traveled to Appalachian State

Does it mean anything? Probably not. It won’t be in The Citadel’s favor that both Furman and Elon have a week off before playing the Bulldogs, but that’s the breaks. Another negative: Clemson will face fellow triple option team Georgia Tech immediately before playing The Citadel.

All this is, really, is something to pass the time while we wait for August 31 to roll around…

McAlister Musings: It is darkest before the dawn, but the dawn is running late

Well, no need to sugarcoat things. Let’s get right to the facts:

– The Citadel has lost 11 straight games, and is now 0-5 in SoCon play.

– The Bulldogs are next-to-last in Division I in Kenpom’s defensive efficiency ratings. There are 347 teams in D-1, and The Citadel is 346th.

– The Citadel’s adjusted offensive efficiency isn’t anything to write home about, either. The Bulldogs are actually a decent shooting team, but their turnover rate has been horrific all season. At 25.4%, The Citadel ranks in the bottom 10 nationally in that statistic.

– About halfway through the losing streak, The Citadel started allowing opponents to collect an alarming number of offensive rebounds, which has contributed to the defensive problems. Bulldog foes are rebounding almost two-fifths of their misses. That makes The Citadel one of the 25 worst teams in the country in defensive OR%.

– The failure to control the defensive glass has lessened the impact of a statistic that was beginning to improve. Through seven games, 47.6% of opponents’ field goal attempts were three-pointers. That percentage has declined to a still-high but much more palatable 35.9%. The Citadel has done a better job of stopping teams from taking three-point shots.

– Unfortunately, when they do take long-range shots, the opposition is still making them from beyond the arc at an extraordinary rate, 41.5%. Only three other teams allow opponents to shoot a higher percentage from three-land. Some of that (not all of it) is bad luck.

– The Citadel has had a tendency to get behind early, by scores like 11-3 (against the College of Charleston), 21-14 (Samford), 22-13 (Chattanooga), 18-11 (Western Carolina), 20-3 (Georgia Tech), 24-13 (St. Bonaventure), and 12-4 (Radford, a game that the Highlanders would lead by 22 at one point in the first half).

Five of the games I mentioned were home contests. It’s hard for the crowd (such as it is) to get enthusiastic when the team falls behind so quickly.

After the loss to Samford, I started to wonder if The Citadel would win another game this season. After thinking about it (and the subsequent game against the College of Charleston), I am a lot more confident the Bulldogs will win again this year. I base that partly on The Citadel’s improved play, but also on the less-than-scintillating status of the SoCon as a whole.

At the beginning of the season, I thought that the Southern Conference would be a stronger league than it was last year. However, the conference has been worse. The SoCon returned a lot of last year’s better players, but apparently most of them came back because they didn’t have any other place to go.

The Bulldogs still have 13 league games remaining (plus a “Bracketbusters” contest against an opponent to be determined). The Citadel is going to come out on top somewhere down the line.

That doesn’t make me feel much better about the way the season has gone, though. I am sure the coaching staff is profoundly frustrated, to say nothing about the players’ disappointment. This season wasn’t supposed to look like last year’s 6-24 campaign, but it is on pace to be just as bad from the standpoint of the overall record.

The one excuse I don’t want to hear any more is that “we have a young team”. The Citadel had a young team last year. This year it has a bunch of sophomores and a few freshmen (along with an outstanding senior, Mike Groselle), and the Bulldogs have already played half of the season schedule. Everyone understood what last season was all about. This year was supposed to be about reaping some rewards for running through that youth-infused gauntlet.

Longtime supporters of The Citadel have heard the “we have a young team” line all too often in years past. It gets old after a while. Very old.

I realize that what I wrote above is, well, rather negative. Then again, the Bulldogs have lost eleven consecutive games. Things haven’t gone well so far this season. The record reflects that.  The statistical profile reflects that.

