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…

A few quick thoughts on The Citadel’s search for a new head football coach

Maybe I should have waited to post my review of The Citadel’s 2013 football season. Less than 24 hours after I posted it, Kevin Higgins resigned as head coach.

After all, timing is everything…

The difference between the opportunity at Wake Forest and the one two years ago was a matter of timing, Higgins said…

…Larry Leckonby last week offered Higgins an extension through the 2015 season, but that was not enough to sway him from taking the Wake Forest job.

“It was a little bit of a surprise,” Leckonby said of Higgins’ decision. “We talked last week about his future here, about a contract extension. We met (Monday morning) and I gave it one last try to see if we could keep him here. We wish him all the best and look for success out of Wake Forest in the ACC.”

To be honest, I think there is just a hint of Kabuki theater about the whole “offered an extension he didn’t accept” thing, but I could be wrong about that. It doesn’t really matter, though. The bottom line is that Kevin Higgins is leaving, and The Citadel has to find a suitable replacement.

Larry Leckonby had this to say:

My phones have been inundated with folks who are interested or have someone they think is interested in the job. I think it’s the flip side of the situation nine years ago. We’re going to have to turn folks away.

That sentiment was echoed in a tweet sent out by Scott Roussel, operator of

So, so many guys reaching out about the Citadel job. Great location. No idea what direction they go; but plenty of quality interest.

It is undoubtedly true that the job at The Citadel is more attractive now than it was nine years ago, when Higgins accepted the position. That is to his credit.

However, any candidates out there interested in the job because of the “great location” better know that being head football coach at The Citadel isn’t a retirement gig. Lowering one’s golf handicap is not a primary or secondary goal.

When asked if he would hire a triple-option coach, Leckonby said that he would “make that determination in the next couple of days and go from there.”

I hope he decides not to limit candidates to those who would employ an option offense. I say that despite being someone who believes that running some form of the “triple option” is probably the way to go for a school like The Citadel.

However, I don’t want to see the pool of candidates substantially reduced by a restriction like that. There may be someone interested in the position who might have other ideas about on-field concepts that could work at The Citadel, and the school should listen.

Offensive philosophy is just one of many issues on the table for the job at the military college. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be a consideration. It definitely should be.

However, if it turns out the best candidate happens to prefer running out of the I-formation or something, then The Citadel should hire him anyway.

Leckonby said he will use an “advisory committee” but will handle “most” of the task of hiring a new coach himself. He expects to present a group of finalists and a recommendation to school president Lt. Gen. John Rosa.

For some, the process of making the hire is perhaps almost as important as the hire itself. It is open to question whether or not Rosa will simply “rubber stamp” Larry Leckonby’s recommendation, or if the school president will be more involved in making the final decision. That is something to watch.

I’ll be a little curious to see if the advisory committee is a somewhat formal group, with a listed set of members, or if Leckonby will simply run things by some trusted friends/colleagues. It’s also possible that some members of the committee will be tasked with what Leckonby referred to Monday as “cultivating” candidates.

“The first three people I talked to today, all of whom I respect, said the same thing: Make sure you don’t move too fast,” Leckonby said. “Don’t rush forward to get a coach because of recruiting; make sure you get the right fit for The Citadel.

“So I don’t think we’ll set a time frame on it. But at the same time, you don’t want to lose a full recruiting year because of it.”

Fair enough. I agree that getting the right coach is more important than one recruiting year. That recruiting year is important, though.

The next few weeks are going to be fascinating. They will also be very important to the future of The Citadel’s football program, and for the department of athletics as a whole.

Leckonby said on Monday that he would handle most of the heavy lifting himself, “for better or worse”. It has to be for the better, Mr. Leckonby. It has to be for the better…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wanted to test theories such as:

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

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

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

First, average attendance per game:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two-year winning percentage:

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

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

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

Three-year winning percentage:

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

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

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

Five-year winning percentage:

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

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

Ten-year winning percentage:

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

This can be looked at in two different ways…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited 8/1/13:

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

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

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

The new college football playoff: will it hurt FCS schools?

As a fan of an FCS program, one thing stood out to me in all the hoopla about the new four-team FBS playoff. It may have just become a lot tougher for the department of athletics at an FCS school to balance its budget. Why?

