The Citadel begins its search for a new AD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clemson Insider remains confident in its reporting. Fair enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Won’t we all…

Why The Citadel needs to sponsor more varsity sports (and a few other things)

The Citadel needs to sponsor more varsity sports. Yes, roll those eyes. I know the money isn’t there right now. It’s also true that some of our existing varsity sports could stand improvement, both on the field/court and in terms of resource allocation.

Before I get started on this ramble of a post, I want to issue a caveat bigger than the new Ring Statue, especially for people who might have accidentally wandered into the path of this little blog for the first time. There are things I know a little bit about, and can opine on with some confidence. I know that Chal Port was a great baseball coach. I can discuss how Rabbit Maranville, famous in his day, is now underappreciated. The Citadel defeated South Carolina in football in 1950; I have a fairly good grasp of the enormity of that upset. The “hold” statistic in baseball is flawed, and I can tell you why.

There are other things I don’t understand quite as well. Lots of things. It has become apparent to me in recent days that higher education is one of those things, particularly in regards to my alma mater. I remember when I was a cadet that there always seemed to be a lot going on around campus that I didn’t really understand, and never would. The same is true today.

That makes this post a bit different from my usual efforts, which I like to think are fairly precise in terms of information and analysis. Because the subject is important, though, I decided to press forward. I apologize in advance for anything outlandishly stupid. I don’t apologize for anything that is simply outlandish, though — this is something of a big-picture essay, more conceptual than specific.

Please keep that in mind. I’m not really crazy. At least, I don’t think I am…

Quick tangent before I go into blogging overdrive: speaking of resource allocation, The Citadel has the top college rifle range in the nation. This is a sport in which the school could conceivably win an NCAA title. However, The Citadel currently only offers 1.5 scholarships in rifle, while the NCAA maximum is 3.6 schollies.

I know I’m spending money that’s not mine (I’m going to be doing that throughout this post), but it seems to me that with such a great facility, and being a military school that might naturally attract people who like shooting things, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to maximize schollies — especially when that would only take a little over two more scholarships.

If The Citadel won an NCAA title, I would shortly thereafter go to the South Carolina Statehouse and take a picture of the top of the building. Since the state legislature has set a precedent with a Gamecocks flag flying atop the Statehouse following South Carolina’s CWS titles, I would very much enjoy seeing “Big Red” waving proudly above the dome.

The reasoning behind my suggestion that The Citadel needs more varsity sport options goes to the heart of where the military college is now as an institution, and where it will be in the future. I suspect some will disagree (perhaps strongly so) with my point of view, in terms of what the school is and could be. That’s okay. It’s the discussion that is most important. What follows may be a flight of fancy. Just humor me.

I have been thinking about this topic for a long time, but while a lot of this isn’t necessarily about college athletics, what actually inspired me to finally sit down and do some typing (and a fair amount of research) were two recent sports stories:

Furman received a $5 million contribution to establish men’s lacrosse and women’s lacrosse as varsity sports

VMI’s women’s water polo team played its first match ever, wearing swimsuits with supersized logos

With the addition of the two new lacrosse programs, Furman will have 20 varsity sports. VMI’s addition of women’s water polo brings its total to 17 varsity sports. The Citadel, despite having about six hundred more undergraduate students than VMI, has only 15 varsity sports.

Note: I am counting rifle as one sport, not two, as it is a co-ed sport in NCAA competition. Indoor and outdoor track are counted as separate sports, and that is the case for both the men’s and women’s teams.

Of course, you can’t directly compare the scope of a school’s varsity sports offerings simply by number of teams. Some of those sports may be fully funded, some may not. Still, it is apparent that The Citadel does not have nearly as diverse a collection of varsity sports as some of its peer institutions. A partial list:

The Citadel – 15
Elon – 17 (once women’s lacrosse is added, with possibly more to come)
VMI – 17
Samford – 17
Wofford – 18
Richmond – 19
Furman – 20 (when lacrosse programs are added)
Davidson – 21 (non-scholarship football)
Lafayette – 22 (non-scholarship football)
William & Mary – 23
Lehigh – 25 (non-scholarship football)
Colgate – 25 (non-scholarship football)
Bucknell – 27 (non-scholarship football)

While Lafayette, Lehigh, Colgate, and Bucknell currently field teams that play FCS football without offerering athletic scholarships, that will change beginning in 2013, as the Patriot League schools move to athletic financial aid awards in football. That decision has a number of ramifications, a couple of which may directly affect The Citadel.

As one of those links points out, northern schools will shortly have more options when scheduling FCS schools. A few years ago, The Citadel played Pittsburgh in a “money game”, but going forward Pittsburgh could schedule Bucknell or Lehigh instead and count the game toward its win total for bowl eligibility, something that couldn’t happen if those schools remained non-scholarship for football.

[Edit, 3/26/12: Actually, it was possible for a Patriot League school to be a “counter” in the past, depending on whether or not it averaged 56.7 or more football “equivalencies” (athletic need-based aid) over a rolling two-year period. Thanks to the first commenter for spotting that error.]

It is also true that the Patriot League schools will be able to offer athletic grants in a way they could not before, and as a result will be able to compete that much more with other colleges for recruits. Kevin Higgins is just one of many coaches who likes to recruit the Mid-Atlantic region (he is on record as preferring to bring in at least one Pennsylvania recruit in each class, for example). This will presumably be more difficult in the future.

While competing with those schools for football players is one thing, what I think is even more important to realize is that going forward, The Citadel might be competing with those institutions for other students as well. Therein lies the point of much of this post, and why I listed four private schools located north of the Mason-Dixon line as “peer institutions”.

From the November 1, 2011 minutes of a meeting of The Citadel Board of Visitors:

Chair Snyder called the meeting to order and updated the Board on The Citadel Foundation’s recent board meeting.  He reported that the Foundation anticipated falling short of its fundraising goal for the year. They expect to raise around $17 million against a “stretch” goal of $24 million.  The Foundation is finalizing its strategic plan and is working closely with the college administration to formalize plans for the next capital campaign…

…Chair Snyder expressed concern that many people external to the college are thinking that the college is looking at going private.  This is not the case, however, in light of reduced state funding we must move towards the private college fundraising model to ensure our financial sustainability.

Col. Snyder (assuming that he is the person who specifically made the comment in bold) is surely correct. Despite being a state school, this is the path the college is going to have to take in order to maintain excellence.

This is not recent news, but it is a fact that in 1994, the State of South Carolina funded 40% of The Citadel’s budget. As of FY12, state appropriations had dropped to 8.8% of the school’s $89 million budget.

Whatever your opinion is on how the Palmetto State funds higher education, the bottom line is that The Citadel cannot expect to go back to the days of 1994. It is not completely out of the question that the state will someday supply no funding at all to the military college. The school must plan with that possibility in mind.

I’m sure what I’m going to say now will have some people shaking their heads, but here goes…

If The Citadel is truly intent on moving to a “private college fundraising model”, then it has to act in ways that a private college or university might. It has to offer things that private schools offer, and provide other things that private schools don’t have. It has to compete directly with those private schools for students and for donors.

That means The Citadel will have to continue to grow as an institution. That growth won’t come cheaply. The school is operating right now on an annual budget of roughly $90 million. As a comparison, Furman’s budget in 2009 was $133 million. Furman has a slightly larger student body than The Citadel currently does, of course, but I think it’s a reasonable example — a benchmark, perhaps.