There are positives, though. The addition of Rae Robinson and P.J. Horgan into the rotation has made the Bulldogs a better team. As I noted above, the Bulldogs are starting to defend the perimeter a little better than they were earlier in the season (though there is plenty of room for continued improvement). Offensively, The Citadel has several guys who can put the ball in the basket, and in a variety of ways. That is encouraging.

Against the College of Charleston, the Bulldogs only committed eleven turnovers, a very respectable total in a 60+ possession game. If The Citadel plays every night like it did on Monday, the team is going to start winning. However, that effort has to be constant.

The Bulldogs aren’t good enough to turn the ball over one out of every four possessions and still win. The turnover issue has been the thing that has annoyed me the most, to be honest. I hope the players keep working with the medicine ball.

The Citadel has to continue to get better on defense, and part of that is solving the problem of defending the outside shot while maintaining control of the defensive glass. The Bulldogs have yet to consistently do both at the same time.

I know the players still have hopes of making a breakthrough. Chuck Driesell has said the right things, and clearly hasn’t “lost” the team despite the losing streak. I haven’t given up on them, either. It’s just tough when you’re on the wrong side of the scoreline game after game. I guess it will make an eventual turnaround that much sweeter.

I just wish that turnaround would hurry up and get here…

The Citadel’s new long-range strategic initiative and what it means for varsity athletics: The LEAD Plan 2018

Links:

Welcome to The LEAD Plan 2018

The LEAD Plan 2018 (also available as a .pdf)

I didn’t realize until recently that The Citadel’s new strategic planning initiative had been published. Maybe the announcement of its release was made and I just missed it (which is entirely possible). It appears to have been issued on or around December 12, 2012.

From the school website:

More than simply a document, this new six-year commitment to ensure the strong future of The Citadel, serves as the college’s map that all members of the college community can follow to realize strategic growth and innovation during the next six years.

The name of this plan draws from the core mission of the college, spotlighting The Citadel’s strong reputation for Leadership Excellence and Academic Distinction.

As we take stock of the last few years, The Citadel’s strategic planning empowered the college to face historic economic hardships and grow while other institutions of higher education were forced to cut programs. The Citadel has clearly navigated the new landscape and realized innovations. Innovation in curricula and program growth. Innovation in service to our students and families. Innovation in facilities. Innovation in developing regional partners in industry and the Lowcountry community. In true Citadel fashion, the college faces each challenge and emerges stronger.

From the introductory letter:

In the fall of 2011, a collaborative team at The Citadel embarked on an important journey to plan, shape and position the future successes of the college. During the past year, The Citadel conducted a campus-wide planning process that engaged the campus community in a discussion of the institution’s strategic goals and vision, culminating in The LEAD Plan, The Citadel’s 2012-2018 Strategic Plan to promote Leadership Excellence and Academic Distinction.

This planning document communicates The Citadel’s priorities and lays the foundation for a successful capital campaign that will propel the institution to new heights of academic and leadership prominence…

…the following eight strategic initiatives comprise the planning priorities for The Citadel:

ONE – Develop principled leaders in a globalized environment.
TWO – Enhance the learning environment.
THREE – Strengthen the college through institutional advancement.
FOUR – Develop the student population.
FIVE – Enhance the facilities and technological support for the campus.
SIX – Improve institutional effectiveness.
SEVEN – Ensure the college has the leadership and talent to accomplish these strategic initiatives.
EIGHT – Provide outreach to the region and serve as a resource in its economic development.

Later in the document, there is a reference to the financial setup of this plan:

Success of The LEAD Plan 2018 will be realized through the continuing partnership with The Citadel Foundation, which will provide the funding for the plan’s action items. In particular, The Citadel Foundation will operate a six-year capital campaign that will be aligned with the priorities of The LEAD Plan and its primary lines of effort.

This initiative is the successor to the “Blueprint”, which was The Citadel’s 2009-2012 strategic plan.