Strength of schedule is apparently going to be a factor in determining which teams make the playoff.

From a June 21 article by Sports Illustrated writer Stewart Mandel:

Weighing schedule strength could prove beneficial beyond just the playoff. Unlike the AP and Coaches’ Poll, which tend to place the most importance on simply not losing, a committee could theoretically elevate, say, an 11-2 Pac-12 team over a 12-1 Big Ten team if the former played three power-conference foes in September, while the other played three MAC or FCS schools.

“How do you encourage people to play [tough games]?” said [Big 10 commissioner Jim] Delany. “And I’m talking about our people and other peoples’ people. I don’t think we served ourselves particularly well with the 12th game.”

Delany wants his league to play a challenge event of sorts against the Pac-12, beginning in 2017 (or thereabouts), which would account for one non-conference game for each school in both leagues. Some of the Pac-12 schools aren’t so crazy about the idea, in part because of that conference’s nine-game league slate.

The Big 10 only has an eight-game conference schedule, though there has been talk of that changing. Not all Big 10 schools are in favor of moving to nine, however. For Wisconsin, which is evaluating its future schedules with a possible strength of schedule component in mind, one gets the impression that proposed contests against the likes of Notre Dame or Alabama may not be as likely if the conference adds a league game.

Notre Dame, which plays a difficult schedule almost every season, is not surprisingly also on board with measuring a school’s SOS in evaluating playoff fitness.

West Virginia director of athletics Oliver Luck was direct when discussing the possible pitfalls of scheduling an FCS school in the future:

 “[The strength of schedule component to the playoff] is going to force everybody to look at their non-conference schedule and figure out if we can still play a I-AA school.”

That sounds ominous if you are an AD at an FCS school which needs to play (at least) one FBS opponent every year to help balance the budget. Larry Leckonby of The Citadel (with department expenses in FY 2012 of $10.1 million) is in such a position:

For 2013, Leckonby said budgeting is complicated by the fact that The Citadel will have only five home football games [during the 2012 season]. A home game is worth about $130k. The game at N.C. State will bring a guarantee of $375K…

…To help make up the numbers, Leckonby said basketball will be asked to play three guarantee games next year. Basketball guarantees can bring in from $50k to $80K or so, depending on the foe.

Leckonby confirmed that 2013 football non-SoCon foes will be CSU and VMI at home and at Clemson and at East Carolina for a 12-game schedule. In 2014, the Bulldogs will play at Florida State and at VMI, with Charlotte and Coastal Carolina coming to Johnson Hagood Stadium on one-year deals.

In 2014, the regular season for FCS schools will also be 12 games, as in 2013, but The Citadel is only playing one FBS team that year instead of two. Otherwise the Bulldogs would play seven road games, with two of them against FBS competition, and only five home games. Thus, the games against Charlotte and Coastal Carolina.

Back to Mandel: from a recent SI “mailbag”, he suggested that FBS teams “may (hopefully) see a decline in FCS foes, simply because of the blight that puts on one’s schedule, but we’ll still get plenty of games between the Big Ten and MAC, the SEC and Sun Belt.”

Well, I obviously disagree with that characterization. Some of my tomato plants might suffer from blight (though not if I can help it), but playing an FCS school is not a “blight” on an FBS team’s schedule. Of course, Mandel went to Northwestern, a Big 10 school; perhaps he’s hoping that the conference can avoid embarrassing losses to FCS opponents by simply not playing those games at all.

I got a slightly more positive response from Mandel’s SI colleague, Andy Staples, on Twitter. Just slightly. After saying he was “thrilled” there would possibly be fewer FBS/FCS matchups, he did acknowledge that smaller schools need those games.

I received a few negative tweets on the subject from the Twitterverse. My personal favorite was this one:

“we want your money” not a valid reason. Sorry.

Yes, how dare money-grubbing schools like The Citadel attempt to defile the pristine pastureland of major-college football.

The real reason the strength of schedule issue is getting so much play from people like Jim Delany is because of the recent dominance of the SEC. With six straight BCS titles, that league has demonstrated it can A) win the big game, and B) schedule its way to the big game. I am sure Delany and company would like to force the SEC powers to replace their annual “series” versus Southern Conference teams with games against, say, Big XII schools.