A fundraising model developed with the idea of supporting the college with a yearly budget (inflation-adjusted) of $90 million may work in the short term, but over the long run I’m not sure it’s a good idea. I think the school should prepare to raise funds as if its anticipated yearly budget going forward will be around $120 million, if not more.

You don’t have to tell me, “we don’t have the money.” I know we don’t have the money. I also know how impossibly difficult raising such an amount would be.

I just think that fresh investment in the college is likely to be achieved by expanding the scope of the college in a manner that would appeal to new donors. The school will be competing against private institutions for this type of support, and I suspect that what the military college needs to be marketing is something new and tangible — i.e. endowed faculty chairs, cutting-edge library technologies, a varsity sports program or two. On the other hand, I am not sure there is someone out there who wants a plaque in return for paying off The Citadel’s deferred maintenance costs.

(Though if there is someone out there who wants to do so, he or she could get a lot more than a plaque. In fact, I am sure a bronze bust inside Bond Hall could be arranged.)

Also, while a lot of what I’m suggesting may seem almost impossible, something not dissimilar is currently taking place at another school in the Southern Conference. I’ve written about Elon’s amazing transformation on a couple of occasions before (while previewing upcoming football games, of course; priorities and all that). Elon undoubtedly has some advantages over The Citadel when it comes to raising money, including being able to do exactly what it wants with its money, but it is still a good example of what can be done with foresight, hard work, and (probably) some luck.

That isn’t to say The Citadel can’t sell people on what it has now, of course. As an example of this, the list of marketing and community partnerships the school has with various corporate entities is impressive. It includes Under Armour, Google, and Boeing, among others.

The crux of the issue for The Citadel is that the college has to act and react in ways similar to private schools while remaining a public institution. It has needs similar to those of private schools, and standards similar to (and often greater than) private schools, but doesn’t have resources many of those schools have (such as large endowments). It also has obligations as a state institution, regardless of how much money the state actually provides the college. Chief among those is providing an education to qualified South Carolina high school graduates who want to attend The Citadel.

A further complication is that, thanks in part to the Ashley River, The Citadel can’t just raise some quick cash by dramatically expanding the size of the corps and raking in additional tuition dollars. That doesn’t mean undergraduate enrollment can’t increase, because it has in recent years, as the school administration has made strides in maximizing the physical capacity of the campus. Apparently that is continuing, with an additional new cadet company reportedly in the works for the 2012-13 school year.

I don’t know what the new “ideal” corps size is going to be. The upcoming Blueprint (the strategy planning focus for the college) will probably have more information on that front. The Office of External Affairs informed me that the Board of Visitors is scheduled to approve the next phase of the Blueprint in June. (That was one of several questions I recently asked OEA; I appreciate the staff’s patience with what must have seemed rather eccentric queries.)

I will say that I wouldn’t like the corps of cadets to get significantly larger than it is now; I think the small size of the school is part of its essence, and also helps alums continue to identify with their alma mater. I’m not sure what the tipping point for that is (maybe 2500 cadets?). Having said that, if The Citadel has to increase the size of the corps in order to remain viable in the future, then that’s what it should do.

As The Citadel moves into mega-fundraising mode (which it will regardless of its actual budgetary goals), I believe it is important for the college to expand its potential donor base. Fresh blood, if you will. Part of that expansion should be geographic in nature. I think the school should bring in as many out-of-state students as possible, much like many private institutions, such as Furman (69% of its student body being from out of state), Samford (61%), Elon (75%), Bucknell (76%), and Richmond (78%).

This is a subject not without some controversy, but before I address some specifics for the 21st century, I want to briefly note some of The Citadel’s past enrollment trends. History can be a guide.

Tough times around the nation. The Citadel in something of a financial crisis, with a state legislature more inclined to take money away from the school’s allocated budget than add to it.

I’m not talking about 2012, though. I’m talking about 1932…

By 1932 the country was in the throes of the Great Depression, and The Citadel was far from immune from its effects. In 1928, there were 722 cadets enrolled at the college, but by 1933 that number had dropped to 637 (these numbers and those in the next three paragraphs are from this book).

At that point in time, 71% of the corps hailed from South Carolina. However, the school began to attract more out-of-state students, and gradually the percentage of Palmetto State natives declined, although the raw numbers of South Carolinians were not reduced — rather, the corps increased in size primarily due to the influx of out-of-state cadets. By 1943, there were 1,980 cadets enrolled. From 1933-1943, the number of cadets at The Citadel more than tripled.

Students from outside South Carolina first outnumbered their Palmetto State counterparts in 1940, when 50.3% of the corps were out-of-state residents. It was a significant transformation in the student body’s geographic diversity that occurred over an eight-year period.

World War II had a deleterious effect on student enrollment, but once the size of the corps began to approach pre-war levels, the greater number of cadets continued to come from outside of South Carolina. Between 1955 and 1965, that majority hovered around 60%. After a while, a few politicians began to complain about this.

The bell cow for the issue in 1965 (and for much of the 1960s) was Dillon County state representative A.W. “Red” Bethea, who introduced an appropriations amendment that would have limited the number of out-of-staters at The Citadel to just 12% of the corps, which seems ludicrous today, and was probably considered ludicrous then. That said, the vote to kill his amendment was only 64-21, so 25% of his fellow House members were willing to go along with him.

Bethea was a self-styled populist (just one way to describe him). Among other things, he also campaigned against Clemson College changing its name to Clemson University. Bethea either did not understand or chose to ignore the fact that The Citadel was not exactly turning away large numbers of Palmetto State students. According to the linked article, 90% of South Carolina applicants were being accepted at the time.

Various members of the state legislature have over the years periodically echoed Bethea’s concerns over admissions policies as related to in-state vs. out-of-state students. That is understandable, as they are trying to represent their constituents. On this issue I tend to agree with the comments made by Kenneth Wingate (Chairman of the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education) and Charleston state representative Chip Limehouse in this article.

However, I am not impressed with threatening schools with enrollment caps, particularly after making large cuts in their annual appropriations. That strikes me as counter-productive, and not in the overall best interests of the state (to say nothing of the respective schools, as noted in some of the responses to this question-and-answer piece).

There is an occasionally overlooked part of The Citadel that should be considered when discussing the issue of opportunities for in-state students, namely The Citadel Graduate College. As Jeff Perez of the Office of External Affairs stated in the above-linked Q-and-A:

The CGC is deeply tied to the Lowcountry as it provides advanced education for those looking to advance their careers and contribute to the future of the region.

Another consideration is that admitting more out-of-state students may actually help in-state students in at least one respect:

[Coastal Carolina president David] DeCenzo and other college officials say there is another benefit to the influx of out-of-state students – students paying much higher out-of-state tuition rates help keep tuition from skyrocketing for in-state students.

I think that is a very good point. It used to be the case that with a little pluck and luck, a local could “shoestring” his way through The Citadel. That’s not really possible anymore, and the rise in tuition rates has made things even more difficult for South Carolina residents.  Ultimately, everyone wants qualified in-state residents from families of all income categories to have an opportunity to receive an education at The Citadel.

I believe it is important for the school to maintain its relationship with the citizens of the state. For the record, my point of view on that issue comes naturally. I was born and raised in South Carolina, graduated from The Military College of South Carolina, and have spent much of my adult life in South Carolina. The same was true for my father. I’m a Sandlapper through and through.