In March of 2012, I wrote about some aspects of the Blueprint, among other things, in an ambitious, overly long essay about The Citadel’s future as an institution (with a focus on varsity sports). Now the college has announced its plans for the next few years, and beyond.

I’m not going to rehash the entire LEAD plan. I would encourage anyone interested in The Citadel to read it. It’s not that long (35 pages).

I want to discuss a few things in the plan that are directly related to varsity sports at the military college. They are noteworthy, and newsworthy as well. Of course, everything in the document can be said to have relevance for athletics in some way, and the reverse is often true as well.

Just to list two examples, one macro, one micro: one of the school’s stated goals is to maintain a graduation rate for all cadets of 75%. That’s a major statement. Another goal, obviously not as sweeping but important in its own sphere, is to upgrade the organic chemistry and physics laboratories.

These are the types of things that would matter to many prospective recruits (and their families).

However, since this is a (mostly) sports blog, let’s look at items that are immediately associated with the department of athletics.

Below are certain sections of The LEAD Plan 2018. They are denoted in italics. I have some brief comments following each section.

First up, initiative #3…

Strategic Initiative Supporting Outcomes, #3: Strengthen the College through Institutional Advancement

In the new higher education environment defined by economic challenges and constrained resources, The Citadel must double its efforts to identify alternative funding sources and advancement opportunities. During the next six years, The Citadel will take steps to expand fundraising and grant-writing expertise, increase the financial independence of The Citadel’s athletics program, and enhance regional and national promotion of the institution.

The Citadel’s athletics program will increase its financial independence and generate 100% of the revenues needed to eliminate the need for campus support from unrestricted gift funds.

*** Objective 3.2 Increase the financial independence of The Citadel’s athletics program

Athletics are an integral component of educating principled leaders, fostering institutional loyalty and spirit, and maintaining a vibrant campus community. The institution will execute several actions designed to strengthen both the athletics program and the college during the next six years.

Actions

- Create an Athletics Excellence Fund and offer naming opportunities

- Create additional fundraising activities

Key Performance Indicators

- Increase membership in the Brigadier Foundation by 25%

- Increase new endowed scholarship funds by $5M

*** Objective 3.4 Expand regional and national promotion of The Citadel brand

Expanding the marketing infrastructure and programmatic initiatives will help promote The Citadel brand more prominently across the region and country.

Actions

- Expand the college’s marketing strategy to include a more competitive brand positioning that spotlights The Citadel generally and in support of key programs

- Develop measurable outreach tactics that target student prospects for high-priority programs

Key Performance Indicators

- Increase applications by 15% by 2015

- Increase website traffic by 5% by 2015

- Achieve positive brand awareness feedback in surveys

I’ve highlighted some of the more interesting goals/expected outcomes.

Increasing the size of the Brigadier Foundation is a must, as I think everyone would agree. Increasing membership by 25% will be tough. It is not impossible. However, the goal in the Blueprint for membership growth wasn’t 25% — it was 35%. The Citadel did not come particularly close to meeting that standard.

To reach an increase of 25%, the foundation would need to add about 450 new members. For a small school, that is not going to be easy.

In addition to the membership drive, the school wants to have an enormous increase in endowed scholarships for athletics.

While objective 3.4 is not specifically about the department of athletics, I included it here because I believe athletics is a key element to the “branding” issue, an idea reflected throughout the strategic plan.

As an aside, shooting for a 5% increase in web traffic strikes me as a very modest goal.

Strategic Initiative Supporting Outcomes, #4: Develop the Student Population

The Citadel will become the national institution of choice after the federal service academies for academic and military preparation for careers in the armed services.

The Citadel will develop the mix of its student populations to reflect diversity goals. The Citadel will develop and refine its scholarship and financial assistance programs to support its recruitment goals.

*** Objective 4.4 Expand student diversity and sustain an enrollment of 2,135 in the Corps of Cadets

Citadel graduates work, serve and reside in diverse environments. The prospects for their success as principled leaders are enhanced by exposure to diverse perspectives, interpretations and points of view. Supporting that diversity enriches the educational environment.