If the Pac-12 and Big 10 can have what I described earlier in this post as a “challenge event”, why not the Big XII and SEC? You could have a high-profile game like Florida-Texas, for instance. That’s right, the Gators would play a non-conference regular season game outside the state of Florida (which never happens).

I suspect there would be few “big-time” matchups, however, even if a Big XII-SEC challenge came to pass. One reason for that is RPI, even with strength of schedule a consideration.

The commissioners want strength of schedule emphasized and to give conference champions some preference. They are also working on power rankings, similar to the RPI used by the NCAA basketball tournament selection committee.

I’m not a professional mathematician, so this is going to be dangerous, but here goes…

RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) is formulated by a team’s winning percentage (generally 25% of the total), along with its opponents’ winning percentage (50%) and the winning percentage of its opponents’ opponents (25%). That’s the basic concept; there are usually small built-in bonuses and penalties (for road games, etc.).

Sure, Texas could play Florida (in this example, I’m assuming both the Longhorns and Gators are outstanding squads, as opposed to what they have been for the last two seasons). However, in such a matchup one team would obviously lose. Strength of schedule or no strength of schedule, any loss is going to be extremely harmful to a playoff aspirant, since there are only twelve regular season games.

What Texas and Florida would really want is the value of the other’s SOS without having to play, and risk a loss. Instead of playing each other in a Big XII vs. SEC “event”, they could schedule (presumably lesser) opponents of each other. Texas could play Kentucky while Florida faces Kansas. This would take advantage of the opponents’ opponents winning percentage (built up by playing an SEC or Big XII league schedule), not to mention the team’s own winning percentage, without having to play a truly elite opponent.

I think you would see a lot more of those kinds of games than Texas-Florida, LSU-Oklahoma, etc. In some cases, it would be more than justifiable.

Southern California already plays nine Pac-12 games, plus Notre Dame out of conference, each season. There is no real benefit for the Trojans in participating in Delany’s challenge, and having to face a Big 10 opponent like Ohio State or Michigan in another regular-season game.

In addition, there is a “connectivity” issue with RPI. This is especially problematic in college baseball, which is a much more regional sport than college hoops, and as a result teams from parts of the country with fewer baseball schools tend to get hosed by the RPI (and the reverse is also true). I would guess that college football would be even worse in this respect, because there aren’t nearly as many games, and so there would be far less connectivity.

Even if the football playoff selection committee uses a different version of RPI (or “power rankings”), it is likely to run into similar problems.

All of that is assuming that the landscape for non-conference scheduling changes at all. I realize I’ve just written several paragraphs about the potential for FCS schools to lose out on guarantee games, but ultimately I think that most FBS schools will ignore strength of schedule when putting together their non-league slates.

When he wasn’t calling FCS schools a “blight” on FBS schedules, Mandel was making a good point about the need for big-time programs to play as many home games as possible, for financial reasons. Those schools need to buy at least two guarantee games every season.

Another factor is the simple fact that not many schools will need to schedule with the post-season in mind. Only 3% of the entire FBS is going to be in a playoff each season, as opposed to the NCAA basketball tournament, where 20% of D-1 teams make the field. Unless there is a dramatic shift in college football’s hierarchy, Mississippi and Iowa State aren’t going to be in the mix for a playoff berth in football. Neither are Indiana or Oregon State. Playing an FCS school isn’t going to cost those schools a shot at a national title, but it will be good for their budgets and (usually) win totals.

Strength of schedule matters in college basketball because many more teams have a chance to advance to post-season play. Playing a weak non-league slate can hurt middle-of-the-pack schools in major conferences. In football, those schools aren’t in the running anyway.

I think that in the future a school may occasionally adjust its schedule for a potential title run. For instance, Florida State may decide it has a great chance to win it all in 2014. If the Seminoles go 12-0, they are a lock for a playoff berth — but what if FSU slips up and finishes 11-1? Would the ACC be strong enough as a league for Florida State to get a bid anyway?

FSU does play Florida in non-conference play, so its schedule strength should be helped by that matchup. Florida State has so far only announced one other OOC opponent for 2014. That school? The Citadel.