As far as The Citadel is concerned, every qualified South Carolina resident who applies is accepted to the military college. Some years, there are more in-state applicants than in others, leading to an occasional “yo-yo” effect in terms of in-state vs. out-of-state enrollment, as the “balance” is conditioned by the number of enrolling in-state students (again, thanks to OEA for explaining this to me). For example, in August 2010, 378 South Carolinians reported as part of the Class of 2014, the “largest S.C. population in 46 years”.

Tangent: I am wondering if that could have actually been 45 years between milestone classes, not 46. If it were 45 years, it would have been the summer after Red Bethea’s proposal was defeated and in line with the “substantial increase in Palmetto State freshmen” referenced in the 1965 newspaper article I linked earlier in the post. That would make it the entering class of 1969.

Other recent classes have had a larger percentage of out-of-state students, generally around 56% (the Class of 2011’s 60% out-of-state contingent being the highest over the past decade). However, early returns suggest the class of 2016 may be more evenly distributed. From the BOV minutes for 12/2/2011:

  • Projected enrollment is estimated to be higher than budgeted
  • In-state vs. out-of-state ratio will be approximately 50-50; we originally budgeted 46% in-state vs. 54% out-of-state.

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is that The Citadel’s out-of-state student cohort is, by and large, southern. This is not an accident. The Citadel long had an acknowledged “five state recruiting area” of the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, and Virginia, and that region continues to produce students for the military college. For the fall 2011 semester, 70.2% of the corps was made up of cadets from those five states. Taking out the South Carolinians, 24.3% of the corps is from either North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, or Florida.

The numbers are similar throughout at least recent history (the link above states that 68% of incoming freshmen for the class of 1999 were from that five-state radius). When I looked at some recent enrollment figures, though, I was struck by something else — namely, a recent decline in cadets from the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions of the United States.

In 2006, there were 2037 cadets. Of that number, 286 (14% of the overall corps) were from the states of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

In the fall of 2011, there were 2128 cadets. However, despite the increased size of the corps, only 229 students hailed from that same eleven-state grouping, which meant the percentage of cadets from that region fell to 10.8% of the overall corps.

States that dropped noticeably in enrollment totals included Maryland (from 59 cadets to 46), Massachusetts (28 to 17), and especially Pennsylvania (63 to 43). They weren’t the only states nationally to produce fewer cadets over that time span (Texas went from 73 cadets to 48), but to have an entire region decline in enrollment in a relatively short amount of time struck me as surprising. It’s not a large sample size (and it’s always possible 2006 was the high-water mark for those states), but something to think about nonetheless.

By now, if you’re still reading (and if you are, you are very patient), you know that I think The Citadel should be expanding its offerings. This should happen in a number of different areas, of course, but for the remainder of this post I’m going to focus on varsity sports. Why? Well, because this is a sports blog.

While I am postulating that The Citadel should be adding to its varsity sports portfolio, I think it’s only fair to take a quick look at some of the current issues affecting the department of athletics and The Citadel Brigadier Foundation.

In 2003 The Citadel cut two sports (men’s soccer and men’s golf) in an effort to save a little under $300,000 per year. At the time BOV member Glenn Addison (a former soccer player himself) observed:

Even though it makes sense from the standpoint of budget issues now, I think maybe stepping back is not the right thing to do.

Addison is still a BOV member (he is now the vice-chair). I would imagine that he may feel even more strongly that cutting those two sports was “not the right thing to do”. Even at the time, it struck some observers as penny-wise and pound-foolish. In my opinion, the move ultimately did little to relieve pressure on the athletics budget, even in the short term.

From the BOV minutes for 6/11/11:

Colonel Addison, Chair of the Athletics Committee, presented the following committee motions:

“That The Citadel Board of Visitors approves a 2012 Athletics operating budget of $10,201,702.”

Following discussion, the motion passed unanimously.

“That The Citadel Board of Visitors approves a budget of $350,000 from The Citadel Trust for the 2012 Athletics budget.”

Following discussion, the motion passed unanimously.

Some perspective: in 2007-08, The Citadel Trust provided almost $1.5 million to cover the remaining costs for the department. The FY2012 number reflects well on Larry Leckonby and his staff. Leckonby had a tough budget situation when he assumed the role of Director of Athletics. So far he seems to have done a good job getting costs under control. It should be noted, though, that the renovation of Johnson Hagood Stadium was still a factor in the budget boondoggle of 2007-08.

From the Blueprint, Strategic Initiative Three:

Athletic programs are an integral component of educating principled leaders, fostering institutional loyalty and spirit, and maintaining a vibrant campus community. The institution will institute the following actions designed to strengthen the athletics program specifically, and the College generally, during the next three years:

  • Create an Athletics Excellence Fund
  • Increase membership in The Citadel Brigadier Foundation (athletic foundation)

Key Performance Indicators:

  • Increase membership in The Citadel Brigadier Foundation 35% by 2012
  • Increase gifts to the Athletics Program to reach $250,000 by 2012

From the Blueprint annual report for 2011:

Goal: Increase membership in The Citadel Brigadier Foundation by 35% by 2012.

Result: 24% Progress (Behind Schedule)

When Jerry Baker was named Executive Director of The Citadel Brigadier Foundation in December of 2008, he stated that “our immediate goal is to get membership up.” Following his appointment, the TCBF had some initial success in doing just that. There were 1,599 members in 2009; that number increased to 1,729 in 2010. The meter barely moved in 2011, though (1,734 members). The TCBF appeared to hit a wall.

It may be an indication that a more expansive approach is needed. From the BOV minutes for 9/10/11:

…The Citadel Brigadier Foundation has raised $2.4 million over the past year; the memorial fund is at $9.1 million…

…Mr. Larry W. Leckonby, Athletics Director, commented that the Brigadier Foundation has changed its philosophy and is moving away from being a booster club and becoming a viable fundraising entity.

If The Citadel’s administration were to decide to add certain varsity sports, as part of an all-encompassing push to broaden the school’s profile and attract a new (or renewed) base of students/families, where would it start?

There is little doubt in my mind as to the answer. To its existing lineup, The Citadel should add men’s and women’s lacrosse.

I say that as someone who doesn’t even understand all the rules of lacrosse. I know it’s a fast-paced, exciting game in which players wield large sticks. Honestly, that sounds made-to-order for The Citadel, doesn’t it?

Actually, lacrosse is a sport the administration should take a hard look at adding very soon, even if the school’s immediate goals are more modest than what I’ve espoused here. The demographics of lacrosse are close to ideal for what The Citadel needs right now, and the timing could not be more perfect.

For the most part, the largest high school talent pools in lacrosse can be found in Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Many D-1 prospects play at outstanding parochial and preparatory schools; others play at quality public schools. The Citadel wants to attract students from these schools, along with drawing support from their families and associates. Combine this with the decline in cadets from that part of the country over the last few years, and you have a no-brainer in terms of recruitment strategy. Lacrosse fits the bill.

When competing for students from these schools, The Citadel actually has many advantages, from location (Charleston — it’s actually warm down here!), academics (including the well-regarded undergraduate engineering program), the cachet of the school itself and, yes, the military component. Sometimes I fall into the trap of viewing the military aspect of The Citadel as a detriment to recruiting future students, but in fact it is often viewed as a positive by recruits and their families.

The gradual increase in interest in the sport over the last two decades, particularly in the south, also means that two issues that would have come into play two decades ago are no longer problematic. First, there are enough high school lacrosse teams in South Carolina that a school like The Citadel doesn’t have to worry about total numbers within the program. The South Carolina High School League began holding championships in both boys’ and girls’ lacrosse in 2010 (in what may bode well for the sport’s future at that level in South Carolina, the first two years featured different champions for both the boys’ and girls’ divisions).