Actions 

- Recruit quality cadet-athletes—who will add to the institution’s culture of diversity within the Corps of Cadets—by funding full athletic scholarships in all sports

- Expand need-based funding

Key Performance Indicators

- Increase need-based funding to $2 million by 2018

- Offer 100% of full athletic scholarships

Well, now this is something to ponder. Does the school intend to fund the maximum number of scholarships in all sports? That’s certainly what it seems to say. I suppose it could mean that it “just” means any cadet athlete on scholarship would be guaranteed a full ride, but that’s not how I am interpreting it.

Maxing out on scholarships is a very laudable goal. It would be a great boon to most of the “Olympic” sports; the one that most immediately comes to mind is actually rifle, which is reportedly only funded at 42% of its maximum scholarship allotment (1.5 out of a possible 3.6 schollies).

I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: The Citadel could conceivably win an NCAA title in rifle. If that happened, Big Red would soon have its day flying atop the Statehouse dome. Adding a couple of rifle scholarships would go a long way to making that dream a reality.

It’s an expensive dream, to be sure.

I was surprised when reading the plan to find that basically the entire undergraduate component of “developing the student population” was devoted to increasing funding for athletics scholarships.

Strategic Initiative Supporting Outcomes, #5: Enhance the Facilities and Technological Support for the Campus 

*** Objective 5.3 Enhance athletic facilities

Athletic facilities represent a core element of the campus educational and co-curricular experience and will be renovated to include more competitive facilities and technological innovations.

Actions

- Renovate the Altman Center

- Renovate McAlister Field House and Vandiver and Seignious Halls

- Build practice volleyball and basketball facilities

Key Performance Indicators

- Complete athletics renovations by 2018

None of this is a big surprise. I don’t recall a clamor for a practice volleyball facility, but I can certainly understand the need.

Strategic Initiative Supporting Outcomes, #7: Ensure the college has the leadership and talent to accomplish these strategic initiatives

*** Objective 7.2 Expand the number of qualified personnel able to coach, teach, train and mentor units and individuals across the Four Pillars

The Citadel’s Leader Development Model integrates the academic, military, physical and moral-ethical pillars of The Citadel Experience. Several actions are central in driving further integration of these domains.

Actions

- Develop a summer coaching and mentoring workshop for tactical officers

- Create a series of endowed athletics positions to include the director of athletics as well as head coaches of football, basketball and baseball

Key Performance Indicators

- Endow a strategic athletics position by 2015

- Develop and implement a summer coaching and mentoring workshop for tactical officers by 2014

 –

Ah, this is what I call the “Ivy League” model. What I mean by that:

- At Princeton, Bob Surace is not the head football coach. He is actually The Charles W. Caldwell Jr. ’25 Head Coach of Football. That is how he is listed on every Princeton release.

- Gary Walters is not the director of athletics at Princeton. He is The Ford Family Director of Athletics.

- Mitch Henderson is not the men’s basketball coach at Princeton. He is The Franklin C. Cappon-Edward G. Green ’40 head men’s basketball coach.

You get the idea. It’s not just Princeton, either. Many Ivy League schools have endowed positions. Harvard has them for numerous sports, including tennis, wrestling, and…squash.

That’s why when Ivy League schools issue press releases about their varsity teams, they often look like this one from Cornell:

Andy Noelthe Meakem-Smith Director of Athletics and Physical Education, has announced that Kent Austin, the Roger J. Weiss ’61 Head Coach of Football, has accepted the joint position of vice president of football operations, general manager and head football coach of the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats, effective immediately.

While this would result in a little extra work for the staffers in Athletic Media Relations, having an endowed position would obviously do wonders for budgeting.

Incidentally, some larger schools endow athletic scholarships for specific on-field football positions. At Southern California, every starting position on the football team is endowed in perpetuity, including placekicker and punter.