It wouldn’t surprise me if FSU were to decide (perhaps in the winter of 2013) that it needed to replace The Citadel with a BCS opponent in order to shore up any lingering questions about its schedule strength. In that case, though, FSU would buy out the game, so it wouldn’t be a total loss for the military college (and I could see Florida State arranging for The Citadel to play another FBS team to make up for it, perhaps another ACC school).

It may be, then, that the threat of guarantee games drying up for FCS schools is overstated. I hope so. It does bear watching, however.

For many FCS schools, annual games against FBS opponents are not only important for budgetary reasons, they are a recruiting tool and often a way to energize the fan base. They also help programs maintain a connection to major-college football, which at the very least is of some historical interest. Occasionally, they become something more. It’s not strictly about the money.

It’s just mostly about the money.

The Citadel’s varsity sports teams, 2011-12: a brief review

Around this time last year I posted a review of the 2010-11 school year for varsity sports entitled “Larry Leckonby’s Lament“. I wouldn’t call this school year in the department of athletics a lament; rather, it was more a year of transition. At least I hope it was…

First, the setup, just so everyone is on the same page. As I wrote last year:

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).

Last year the rifle team garnered The Citadel its sole conference championship of the 2010-11 school year, the SEARC title. This year, the Bulldogs finished second. Before I move on to the rest of the sports, which play under the SoCon banner, I want to make a couple of quick points/observations about the rifle team:

— Anyone interested can donate to the rifle team through this link; it’s some kind of $3-for-$1 deal. I think this particular fundraising effort may have flown under the radar. The team did get a $20,000 donation from the National Wild Turkey Foundation. Wild turkeys themselves largely approved of this donation, under the theory that the more shooting that takes place at the range, the less that goes on in the field.

— When I wrote my infamous manifesto on varsity athletics at The Citadel a few months back, I noted that increasing the budget of the rifle program, if at all possible, would be a good idea, particularly since The Citadel is a military college with a great shooting facility. This is an NCAA sport, and one in which the school can compete on a national level.

As for the remaining fourteen sports, the average finish for the varsity teams in league play was 8.6, with an average of 10.5 competing schools for each sport. In other words, the average finish was third-from-last. Reviewing the year on a sport-by-sport basis:

— Women’s soccer: After a breakthrough season in 2010, one in which The Citadel finished third in the SoCon, the soccer team regressed to a 5-11-3 overall record, finishing ninth in the league and missing the conference tournament. It was a disappointing season, but it is to Bob Winch’s credit that a year in which the women’s soccer team won three league games and tied two others could be considered a disappointment.

— Wrestling: The Citadel had three individual conference champions, and tied for second in the league tournament after a third-place finish in the regular season. This was an improvement on the prior campaign, when the Bulldogs finished fourth of six teams. All in all, a solid year for the mat men.

— The Citadel finished fourth in the SoCon (out of nine teams) in both men’s indoor and outdoor track, one spot better than last year. The women were 9th (out of twelve teams) in outdoor track, which was the same as last season, but slipped to 11th out of 12 indoors.  On the bright side, at least they scored a few points at the respective SoCon meets. Davidson managed to score just one point in the two women’s competitions combined.

One of the more interesting stories in this varsity sports year for The Citadel came in men’s outdoor track. From the school’s season recap release:

Decathlete Ellison Glenn was the team’s biggest surprise this season. Glenn, who walked on the team as a senior, improved each week and capped his short collegiate track career with a fourth place finish in the decathlon and eighth place mark in the javelin at the 2012 SoCon Outdoor Championship.

“He came in and asked to be part of the team and we debated, but he kept coming to practice and sticking with it so we gave him a shot to see how it would shake out for us and it worked out amazingly,” said Bulldog head coach Jody Huddleston. “Taking fourth and eighth place and earning points in the conference meet after competing in college track for just one year is amazing.”

— As usual, the Bulldogs struggled (at least compared to their league peers) in cross country, although the men did climb one spot, finishing ninth out of eleven competing schools after finishing next-to-last the year before. The women were also next-to-last in 2010; in 2011, alas, they were last.

Remember, Charleston is not exactly conducive to fantastic cross country training. The Citadel’s best placement in the league in school history came in 1972, when it finished third.