The other past issue would have been scheduling. Twenty years ago, it was rare to find a D-1 lacrosse program (like UNC) south of the state of Virginia. That is no longer the case.

Schools that have or will shortly have men’s and/or women’s lacrosse programs include Furman, Elon, Winthrop, High Point, Presbyterian, Mercer, and Jacksonville. There are also a number of Division II lacrosse programs in the Carolinas.

Jacksonville is a good example of why these schools are now offering lacrosse. JU is a relatively “young” school; I wrote about its history during my preview of The Citadel’s football game against the Dolphins last September. Jacksonville is clearly using lacrosse in an attempt to appeal to potential students outside its region. While the football program only had six players from outside the state of Florida, its lacrosse roster includes players from all across the eastern seaboard (including Canada), with just five Floridians.

The Citadel already has a vibrant men’s lacrosse club program, which would make a transition to NCAA Division I more manageable. The start-up costs would be alleviated to a degree by The Citadel already having an appropriate facility (Johnson Hagood Stadium).

I don’t believe the school needs $6 million, the total Michigan allocated toward its two new lacrosse programs. As a Big 10 school, Michigan’s department of athletics is presumably printing money; I wouldn’t be all that surprised if the Wolverines’ lacrosse sticks were gold-plated. The Citadel can have a much more modest approach and still get the job done.

What I would suggest, though, is that a decision is made fairly quickly. The Citadel has a chance to establish itself as a major player in this market, but time might be short to capitalize on that opportunity. The school probably needs to become D-1 by no later than 2015 in order to fully realize the potential of the two programs.

Oh, and make no mistake: The Citadel would in fact be starting two lacrosse programs, men’s and women’s teams.

The school doesn’t have an enrollment goal for female cadets (yet another question I had for OEA); rather, the Blueprint suggests a more general standard of “Expand[ing] student diversity by 4% each year, 12% by 2012”. Nevertheless, I am guessing that the administration would like to see a rise in qualified female applicants.

As of fall 2011 there were 141 female cadets in the corps, or 6.5% of the total. When I first looked at the numbers, I was struck by the lack of junior female cadets when compared to the other three classes (32 seniors, 22 juniors, 39 sophomores, and 48 freshmen).

Comparing The Citadel’s numbers to those of the service academies is not an apples-to-apples situation, not least because those schools have been admitting women for more than 35 years, but it is worth noting that 17% of the U.S.M.A.’s class of 2015 were women.

All of that is a long-winded way of saying that The Citadel is definitely interested in recruiting outstanding students of both genders from those generally excellent (and lacrosse-mad) high schools.

While lacrosse should be on the front burner when it comes to expanding the department of athletics, there are other sports that could prove beneficial in terms of providing more opportunities for potential recruits. In an ideal world, men’s soccer and men’s golf (the latter having been played at The Citadel for almost 70 years before it was eliminated) would return. Women’s tennis is another possibility.

Along with men’s and women’s lacrosse, though, the next varsity sport at The Citadel probably should be women’s sand volleyball, even if it is only to serve as a natural complement to the current volleyball program.  In early March the College of Charleston announced that it will be starting an NCAA sand volleyball team, and The Citadel might be well served to follow suit.

There are arguments to be made for other sports, of course. I read with interest an article about local college club teams, particularly The Citadel’s ice hockey team. The school may not be quite ready yet for a D-1 hockey program. Among other issues, scheduling could be a problem. You never know, though. There is a lot of passion for that program, and the uniforms can be distinctive.

As for why The Citadel doesn’t have a women’s basketball team, I’ll let Les Robinson speak to that:

What I’ve told the Southern Conference is that it would be an injustice for us to start basketball before we get all the other sports going. Until we get volleyball competitive and soccer. Right now, if we try to have women’s basketball it would be a disaster for the conference. It would pull down the conference RPI [Ratings Percentage Index]. It would hurt the conference in the long run as far as getting teams in the women’s NCAA Tournament and women’s NIT.

That was in 2008. Since then, the soccer program has made a remarkable turnaround and has been competitive for the past three seasons. The volleyball team continues to struggle for victories.

I suspect that given the landscape for Division I women’s basketball, which is arguably the most “mature” of D-1 women’s team sports, The Citadel needs to have a larger group of female cadets in the corps before it can seriously consider adding women’s hoops. I don’t know what that number is, but I know it isn’t less than 200. I think a more realistic “base” to draw from may be 500 cadets. It is debatable, to be sure.

One potential benefit to having an increased number of varsity athletes roaming the campus: just having more of them around might help the overall support of the school’s sports programs by the corps as a whole, an occasionally sore subject among alums (and some current cadets). Having a significant percentage of varsity athletes among the total student body would give off something of a Division III vibe, but at the Division I level, which could be rather cool.

Speaking of Division I, it is important for The Citadel to play its NCAA sports at the highest level possible, in order to attract top-quality cadets. The school wants those elite students, and many of them aspire to play at that level. That may seem obvious, but it’s a point that from time to time needs to be re-emphasized. It is the kind of issue that resonates with schools all over the country as they recruit prospective students; for example, it is one component of the U.S. Naval Academy’s decision to join the Big East for football.

Finally, I want to mention conference affiliation, which has been a regular feature of sports news for over a year now, and will continue to be as long as schools chase big money (which means it will be a regular feature of sports news for as long as college sports exist). The Citadel is a long-standing member of the Southern Conference, a league that has had schools come and go for nine decades.

With Appalachian State looking for (allegedly) greener pastures and Georgia Southern possibly not too far behind the Mountaineers in seeking FBS glory, the SoCon will be turning its membership over again, as will other FCS leagues such as the Colonial. It’s possible that The Citadel will be in a very different-looking conference in the not-too-distant future. Having a good variety of sports offerings will only help the military college become part of a league with like-minded schools that have numerous varsity teams. A potential “Cypress League” might look something like this:

The Citadel
William & Mary

The odds are long that a conference will eventually form with that exact makeup of schools, but in my opinion a league with a similar grouping of schools is very possible.

I could go on, but I think this post is more than long enough. A quick wrap-up:

It takes a leap of faith to support what amounts to an institutional expansion during an era when contraction seems to be the trendy thing to do. My principal argument is based on two assumptions: that things will get better nationally over time, at least in terms of the economy, and that The Citadel is a great school that can become even greater. There may not be a lot of evidence right now in favor of that first assumption, but I have to believe that. Everyone has to believe that.

As for that second point: The Citadel has to move forward. That involves a certain element of risk. However, it’s 2012, and not trying to move forward doesn’t  have an end result of standing still. It has an end result of going in reverse.

The Citadel has never really been known for retreating…

Larry Leckonby’s Lament: The Citadel in 2010-11

The first thing I want to note is that none of what follows is intended to be a negative reflection on any of the individuals who compete for The Citadel in varsity athletics.  I am greatly appreciative of all the young men and women who represent the school on the field of play.

This is about the “big picture”, and the truth is that the big picture for the school year 2010-11 at The Citadel featured a lot of losing.  Just how much losing?

Well, let’s take a look at all the varsity programs under the military college’s banner. The Citadel has fifteen varsity sports, by my reckoning.  I count rifle (listed as both a men’s and women’s sport on the school’s website) as just one sport, because it is co-ed.  I consider indoor track and outdoor track to be separate entities, because the Southern Conference awards championships in both of them (and for both men and women).  The school competes in the SoCon in fourteen of the fifteen sports (the exception is rifle).