I think it is clear that as far as The LEAD Plan 2018 is concerned, varsity athletics is a top priority. What the school wants to do is very interesting. I think it’s laudable. It will also take a great deal of money.

Raising that kind of cash, particularly the focus on endowments, is going to be an enormous challenge. However, I don’t think it’s a “pie in the sky” situation. Having said that, does anyone know a billionaire or two who might be willing to help out?

The Citadel administration appears to have some big ideas, and has chosen to make them public. I am glad to see this. Potential donors need to know what the long-term plans of the school will be. Now, they should have a very good sense of where the college wants to go.

I am on record as favoring an expansion in varsity sports offerings at the military college, specifically in sports that could appeal to a wider geographic student demographic (lacrosse being the most obvious example).

It could be argued, with considerable justification, that the school first needs to shore up support for its existing squads. However, I think The Citadel’s fundraising should be two-pronged: focused on improving what it has now, and opening new vistas for the school. That is true both for the overall scope of the college and the department of athletics, and seems to be what The LEAD Plan is all about.

Another point in favor of adding varsity sports is that the current phase of conference realignment may give The Citadel some new opportunities. While there is concern for where the school may wind up in the NCAA landscape when the dust has settled, I think it’s possible that The Citadel may find itself in a revamped Southern Conference with a much larger percentage of schools that are “like-minded” (relatively speaking).

It is also possible that The Citadel may have a chance to join a new league, or relocate to another conference. For that to happen, the school would need to have a sports portfolio in line with other potential league members. I’ve pointed out before that The Citadel has fewer varsity teams than many other schools that are “peers”. In my opinion, that needs to change.

Change. It is a word that can send shivers down the spine of many an alum of The Citadel. I know that is the case for me.

However, while change is inevitable, it can be shaped to fit the overall mission of the institution. Now supporters of the college have a better idea of how the school’s current leadership intends to do that. It will take time, hard work, intelligent planning, and a lot of resources.

That is what excellence is all about.

Hope on the hardwood? The Citadel begins the 2012-13 basketball season

Note: as I mentioned earlier, I’m participating in “Scanning the SoCon”, a cross-blog/forum exercise. As part of this, there will be a preview for each league school. I am writing the preview for The Citadel, which you can read below (it is being posted on Mocs Mania! as well, of course). Previews for the other conference schools can be found here: Link

There were three topics (attendance, polls, and ratings) that I wanted to discuss in more detail but couldn’t quite fit into the preview. I’ve decided to write about them next week in a followup post.

The Citadel was 6-24 last season, 3-15 in the Southern Conference. Thus, it surprised no one that in the SoCon preseason polls (media and coaches)  the Bulldogs were picked to finish last in the South division of the league. Indeed, The Citadel received fewer votes than any team in the league, in either division.

The last time The Citadel finished dead last in both preseason polls was prior to the 2008-09 season. The Bulldogs had gone 6-24 the previous year, in head coach Ed Conroy’s second season at The Citadel. More of the same was expected, but instead the Bulldogs won 20 games for only the second time in school history, 15 of them coming in league play. It was the finest season on the hardwood for The Citadel in 30 years, and one of the best in school history.

Just like Ed Conroy in 2008-09,  Chuck Driesell is entering his third season in charge of the Bulldogs after enduring a 6-24 campaign. Conroy brought in eight scholarship freshmen for his second season; so did Driesell.

However, there are differences between then and now. Conroy’s batch of freshmen included a player who would be named Freshman of the Year in the Southern Conference, Cameron Wells, and another (Zach Urbanus) who finished the year as a solid contributor. None of the freshmen who played last year for The Citadel (two were redshirted) had a season as good as Wells’ initial campaign for the Bulldogs.

That isn’t to say that significant improvement can’t be made. I suspect it will. However, the same can be said for the Southern Conference in general. I expect the league to be better than it was last year, as many of the better players from last season are returning in 2012-13.