— Tennis: Last year the Bulldogs were 3-21, 0-10 in the SoCon. This year a new coach took over. The results were about the same, though; The Citadel was 5-18 overall, and again went winless in the league. At least this year the Bulldogs beat a fellow Division I school (Bethune-Cookman).

— Volleyball: This was another sport with a first-year head coach, and another sport with a similar-looking record from last year. This year’s team won one more match than last year’s squad while finishing with the exact same league record (1-15).

— Women’s golf: The Citadel finished last, again, but some progress appears to have been made. At the SoCon Championships, the team finished 112 shots behind league champ Chattanooga. That’s actually an improvement from 2011, when the Bulldogs were 149 shots back of the conference titlists. The Citadel also had a golfer (Erica Pellegrini) named SoCon Player of the Week for the week ending March 6, which was unprecedented.

— Baseball: The Citadel had a second consecutive losing season, the first time that’s happened since 1966-67. However, there were bright spots in a year that clearly was one of transition, and the Bulldogs did make the league tournament this year after failing to do so in 2011. The key for 2013 will be to make sure the contributing freshmen from the squad all return (not to mention the sophomores and juniors as well).

— Basketball: 6-24, 3-15. Like baseball, lots of freshmen were employed. The problem with going through a tough year with a bunch of young players wasn’t as much that the Bulldogs only won six games this season; it’s that the transition (there’s that word again) came after a terribly disappointing 2010-11 campaign.

I’m afraid the enthusiasm for the hoops program will have to be self-generated until the team starts winning. When that happens, of course, everyone will jump on the bandwagon. It is the nature of sports.

— Football: Well, 4-7 (2-6) is better than 3-8 (1-7)…by one game. That bald assessment would be a bit harsh, as the team competed well almost every week, showing a good deal of improvement, and could easily have won two or three more games. The Bulldogs could have also lost that crazy game to Chattanooga and finished with the same exact record, too. Bill Parcells (“you are what your record says you are”) is right.

Prior to the last two years, The Citadel had not had back-to-back losing seasons in the “Big 3” sports over the same two-year period since the 1965-66 and 1966-67 school years. This year wasn’t as bad as last year, but the difference, at least in terms of raw wins and losses, was marginal.

Excuse the copy-and-paste approach to blogging, but I said this last year and I’ll say it this year:

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.

I can’t emphasize enough how important the upcoming football season is going to be, not just for Kevin Higgins’ program, but for the entire varsity sports scene at The Citadel. A “positive vibe” is badly needed.

Simply put, the team has to win. It won’t be easy, as the schedule is not particularly favorable, but there can be no excuses. Next year has to be this year.

Let’s hope there is a lot more winning in all of The Citadel’s varsity sports in 2012-13.

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…

Game Review, 2011: Furman

Furman 16, The Citadel 6.

It wasn’t a terrible performance by the Bulldogs.  It just wasn’t good enough.  I wasn’t completely frustrated by the way things turned out, but I wasn’t overwhelmed with positive vibes either.

Links of interest:

Jeff Hartsell’s article on the game

Hartsell’s post-game notes

The Citadel’s release

Furman’s release

The Post and Courier‘s “photo gallery” of the game

Click on that last link to see photos of the Bulldogs wearing their “Big Red” jerseys.  I was disappointed with the decision to break out these uniforms for the game. This was supposed to be a special, unusual uniform set designed to commemorate the return of “Big Red” (the flag) to The Citadel.

I wrote about these uniforms last year when they were first worn, for Homecoming. What I said then:

I didn’t have a problem with breaking out the red jerseys for this game.  The original Big Red, of course, arrived on campus in March; its disappearance and rediscovery is an interesting tale.  Wearing red jerseys for the Homecoming following that development seemed reasonably appropriate (and a good way to push merchandise).

I’m not sure I would want to see them again, however.  I certainly don’t want the football team wearing red jerseys to become a yearly event.  I think doing that would make it much less special, and also detract from the school’s traditional colors for its sports teams.

Of course, it could be argued that the parade of different football uniform color combinations this season has already devalued the tradition of wearing light blue and white. In ten games, the Bulldogs have worn six different jersey/pant color combos, including four different looks for the six home games.