The Citadel’s most successful sport in 2010-2011 was, in fact, rifle.  The rifle team won its first conference title since 2001, the conference title in question being the Southeastern Air Rifle Conference championship.  I don’t know a whole lot about this, but it sounds good to me.  The previous four SEARC titles had been won by North Carolina State.  Those four titles had been won by NCSU prior to Debbie Yow being named director of athletics at that school, but there was no indication that sabotage was involved in The Citadel’s triumph.

It seems appropriate that The Citadel has an outstanding rifle program.

The women’s soccer team finished 12-8-1, 7-4 in the Southern Conference (good for 3rd place), and was easily the second-most successful sport at The Citadel this school year.  It was #1 in the “feel good” category by miles and miles, however, since the program had only won three league games in its entire history prior to the 2010 campaign.

In addition, the soccer team was the only squad this year to win a postseason game of any kind for The Citadel, defeating Furman 2-1 in 2OT in the first round of the SoCon tourney.

The wrestling team finished fourth in the SoCon (out of six teams) in what probably could be considered a mildly disappointing season.  On the bright side, at least The Citadel still has a wrestling program, which is more than can be said for second-place UNC-Greensboro or NCAA Division II champion Nebraska-Omaha.

The Citadel finished 5th in the SoCon (out of nine teams) in both men’s indoor and outdoor track, while the women were 9th (out of twelve teams) in both.  This strikes me as perfectly respectable.  Ninth is not as good as first or second, obviously, but perspective has to maintained, especially considering that as of September there were only 142 female cadets overall at The Citadel.  The coaches just need to find another Stephanie McNeill or two in order to vault a few spots in the standings.

The Citadel finished next-to-last in both men’s and women’s cross country in the SoCon (10th/11 men, 11th/12 women).  In this case, though, it may be fair to grade on a curve. I suspect that it is not easy (if even possible) to develop a serious league contender in cross country at a military school located in Charleston, South Carolina. The City of Charleston has a number of charms, but it is certainly not conducive to ideal cross country training.

I noticed when reviewing the league’s history and records that the College of Charleston (since becoming a league member) has generally joined The Citadel in the lower part of the standings.  That’s probably not a coincidence, and neither is the fact that Appalachian State and Chattanooga have dominated the sport in the league over the years.  Incidentally, The Citadel’s 3rd-place result in the 1972 SoCon meet is the best finish in school history.

You know it’s been a bad school year in Bulldog athletics when there are six varsity sports that arguably had worse seasons than a pair of cross country teams that each finished next-to-last in the league…

The volleyball team finished 7-25, 1-15 in the SoCon.  Perhaps not surprisingly, The Citadel made a coaching change.  You have to wonder if the success of the women’s soccer team this year cast a less-than-favorable light on the volleyball program, which has an alltime record in league play of 10-192.  (No, that’s not a typo.)

One of the downsides when a “non-revenue” sport is on the short end of the wins-and-losses ledger is that alums and other interested observers are less likely to read or hear about the players, and some of those cadets are rather accomplished student-athletes.  That’s just another reason why it’s important to maintain competitive teams in all of The Citadel’s varsity programs.

Another program that will be helmed by a new coach next season is the tennis team, which finished 3-21, and failed to win a single Southern Conference match (0-10). The Bulldogs were winless against Division I competition, with the three victories coming against Case Western and Reserve, Johnson C. Smith, and Lenoir-Rhyne.

Then there is the women’s golf team, which was possibly even less competitive in the conference in 2011 than the tennis team.

At this year’s SoCon championships, there was a 79-shot difference between the first-place team (Chattanooga, which won the title by 30 strokes) and the ninth-place team (Appalachian State).  The Citadel finished 10th and last, 70 shots behind App State.

For a lot of graduates, football, baseball, and basketball are the sports that matter. They tend to get the lions’ share of attention and resources, and are thus held to a higher standard by most alums, who are more inclined to follow them and compare the successes and failures of the programs to other schools.  If you are reading this, you undoubtedly know how their seasons went, but a quick recap:

Football:  3-8, 1-7 (tied for last) in the SoCon.  The first year of Triple O’Higgins was often a cover-your-eyes situation, with the nadir being the nine-turnover debacle at home against Georgia Southern.

Basketball:  10-22, 6-12 in the Socon (next-to-last in South Division).  Chuck Driesell’s first year as head coach was not a success, as a senior-laden team and wannabe league contender struggled all season.

Baseball:  20-36, 8-22 in the SoCon (last).  The baseball team missed the SoCon tournament for the first time since 1987 (and back then, only four teams made the tourney).  A twelve-game losing streak to close the season resulted in the Bulldogs finishing last in the league for the first time ever.  The collapse came as a shock, despite expectations being relatively modest following the team’s championship season of a year ago.

The combined 66 losses by the “Big 3” is a record, as you might have guessed.  It’s not often all three programs have a losing season in the same school year.  The last time it happened was in 1993-94, but that year the baseball team got on a serious roll at the end of the season and won the league tournament, making the NCAAs.  The football team was a not-so-terrible 5-6.  The worst record for the three sports that year was the hoops squad’s 11-16 mark.

When it comes to “best year” or “worst year” in Bulldog athletics, of course, it’s really just a matter of opinion.  To me, an especially difficult year would include poor results by the “Big 3” combined with less-than-stellar records for a lot of the other programs.  I want The Citadel to be good at everything, or at least decent at everything.

I went back and looked at some of the records for the past five decades.  I was particularly interested in the 1966-67 and 1986-87 school years, the most recent campaigns (prior to 1993-94) where the “Big 3” programs all finished with losing records.  Exact comparisons could not be made, of course, as The Citadel has sponsored sports in which it no longer fields varsity teams (like men’s golf and men’s soccer) and now has other sports which didn’t exist in previous years (all the women’s teams).

In 1966-67, the baseball team lost 12 in a row (just like this season) and finished 9-16.  That losing streak included losses to Taylor and Pfeiffer.  The basketball team was 8-16, a season that has been well chronicled.  The football team was 4-6, although that campaign did include end-of-season victories over VMI and Furman.

The 1966-67 basketball and baseball teams were not good, and comparable to this year’s editions of those teams, but the football team was probably better than 2010’s squad.  In addition, 1966-67 featured a solid tennis team (3rd in the SoCon) and, most notably, a championship outfit — the wrestling team, which won the Southern Conference title that year and featured Ed Steers, who was named Most Outstanding Wrestler after winning the second of his three league titles in the 145-lb. division.

When comparing 2010-11 to 1986-87, it’s a closer call.  The football team was arguably worse (that was Tom Moore’s final season; the Bulldogs finished 3-8 with some dreadful performances, particularly at home against VMI and Chattanooga), but the hoops squad was better (13-15, 6-10 in the SoCon) and the baseball team was too.  In addition, the other sports were slightly more successful across the board in 1986-87 (with tennis being significantly better).

I did not find another school year in the 1961-2001 era where the varsity sports teams struggled as much as in those two years.  I think a persuasive argument can be made that 2010-11 was the worst school year for varsity athletics at The Citadel in at least 50 years.

What does it mean?  Well, in the short term it probably means that Jerry Baker, Caleb Davis and company will have that much more difficult a time raising money for the Brigadier Foundation. Contributors want to see a winner, and you had to search far and wide to find a winner in The Citadel’s athletics department this year.