It’s only one statistical category, but I couldn’t help but notice that ten of last season’s top thirteen SoCon performers in Ken Pomeroy’s “offensive rating” system (minimum 20% possessions used) are back this year. That group of ten doesn’t even include established performers like Trevis Simpson, Lucas Troutman, Trent Wiedeman, and a couple of Cochrans (Wofford’s Karl and Davidson’s Nik).

The league is going to be tough this year. Can the Bulldogs hang in there? If they are going to do so, they must first address some obvious shortcomings.

The Citadel was a very poor defensive team last season. Mike Groselle was the only consistent rebounder on the squad (though he was good enough to lead the league), and only three teams in all of Division I allowed opponents to shoot a higher percentage inside the arc (55.7%) than the Bulldogs.

That carried over into league action, although The Citadel wasn’t the worst defensive outfit in the conference in SoCon play, in part thanks to opponents’ three-point shooting (only 30.3%). Three league teams allowed more points per possession than did the Bulldogs in conference games.

However, the Bulldogs struggled on the offensive side of the court in conference play more than any other SoCon team, and by a wide margin, scoring only .907 points per possession in 19 league games (18 regular season matchups plus the first round of the SoCon tourney). The Citadel shot just 31% from outside the three-point line in league action and also had the worst turnover rate in the conference.

One positive: when the Bulldogs did score, it often came as a result of good team passing (The Citadel was second in the league in its ratio of assists to made baskets).

Mike Groselle had an outstanding season in 2011-12. Groselle led the league in rebounding and was second in scoring, being edged for the SoCon scoring crown by UNCG’s Trevis Simpson (who attempted 151 more shots from the field). Groselle was a very efficient performer (59.1 eFG%), and persevered despite being the focus of every opponent’s game plan.

He did everything well, basically, and made the 10-man all-conference team selected by the league coaches. However, Groselle did not make the media’s All-SoCon first team, an omission that was not easy to understand.

For the Bulldogs to improve this year, Groselle is going to need help. Will he get any?

When I watched The Citadel’s freshmen in action last year, I came to the conclusion that while several of them had promising skill sets, they just weren’t strong enough to handle the adjustment to Division I hoops. There is a chance that a year of physical maturity (and a lot of work in the weight room) will improve the Bulldogs’ rebounding numbers and alleviate some of the turnover problems that plagued the team last year.

C.J. Bray is a good example. The 6’7″ Bray is athletic enough to have been offered a football scholarship to Arkansas, and he can present matchup problems with his ability to float outside and hit the three-point shot. I thought he showed good instincts on the boards, too, but he wasn’t able to corral every rebound chance that came his way.

That may change this year. If he can also provide solid post defense, he will be a great help to Groselle. Bray started more games than any other Bulldog freshman last season (18). Another rising sophomore who goes by his initials, 6’8″ P.J. Horgan, saw limited action last year and may also be a factor in the frontcourt rotation.

Lawrence Miller shot 42% from three-point land last season, better than his overall field goal percentage (39%). He will probably get first crack at the 2-guard spot for the Bulldogs. Ashton Moore, who started 14 games last season and played more minutes than any other freshman, will also be in the mix. Moore is capable of putting the ball in the basket (30 points against UVA-Wise) but needs to be more consistent.

The point guard for The Citadel will be Marshall Harris III, who started the final 11 games last season. Harris must cut down on his turnovers to succeed in that role, and it’s key for the Bulldogs that he do so. There is no other obvious candidate to play the point, as DeVontae Wright transferred to USC-Aiken this summer. Moore could be an option, and one of the freshmen may get a look.

Wright was one of three underclassmen to transfer after last season. Jordan Robertson, a forward who showed flashes of potential last year, is now at Davidson County Community College. He was the only one of last year’s group of freshmen to leave. The third player to transfer, Barry Smith, moved on to Bethune-Cookman.