In fact, I think the fact The Citadel did not have a standard uniform combination this season made the red jerseys seem a little less unusual. Let’s face it, if the Bulldogs had lined up wearing silver or black, nobody would have been all that shocked, so the red jersey wasn’t that much of a departure.

I still feel that way.  If anything, I feel more strongly about it after seeing the game against Jacksonville, when the Bulldogs wore a new uniform that actually looked pretty good.  I am afraid that we are going to continue this multiple uniform combo deal throughout the season.  I also wouldn’t be all that surprised if someone in the department of athletics is trying to figure out how to justify wearing black or silver jerseys/pants/helmets.

I’ll get off my uniform soapbox for now, because I know folks are probably tired of the constant drumbeat about the unis (or at least tired of my constant drumbeat), but I want to make three more points:

— The Bulldogs wore the new helmet logo with this “Big Red” set, which made it look even weirder (and which was obviously inconsistent with the uniform as a whole).

— The game notes now actually feature a chart listing The Citadel’s uniform combinations for each contest.  While it is arguably sad that such a chart is necessary, I will give the media relations staff credit for it, because I think it’s a good idea.  The problem, of course, was that the notes for the Furman game listed the uniform combo as being “Citadel blue tops, white bottoms”.  I guess not everybody got the message.

— The light blue “side panels” on the red jerseys look even worse when compared to the no-panel look of last week’s jerseys.

I’m not going to rehash the game.  I’ll just make some observations, many of which are probably faulty…

— On The Citadel’s first drive to open the game, the Bulldogs threw two passes (both incomplete) in three plays and punted.  I know that the element of surprise is always a consideration, and that Triple O’Higgins probably features more passing than some other triple option offenses, but I would have liked to see the team try to establish an offensive rhythm early by sticking to the ground game.

— This game could have looked a lot like last year’s matchup in Greenville, when Furman scored a TD right out of the gate and the Bulldogs played from well behind for the entire day, but for a big play by Brandon McCladdie on third-and-goal from the Bulldogs 4-yard line.  Chris Forcier would have scored if McCladdie had not kept containment and made what amounted to an open-field tackle.  If The Citadel had come back and won the game, McCladdie’s play would have been huge.  It was still noteworthy.

— Furman’s coaches treated Forcier more like a freshman than a senior in terms of play-calling.  I’m not sure what to make of that.

— Jerodis Williams is a tough back.  Very impressive.  I also thought Paladins linebacker Kadarron Anderson had a good game.

— Things that are still a work in progress:  Ben Dupree’s passing, and the Bulldogs’ o-line play in general.  Both can improve, though.  I’ll take some overthrows and missed blocks now for pinpoint passing and solid line play later.

— Dupree is going to frustrate a lot of SoCon opponents with his ability to turn broken plays into positive yardage.

— On The Citadel’s sixth drive of the game, the Bulldogs chewed up just over seven minutes of possession, eventually facing a 4th-and-8 on the Paladins 35-yard line. The Citadel took a delay of game penalty and then punted.  The punt went into the end zone for a touchback, so the net was 20 yards (a de facto 15-yard net, really, considering the penalty).

I think Kevin Higgins, if he had to do it all over again, would have gone for it.  I certainly believe he should have.  The Bulldogs trailed 13-6 at the time, and there were four minutes remaining in the third quarter.

In that situation, if a field goal attempt isn’t a realistic option, going for it is the right move.  In fact, I think it’s the right move in most situations, but you definitely have to go for it in a game when the possessions are limited.  The Citadel only had eight possessions in the entire contest (and one of those was a one-play drive to end the first half, so the Bulldogs in effect only got the ball seven times).

You simply aren’t going to get that many opportunities to make a play in your opponents’ territory.  Higgins did make the correct decision on The Citadel’s next possession, however, going for it on 4th-and-6 at the Furman 49.  It didn’t work out, but it was the right call.

— The tailgaters were out in force on Saturday.  Larry Leckonby probably spends a fair amount of time wondering how to get most of the people tailgating in the lots surrounding the stadium to actually enter the stadium.  It’s a problem.