For Larry Leckonby, it means that 2011-12 will be an important year, one in which he will have to make key decisions.  His biggest call will be on Kevin Higgins’ future.  The department of athletics pivots off the success of the football team; it’s the most high-profile sport at the school, it’s where the money is made, and I also think that it sometimes establishes momentum for the other sports.

Speaking of coaches, Leckonby also needs to find the right one for the tennis team, which should be better than 3-21 (and yes, I know that NCAA tennis is a different animal than it was two and three decades ago).  I don’t have any good advice on that front, other than if he gets an applicant who drives a Jaguar (with a baby bulldog in the front seat) and appears regularly on television, he should hire him.  It worked fairly well the first time.

While last year was mostly grim, there is hope, and that hope can be found by considering what happened following the 1986-87 school year.  In May of 1987, it would have been easy to be pessimistic about sports at The Citadel, but in the next six years:

— The baseball team won two regular season SoCon titles, one league tourney, and advanced to the College World Series in 1990.

— The football team won at South Carolina, at Army, beat Navy twice (at home and on the road), made three playoff appearances, and won the Southern Conference title for only the second time in school history.

— The basketball team won at South Carolina (the first win over the Gamecocks since the 1943 Southern Conference tournament) and had a 16-win season.

— The tennis team had two top-3 finishes in the SoCon tourney; the golf team had a top-4 finish; and the soccer team had a tie for first place (in 1990).

After the struggles of 1986-87, the department had its best run of success since the early 1960s.  Maybe history can repeat itself.

I hope so.  Losing isn’t any fun…

Review: Western Carolina

Western Carolina 24, The Citadel 13.

It was a dismal performance in just about every respect.  There are basically no positives that can be taken from this game.  None.

Blame will be placed on the anemic offense, and it’s certainly true there was no visible progress on that front in this game (and arguably some regression).  However, the defense was even more disappointing. particularly the secondary, which as a unit was terrible all day long.

The play that best summed up the game occurred on Western Carolina’s second possession of the contest.  The Catamounts faced a third-and-six on their own 24. Quarterback Brandon Pechloff, under some pressure, floated a pass that traveled almost 30 yards in the air, and I mean floated.  While the ball was in the air, it would have been possible to sing the national anthem in its entirety, including holding the “free” note as long as a diva could desire.

Despite the lack of sizzle on the pass, no Bulldog defender was able to make a play on the ball.  As a result Catamount wideout Josh Cockrell was able to make a 20-yard reception, cradling the ball as he fell backwards, with three Bulldogs within six yards of him (and a fourth rushing into the mix).

This happened a lot.  On the next WCU drive, the Bulldogs committed pass interference on consecutive plays, setting up a first-and-goal situation.  The Catamounts scored two plays later.  On both PIs the defender did not know the ball was headed in his direction, resulting in penalties when he made contact with the receiver (the second one was a close call, although I thought it was a correct one; a number of other people did not agree with me, however).

The Catamounts’ second TD came after a fumbled punt.  Pechloff’s pass to Jacoby Mitchell was underthrown and should have been intercepted or at least batted away, but the defender, while in good position, mistimed his jump.  Mitchell caught the ball and strolled into the end zone.

The fourth-quarter play that basically iced the game was another instance of a defensive back lacking ball awareness.  Pechloff floated a 30-yard pass that was badly underthrown (again), but the DB never saw it and the WCU receiver (Mitchell again) came back to the ball to make the catch at the Bulldog 5.  Western Carolina scored on the next play for an essentially insurmountable two-score lead.

Pechloff competed very well in this game, showing a lot of composure for a true freshman making his first career start.  However, he is slow afoot and his injury-riddled offensive line is not very good.  The Bulldogs’ defensive line probably should have sacked him more than once, although he did a good job getting rid of the ball.  In doing so, though, he threw several passes that would have been intercepted by a better defensive secondary.

As for the offense, the first half was abysmal.  There were five possessions, and they went like this:  3 yards and a punt; 8 yards and failed on 4th-and-1 (from the Bulldog 45 — I liked the decision to go for it, but not the play call); 33 yards, two first downs, and an 8-yard punt; 3 yards and a FG (this was after a WCU turnover); 42 yards, two first downs, and failed on 4th-and-10 (from the WCU 38).  If anything, it was worse than how it reads.

The offense struggled running the ball outside, a season-long problem, thanks mostly to the lack of good perimeter blocking.  No slotback had a rush longer than nine yards.  (The one good outside rush in the game, by Van Dyke Jones in the second quarter, was called back by an obvious, and pointless, holding penalty by a receiver.)

There was hope in the third quarter when a nice drive by the Bulldogs was finished by Terrell Dallas’ 45-yard touchdown, a play much like his 80-yard gallop in the PC game.  The Citadel then kicked a FG and was in a position to score again early in the fourth quarter when it faced a 4th-and-11 at the WCU 30.

Kevin Higgins elected to have Ryan Sellers attempt a 47-yard field goal.  Sellers had a good game on Saturday, stepping in for regular placekicker Sam Keeler (who was ill), but I thought attempting the FG in that situation was a mistake.  It’s a tough decision, but a field goal there still doesn’t give you the lead, and the odds of making a 47-yarder with your backup kicker probably aren’t that good.  On the other hand, it was 4th-and-11.

At any rate, Sellers narrowly missed the try, and then the defense just folded.  A missed tackle resulted in a 33-yard run, just about the only decent rush WCU had in the entire game.  That was immediately followed by Mitchell’s reception inside the 10. The Catamounts scored on the next play.  Four plays, touchdown, fans getting up and leaving.

It was a very frustrating game to watch.  Kevin Higgins was apparently frustrated as well.  I want to highlight one of Higgins’ quotes in Jeff Hartsell’s game story, though:

“In the first half, we just didn’t block like we needed to up front. They came out in a 4-3 defense, and we had been working on a (five-man front) all week, and we just didn’t make the adjustments up front and couldn’t get any first downs.”

It’s one thing to struggle on the first series of the game while trying to figure out what defense is being employed, but for an entire half?  That’s not good enough.  This has been a bit of a theme this year, with the Bulldogs allegedly being more of a “second quarter” team while spending the first quarter deciphering defenses.  The problem, of course, is that there are only a limited number of possessions in a game, especially for a triple option attack, and The Citadel can’t use one (or two) quarters as some sort of recon mission — it has to score (or at least possess the ball) early in the game, too.

I’ll have more on-the-field thoughts when I preview the UT-Chattanooga game, but for now I want to briefly discuss some off-field issues, notably attendance (or the lack thereof).

Larry Leckonby has a problem.  The attendance on Saturday (10,207) would have been embarrassing just a few short years ago, but now is almost old hat.  Leckonby finds himself in the position of presiding over the worst run of attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium in at least four decades.

I’ve written about attendance before, and I understand there are multiple issues at play, but I am really surprised at the continued decline.  The easy answer is that The Citadel hasn’t had a good football program for a decade-plus, but there is more to it than that (although that’s a significant factor).

If The Citadel can’t stop the attendance downturn, that will undoubtedly have an impact on future scheduling.  In the upcoming years where The Citadel can schedule 12 games, perhaps the Bulldogs will wind up playing two FBS schools and not play an extra home game.  It may be that five home games will become the norm, regardless of whether the team plays 11 or 12 regular-season games.

On Saturday I had the opportunity to survey the club section for the first time during a game.  I have to say that, in general, the club setup is not meant for someone like me. During the game I am prone to glaring intently at the field, occasionally muttering to myself, and getting up and walking around if there is space available to do so.  The club section is a bit more relaxed, and that’s okay.