The two seniors on last year’s team, Cosmo Morabbi and Bo Holston, both graduated. Holston had one year of athletic eligibility remaining, and elected to play as a graduate student at Anderson. In all, players no longer on the roster accounted for 42% of the minutes played last season.

There are seven players on this year’s roster who have yet to appear in a Division I game — four incoming freshmen, two redshirt freshmen, and a fifth-year transfer student.

The most heralded of the “knobs” is Matt Van Scyoc, a 6’6″ wing player who led the state of Wisconsin in three-point shooting last year. Van Scyoc averaged 24.3 points and 13.3 rebounds per game his senior season and was an all-state selection in Wisconsin’s Division 5 high school classification.

His fellow classmates include 6’3″ swingman Raemond Robinson, a Goose Creek product who was also an outstanding high school football player. Robinson is used to winning, both on the gridiron and on the court; perhaps he can bring that kind of positive energy to The Citadel’s hoops squad (much like John Brown did during that aforementioned 2008-09 campaign).

Janeil Jenkins and Quinton Marshall each signed late in the spring. They are both guards, but of markedly different sizes; Jenkins is 5’10″, while Marshall is 6’5″. Chuck Driesell mentioned Marshall in a recent interview with Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier as someone who might get to play early.

Two of the eight freshmen from last year did not see any action in 2011-12. Dylen Setzekorn is a 6’7″ wing on the slender side (194 lbs., per The Citadel’s website). 6’9″ forward Michael Hundley is even thinner (180 lbs.). It is easy to see why both were redshirted.

Hundley has a reputation as a shotblocker. If he could get on the court with that skill, it would be a huge boon for The Citadel, which hasn’t had a true shot-swatter since Kirill Misyuchenko patrolled the lane for the Bulldogs in the late 1990s.

The final player on The Citadel’s roster is something of a wild card. Stephen Elmore is a 6’6″, 220-lb. graduate student who saw limited action at Princeton…as a baseball player. The 2012-13 campaign will be his first (and last) taste of college basketball, at least as a player.

He is the son of Len Elmore, the well-known college basketball commentator who was an outstanding college player at Maryland (and who had a solid NBA career as well). Driesell described Stephen Elmore as “a power forward who can shoot the three-pointer”. I have no idea what kind of impact (if any) he will have for the Bulldogs.

The Citadel’s non-league slate is about what you would expect for a team that only won six games a year ago and includes two games against non-Division I competition. The Bulldogs will open the season by hosting the All-Military Classic, which also features VMI, Army, and Air Force.

The Citadel squares off with VMI in its first game, on the same day the Bulldogs play the Keydets in football — in Lexington, VA. It’s a scheduling quirk that I think is unfortunate.

There are no home games in December, which is a little strange. The Citadel is playing “guarantee games” against Georgia Tech, Clemson, and…St. Bonaventure. I’m not sure why the Bulldogs are making the trip to Olean, New York, but at least Andrew Nicholson has moved on to the NBA.

In what I believe is a first, The Citadel is participating in Bracketbusters this season. Other out of conference games include a home contest against Radford and road games versus Charleston Southern and Gardner-Webb.

I will be curious to see how Chuck Driesell handles tempo this season. Driesell prefers a faster pace than that implemented at The Citadel by Ed Conroy, but he was forced to slow things down last season in an effort to stay competitive. In that respect, he succeeded. The Citadel’s two late-season victories over Chattanooga and Appalachian State featured fewer possessions than any other games the Bulldogs played during the season.

I think a slower tempo is generally what works best for The Citadel, but it’s obviously not a style Driesell really enjoys, and I don’t know what his approach will be this year. His best player (Groselle) is probably best suited for games with a more restrained pace.

It’s just one of many things that makes this season for The Citadel a very interesting one. I’m not predicting a year like the 2008-09 campaign, but I believe the Bulldogs are going to surprise some people. The team has to make the leap from being competitive to winning games. It’s a difficult transition, but I think the talent is there to make that jump.

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