Now The Citadel has a week off before its first road game of the season, a trip to Elon. The Phoenix are playing this weekend, as they travel to Durham to face North Carolina Central.  Elon is 1-1, with a loss to Vanderbilt and a victory over Concord.

I’ll close with some photos.  My usual lack of skill in picture-taking was combined on Saturday with a dying battery in my camera, so I didn’t take quite as many as usual.  I did get a few off-field shots of note, though, including the 1961 SoCon championship trophy and the mascot for Bojangles, apparently named “Bo” (what a surprise).

Speaking of mascots, I got a picture of General too, relaxing on a block of ice covered by a blanket.  General is a very cool dog (quite literally on Saturday, despite the late-afternoon heat).  He and his buddy Boo made a lot of new friends, including quite a few Cub Scouts.  I also appreciated Boo’s handler moving the SoCon trophy around so I could get a half-decent shot of it.  Many thanks.

Two weeks until gameday for The Citadel: the scrimmage before the storm

I didn’t think I was going to be able to attend Saturday’s scrimmage at Willson Field, but sometimes the sun shines when you expect rain, and I am quite grateful for that. I am not going to claim to have any fantastic observations about what I saw.  That won’t stop me from typing, though…

I got to campus a little late, but that was okay.  Venturing into McAlister Field House, looking for one of the new football posters, I was almost immediately accosted by a gentleman who asked me if I wanted to eat something.  He pointed to a long table filled with hamburgers and hot dogs, and it suddenly occurred to me that I was hungry.

I was a bit dazed, to be honest, and probably looked like I was on drugs (not guilty!), but no matter.  I grabbed a burger and a cookie (which was very good) and wolfed them down.

Then I got one of the new posters (I took the glossy kind, as I didn’t need it autographed), a magnet schedule (nice), and a team roster (very handy) and made my way to the field.

Jeff Hartsell has a nice writeup on the scrimmage, with some unofficial stats (link). You can also read about it at (link), which also has a lot of cool photos (link) of the scrimmage, along with the meet and greet that followed it.  (I took some pictures myself, but they are mostly awful, and even the decent ones aren’t nearly as good as the school’s offerings.)

Some quick thoughts:

— I really liked the setup for this event.  Good job all around by the department of athletics.  As always, quality cookies are an easy way to please the masses.

— There were several hundred people there, which was nice to see.  I think that if there had been many more spectators in attendance, though, the venue would have been a little too small, something for the administration to keep in mind if the team enjoys a successful season in 2011.

— The Class of 2015 (i.e. the “knobs”) surrounded the field to cheer on the players. Big fan of that move.

— Maybe for future scrimmages Spike (the cartoon mascot) could make an appearance, to entertain some of the kids.

— The officials working the scrimmage wore long black pants.  In August.  In Charleston.  Luckily for them, while it was kind of muggy it was just overcast enough to keep things from becoming truly oppressive.  I left Charleston before the inevitable thunderstorm (at least I assume it was inevitable).

— Aaron Miller, the freshman QB from Clover, had a big run and seemed to have a presence about him.  He’s a very interesting prospect; one of those guys who doesn’t seem super-fast but nobody seems able to catch him anyway.

— The best pass of the scrimmage was thrown by Luke Caldwell, who is a receiver.  It was a really nice pass, though.  Just like the Samford game last season, it went Caldwell-to-Rickey Anderson, who this time caught it in stride.  Anderson seems to be good at making those downfield catches, which can’t be said for every running back. Kevin Higgins will undoubtedly try to take advantage of that.

— There wasn’t an avalanche of turnovers, so unlike last year’s GSU game I won’t be having nightmares about fumbling for two weeks, but there are still some kinks to be worked out.

— The hitting was solid.  No over-the-top pops, although Rod Harland stood out for his enthusiasm in putting people on the ground.

— The placekicking wasn’t awful, but there is still work to do.

— I didn’t see Larry Leckonby, but I assume he was there.  If so, that would mean that every living person who has served as the director of athletics at The Citadel was at the scrimmage.  (Okay, so that’s just three guys.)  General Rosa was also there, resplendent in bermuda shorts.

One thing I found interesting was the undercurrent of intensity in the crowd watching the action.  The players acted with purpose and intent, but that is to be expected.  What struck me was you could also describe many of the spectators as watching with purpose and intent.