It’s a very nice setup.  It’s the kind of thing The Citadel is usually very good at managing, and so I wasn’t surprised at how neat it was.  It had TVs (watching Clemson commit six turnovers against Miami was sort of entertaining in itself), a bar (of course — this is The Citadel!), a buffet, seating…the works.  If you ever have a chance to go up there for a game, I would encourage you to do so.

I learned one thing on Saturday while in the club section:  sweet tea is a godsend during a college football game.  How did I not know this?

I do wonder if space in the club section might become more of an issue if game attendance (and presumably club seating attendance) was better.  Unfortunately, that’s a potential problem Larry Leckonby and Jerry Baker have yet to encounter.

I’ll close this by including some pictures I took during the game, mostly of the offense.  Some of these are of the same play (as it is developing).  If you’re wondering why I don’t have an entire play photographed, it’s because I’m a terrible photographer with a cheap camera.  The first three pictures of the offense are of the beginning of Terrell Dallas’ touchdown run.

The first photo, though, is a shot of the corps of cadets.  I took this picture because I want interested observers who don’t get to go to the games to see just how many cadets are actually in the stands during a game.  This is an issue I would really like to see addressed by the administration.  It was even more noticeable during last year’s Homecoming game.

Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Chowan

It’s time for college football!   This year the scene at Johnson Hagood Stadium should include a lot of the following:  great tailgating, photo ops with Bulldogs both live and bronze, and, uh, fumbles…

Okay, so maybe that wasn’t the sunniest intro of all time.  I have to be honest here, though.  While I am looking forward to the season, this year I am a bit apprehensive about what lies ahead for the Bulldogs on the gridiron.  The Citadel is going to the triple option on offense, with a head coach who has never run the offense (or any similar offense) before, and with players who were mostly recruited for a very different kind of system.

The players who were recruited with the triple option in mind, of course, are all true freshmen.  The quarterback position will likely be manned by one (or more) of those true freshmen. The “knob”-starting quarterback double is a rare one, and for a reason. It’s an exceedingly difficult combination.

The Southern Conference media and coaches agree that this season could be a long one for The Citadel, just as the last two seasons have been.  The media picked the Bulldogs to finish last in the league.  The coaches ranked The Citadel eighth out of nine teams, ahead of only Western Carolina.

The Catamounts finished last in 2009, with only one league win.  That one WCU victory came against The Citadel, which tied for next-to-last.  More of the same is expected by those who follow the SoCon.

Before beginning league play, though, The Citadel will play three non-conference games.  Next week’s game at Arizona should be…interesting.  The following week the Bulldogs will take on Presbyterian, a team that went 0-11 last season, including a 46-21 loss to The Citadel.  However, even the Blue Hose would be favored against the Bulldogs’ opponent on Saturday, Chowan University, a Division II school located in Murfreesboro, North Carolina.

When the Hawks were announced as the opposition for the home opener, a collective yawn could be heard from The Citadel’s less-than-thrilled fans.  It’s hard to blame anyone for not being excited about Chowan being on the schedule, with all due respect to that school.  I’m guessing this game’s not going to be a sellout.

Having said that, let’s take a look at Chowan.

I wish I could say with confidence exactly how “Chowan” should be pronounced.  This is probably something that should concern Bulldogs play-by-play announcer Darren Goldwater a lot more than me, but I like to know these things.  I even sent an e-mail to Chowan’s department of athletics asking the question, and quickly got a response:

It’s pronounced CHO-WAN with a hard CH, just like CHOKE or CHICKEN. CHO-WAN.

That’s from somebody who works at the school, so she ought to know, but two different people have insisted to me that it’s actually pronounced “Shuh-WONN”, with the “Sh” sound at the beginning and the accent on the second syllable.  Since both of them are natives of eastern North Carolina, the region of the state that actually has decent BBQ, I tend to trust them.

“Chowan” is a derivative of “Chowanoke”, the name given to the native tribe of the region by 16th-century European explorers.  My guess is that if you were French, you pronounced it with the “Sh”, and if you were English, you went with the hard “Ch” sound.  It’s kind of like Beaufort (BO-fert), North Carolina, and Beaufort (BYOO-fert), South Carolina.

You like to-ma-to, I like to-mah-to, let’s call the whole thing off…

There is also a Chowan river, and a Chowan County — but Chowan University isn’t located in that county, but in the adjoining county of Hertford.  Naturally, this school in northeastern North Carolina is named to honor a tribe whose name means “people of the south”.

Regardless of its pronunciation, the school has been around in one form or another since 1848, when it was founded as Chowan Baptist Female Institute.  The school remained all-female until 1931, but in 1937 it became a junior college.

It reverted back to four-year status in 1992, and changed its name to the current Chowan University in 2006.  This fall, it will offer its first Masters Degree program, in Elementary Education.  Chowan remains affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

About 1100 students attend Chowan.  I thought the section titled “Who we serve” on the school’s website was interesting:

The Chowan University community is committed to serving average students. By “average” we mean students with a GPA from 2.25-3.25 and “average” SAT scores (around 1300 for the three part SAT). Students below these criteria may be admitted if they show a commitment to the Chowan University experience and academic potential…

Many of our students are first generation college students which means their parents did not attend college or complete a college degree. Because of Chowan’s commitment to individual attention in a Christian environment, these students thrive here.

I liked this statement.  Too many schools insist on presenting themselves as wannabe Ivies, when everyone knows better.  Here we have a school that knows exactly what its mission is, and what it wants to do, and isn’t apologetic about it in the least.  Good for Chowan.

Chowan had a fine run in football as a junior college, almost entirely under James Garrison, who was the head coach at the school for 43 years (and for whom its football stadium is named).  Quite a few Chowan alums went on to four-year schools and then the NFL, including George Koonce, Curtis Whitley, and Mark Royals.

However, Chowan has struggled on the gridiron since becoming a four-year school itself.  Since 1993, the Hawks (formerly the Braves) have a cumulative record of 39-168-1 in Division III and (since 2005) Division II.  That includes Saturday’s 59-10 loss to Lenoir-Rhyne.

Chowan has been a football member of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association since the 2008 season (and is now a full member of the conference). Chowan is the first non-HBCU member of the CIAA in the league’s 98-year history.

The CIAA now has 13 members, and as a result the conference’s slogan for this year is “Triskaidekaphobia: Fear the 13!”  I’m not sure what the Southern Conference’s slogan would be — “The SoCon: The Nation’s Most Transient League”?

For Chowan football, the last five years have looked like this:

2005 — 2-8, including a 56-10 loss to North Greenville (now of Willy Korn fame) and a 42-21 defeat at the hands of Allen, which dropped its program after the season

2006 — 0-10, including losses of 42-0 to Western Carolina, 52-6 to North Greenville, and 28-0 to Webber International; Webber played The Citadel the following season, with a slightly different result

2007 — 2-9, including a lot of total beatdowns:  51-0 (Coastal Carolina), 56-14 (North Greenville), Presbyterian (62-10), and Newberry (67-0)

2008 — 2-8, which featured an early-season 69-20 loss to VMI (which had concluded its 2007 campaign in memorable fashion)

2009 — 2-8, although most of the games were more competitive; the Hawks did lose 36-21 to Old Dominion, the Monarchs’ first game since restarting its program after a 68-year hiatus (ODU did finish the season 9-2, though)

Those last two seasons came under the direction of the current head coach, Tim Place.  Place is a Washington & Lee alum who was previously the head coach at Urbana, an NAIA school in Ohio.