I live in a town where the local school’s squad has high expectations for the season to come, as preseason prognosticators have it contending for league and national honors.  Anticipation is mixed with some anxiety.  There is a lot riding on the upcoming campaign.

The Bulldogs are not expected to contend for league or national honors this year. However, in the crowd today you could feel anticipation and anxiety not unlike that present in the capital city, and for good reason.  There is a lot riding on The Citadel’s upcoming campaign, too.

Two weeks until Jacksonville comes to town.  Two long weeks.

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: Samford

The Citadel 13, Samford 12.


It wasn’t a dominating performance, to say the least, but a win is a win, especially after losing seven straight games.  Almost all the numbers favored Samford except the ones on the scoreboard that actually count.

That’s why I wouldn’t put this game down as a triumph for The Citadel’s triple option offense.  In truth, Samford’s defense did a good job handling the option attack, much as it had in games against Georgia Southern and Wofford.  The Citadel was held to 119 yards rushing, and just 203 total yards.

Samford outgained The Citadel by more than two to one, had almost twice as many first downs, and did not turn the ball over.  Neither team fared well on third down (The Citadel converted just one of eleven third-down opportunities).

The Citadel won the game thanks to winning the special teams battle (courtesy of a blocked punt by Milford Scott, who you knew was going to get one eventually), and by outstanding red zone defense.  Going into the game, The Citadel’s opponents were scoring touchdowns 71% of the time when in the red zone, but in this game Samford did not get a TD, as The Citadel’s defense held the Birmingham Bulldogs to just three field goals on four trips inside the 20.

Even with the great defense and Scott’s big play, The Citadel still trailed late in the game when Kevin Higgins called for some “trickeration”.  The circle of the season was completed when Luke Caldwell, who served as quarterback for the spring game before moving back to receiver, threw a pass to Rickey Anderson for 55 yards.  Both players deserved that moment.

One play later, Ben Dupree was in the end zone, and after some anxious moments late, the Cadets had their much-needed win.

This was the last game of a trying season, one with very little to cheer about, and that makes it all the more impressive that the team was focused and motivated on Saturday.  Now, I’m on record as stating that the team should always be ready to play — after all, there are only eleven games in a season — but it would be understandable if the concentration level had not been particularly high for an end-of-season road game against a largely faceless opponent, following a bye week, and leading to the Thanksgiving break.

Instead, the defense held on and did not break, despite allowing Samford to march down the field on multiple occasions, and forced the home side to settle for those field goals.  The offense struggled, but did not give the game away, and grabbed the win when presented with the chance.

To the surprise of almost nobody, Larry Leckonby confirmed on Monday that Kevin Higgins would be back.  I am fine with this, having outlined my reasons in a prior post.

“I don’t think I would say I was satisfied (with the season),” said Leckonby, who was hired in June 2008, after The Citadel had agreed to a five-year extension for Higgins. “I had hoped the outcome would have been a little better in terms of wins and losses, and some of our performances were marred by multiple turnovers.

“I would not say I was satisfied, but I think we did improve from start to finish with the triple option, and that we’ve got a base to build on for next year.”

Leckonby’s statement that he thought the team “did improve from start to finish with the triple option” is debatable.  The lack of turnovers in the final two games (just one in those two contests) was the biggest improvement in the offense.  However, the point production and total yardage really was not much different than from the Bulldogs’ first two league games.  Of course, after the nightmarish game against Georgia Southern, anything would be an improvement.

That isn’t to say that the second season of Triple O’Higgins won’t be a smashing success.  It’s just that there aren’t any obvious markers from this year that would lead one to conclude that a breakthrough is coming.

I hope it happens, of course.  For Higgins’ sake, it needs to happen, because next year it will be now or never.  It won’t be easy, either.

The non-league slate is tougher, with Jacksonville and VMI coming to Johnson Hagood Stadium and the Bulldogs making the trip up I-26 to face the Gamecocks. There are no Chowans in that group (and I suspect that Jacksonville will be much better than some fans of The Citadel might anticipate).  The SoCon will be tough, like it always is.

Of course, it’s never easy at The Citadel.  That’s why it is important to be patient. Patience is a virtue.

Winning is a better virtue.