One of the members of Place’s coaching staff is Omar Nesbit.  Nesbit was an All-SoCon lineman at The Citadel, graduating in 2002.  He is the Hawks’ offensive line coach.

According to the school’s pre-season football guide, the team runs a “multiple” offense and a “multiple” defense.  Thirteen starters are back from last year’s outfit.

Last season the Hawks scored 25.3 points per game, not bad, but allowed 35.2 ppg. While the Hawks were a respectable passing team, all 25 of its TD passes were thrown by C.J. Westler, who was the offensive player of the year in the CIAA, and who is not among the returnees.  Much like The Citadel, Chowan has to find a quarterback (it played two in the Lenoir-Rhyne game).

Chowan turned the ball over three times per game, almost double its opponents’ totals, and averaged an anemic 2.9 yards per rush.  The Hawks gave up 48 sacks.

Defensively, the Hawks allowed 4.6 yards per rush and 9.3 yards per pass attempt, which is obviously not good.  Opponents scored touchdowns 70% of the time when they entered the “red zone”.  Chowan was also not a particularly efficient punting or placekicking team.

Against Lenoir-Rhyne, Chowan allowed 513 rushing yards (6.9 per attempt).  This is noteworthy in that L-R is running the same offensive system this season it ran last year under the direction of then-offensive coordinator Tommy Laurendine — who of course is now the offensive coordinator at The Citadel.

Laurendine has his work cut out for him, based on early reports.  For example, this is how Jeff Hartsell began his recap of the August 21 scrimmage:

After watching his quarterbacks combine for six interceptions and at least five fumbled snaps in Saturday’s scrimmage, Citadel football coach Kevin Higgins stated the obvious.

“Offensively, we have a lot of work to do,” said Higgins…

You could say that, coach.  On the bright side, nine of the eighteen pass attempts in the scrimmage were caught by Bulldogs.  Alas, six of them were defenders.  At least on those plays the QB got the snap from center.  Unofficial totals from the scrimmage had the first-team offense rushing 27 times for 67 yards.

At least the defense apparently looked good, although how much of that was due to the offense’s struggles is open to question.  The kicking game again failed to impress, a problem Higgins has been unable to solve for the last two seasons.

The scrimmage on August 28 was apparently better, based on some anecdotal reports.  At this point it appears the Bulldogs will play two “true” freshman quarterbacks, Ben Dupree (from Pennsylvania) and Matt Thompson (from Florida).

Terrell “First Sergeant” Dallas will be the fullback.  There are several candidates to fill the slotback positions, led by Van Dyke Jones and injury-plagued Rickey Anderson (everyone’s crossing their fingers for you, Rickey).  The offensive line has some experience, but not at center, which in part explains the center-QB exchange problems.

We won’t know for sure exactly how the new offense will look until Saturday, but it probably will be a slightly different variation than Charlie Taaffe’s version of the wishbone.  It’s not going to be quite like Wofford’s option attack, either.

It’s probably going to most resemble the setup run by Paul Johnson at Georgia Southern, Navy, and now Georgia Tech.  With that in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kevin Higgins, with a personal history of running spread passing offenses, throws the ball a little more often than you see in most triple option offenses.

He has to figure out a way to get talented tight end Alex Sellars involved in the offense. Higgins has also commented on the big-play ability of Domonic Jones, a 6’5″ redshirt freshman.  I like the idea of isolating a tall receiver on a smaller defensive back in this offense.  Of course, you have to have a quarterback capable of getting the ball to Jones.

I linked this in an earlier post, but to get up to speed on how this offense will probably operate, check out The Birddog (helmed by a grad/fan of the Naval Academy), the triple option devotee’s website of choice.  Here is a primer on the TO:  Link

While the offense is filled with question marks, the defense should have a lot of answers.  There is depth and talent on that side of the ball, particularly in the defensive backfield.  Cortez Allen has drawn pre-season accolades.  Other DBs with the potential to shine include Keith Gamble (who had an 89-yard interception return against Presbyterian last season) and Joseph Boateng (who intercepted two passes in his collegiate debut against North Carolina).

Former safety Rod Harland is now a linebacker, joining team leader Tolu Akindele and Jeremy Buncum as likely starters.  The defensive line should be solid, if a little young.  Chris Billingslea had some impressive moments last season (and made the All-SoCon freshman team as a result).  Keith Carter is a redshirt freshman who should draw notice, if only for being a defensive tackle who wears #33.

The other defensive lineman (at least that’s his roster designation) I want to mention is Milford Scott, a special teams terror who blocked three kicks last season and created havoc many other times.  He’s tall, has long arms, and describes himself as a “Charleston homeboy” from the beach.  He’s a weapon.

Unfortunately, Scott’s dynamism on special teams was an exception (not counting Andre Roberts, obviously).  While punter Cass Couey fared reasonably well, the Bulldogs continued to struggle in the placekicking department.  That’s two seasons in a row The Citadel has had sub-optimal kicking, and early returns suggest it might be three in a row.

I don’t blame the kickers.  I blame the coaching staff.  It’s the job of the staff to get that aspect of the squad fixed, either by improving the kickers on the squad or finding somebody else to kick.

The Citadel also could stand to improve its punt coverage team (Scott aside) and its kickoff return unit.  The Bulldogs will sorely miss Andre Roberts as a punt returner; look for that component of special teams to not be as effective this season.

There has been a lot of turnover in the coaching staff, not only with the new offensive scheme (where the aforementioned Laurendine is joined by offensive line coach Bob Bodine), but with the defense as well.  Higgins recruited former Wofford assistant Josh Conklin to join the staff, and later named him defensive coordinator.

Conklin will get help from another new assistant, Denny Doornbos, who was the defensive coordinator at Army during the Bob Sutton years, which were mostly good ones.  I have to gleefully point out, though, that he was the DC for this game…and for this game, too.

While all the talk in the off-season has been about the offensive scheme, and how the coaches will implement it, I think the new coaches on the defensive side of the ball will be just as important.  Generally, you would like to have more staff continuity than The Citadel has had, but in the case of the defense, I think a fresh approach may be just what was needed.

There was a sense over the last two seasons that the defense had underachieved; in particular, some observers felt the unit was not aggressive enough.  The Bulldogs’ D must be pro-active this season, and give the offense short fields with which to work. The defense will likely also have to bail the offense out on a regular basis.

This is going to be an important year for Kevin Higgins.  The off-season issues, not surprisingly, did not sit well with the alumni — and I’m not just talking about the big boosters or the message board regulars.  He also has had back-to-back disappointing seasons on the field.

The move to a new offense, and the overhaul of his coaching staff, were both bold moves made by someone who expects to stick around for a while.  They weren’t short-term stopgaps.  That is to his credit, I think.

Now, however, even with modest on-field expectations, he needs to get the fan base to buy into his program again.  After all, Larry Leckonby and company need to sell tickets and sponsorships.  Jerry Baker has Brigadier Club membership goals to obtain, whatever his methods are (high-tech, low-tech, begging, etc.).

A 1:00 pm start time against Chowan on Labor Day weekend in Charleston probably isn’t going to be a big winner as far as attendance goes.  I fully expect one of those hot-and-humid Lowcountry days that are fairly typical for this time of year. Ugh.  Of course, that’s assuming a hurricane doesn’t come into play.

I’ll be there anyway, though.  I’m ready for some football.