Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bits and Bytes: Bucs, basketball & Binghamton

Raheem Morris and Josh Johnson probably don't have to worry about joining the 1976 Buccaneers and Steve Spurrier in NFL infamy.

His days as a Division I-AA star and assistant coach are long in the rearview mirror, but ex-Flying Dutchman Raheem Morris—the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, known worldwide as the Official NFL Team of Defiantly Dutch—proved he hasn’t forgotten his roots Monday by naming former University of San Diego star Josh Johnson the Bucs’ new starting quarterback.

Oh sure, Morris had plenty of reason to make a change after the Bucs and former no. 1 signal-caller Byron Leftwich set the NFL back several decades Sunday in a 24-0 loss to the Giants in which they gained just 86 yards and didn’t record a first down until more than nine minutes into the third quarter. But I prefer to believe that the tiebreaker went in favor of Johnson because he played his entire career at a I-AA school while Leftwich went to Marshall after it upgraded to I-A.

That box score, by the way, is amazing. The Giants shut the Bucs out despite recording no sacks and forcing just one turnover. That’s got to be the most remarkable do-it-yourself shutout in league history.

The beloved Bucs are 0-3, but unlike the truly wretched Cleveland Browns, who look like they might make a legitimate run at the 1976-77 Bucs’ record of 26 straight losses, the countdown to a winless season shouldn’t gain much steam. The pitiful Washington Redskins, who on Sunday “snapped” the Detroit Lions’ 19-game losing streak (the second longest in league history), are on the docket this week and the similarly winless Carolina Panthers await Oct. 18. I’m fairly confident the Bucs will be a perfectly harmless 2-5 by the time Morris returns to Hofstra and grants me an exclusive interview during the Bucs’ bye week Oct. 26 through Nov. 1.

Some other bits and bytes unrelated to the Bucs:

—Brian Mull, who provides excellent beat reportage of the UNC-Wilmington men’s basketball team for the Wilmington Star-News, is just the latest person to disrespect the Dutchmen and risk earning the wraith of all of Dutch Nation (snort) by picking Hofstra to finish below first in the CAA. When will these people LEARN?!

Anyway, Mull picks the Dutchmen sixth, just like noted Hofstra Hater Litos. Mull also pegs Charles Jenkins as his preseason player of the year and, in writing how the post-2006 talent surge has made the league better and deeper than ever, also does a pretty good job of indirectly explaining how the best player in the league could play for a middle-of-the-pack team.

Of course, as Litos points out, that balance makes predicting the CAA tougher than ever. It’s not just pro-Hofstra spin to declare that no fewer than six teams could make a legitimate run at the championship. Of course, when the Dutchmen emerge as the champion, I will not recall this reasoned, rational take and will instead bellow about the Dutchmen shocked the world and the non-believers.

—I probably shouldn’t give anyone a hard time about predictions, even in jest, because I’m a couple weeks away from looking pretty foolish in print (as opposed to, you know, how I usually look). Thanks in large part to a kind recommendation from Litos, I was fortunate enough to write the America East previews for the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook (which you can order by calling 877-807-4857 or by visiting the Blue Ribbon home page here).

Once I was told I couldn’t pick Hofstra to win it all, the preseason favorite seemed obvious: Defending champion Binghamton, which returned four starters.

Not anymore. One day after star guard Tiki Mayben was dismissed from the team following his arraignment on cocaine possession charges, Binghamton coach Kevin Broadus booted five other players, including two starters—one of whom, D.J. Rivera, led the Bearcats and finished second in the America East in scoring last year—and the team captain.

Broadus has long come under pretty heavy criticism for recruiting players with checkered backgrounds, but Binghamton didn’t mind the bad publicity when the Bearcats were (mostly) limiting their court appearances to the basketball variety. Broadus signed a contract extension through 2013-14, but to the surprise of no one, the administration is in C.YA. mode now and tsk-tsking Broadus for bringing such bad apples to campus.’s Gary Parrish properly skewers Binghamton for its hypocrisy here. If Broadus gets the boot, here’s hoping the president and athletic director are following him out the door.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

When it comes to I-A, "what if" is probably more fun than the answer

The CAA shouldn't be tricked by the romanticism of Boise State's emergence as a I-A power.

Admittedly, wondering just how the CAA would fare in Division I-A in the midst of and immediately following the Flying Dutchmen’s impressively competitive 24-10 loss to Western Michigan is kneejerk armchair quarterbacking at its worst. The law of transitive property—i.e. Richmond destroyed the Dutchmen 47-0 a week prior, so imagine what the Spiders would do to Western Michigan—does not work in sports, no matter how often I like to think the Dutchmen would have made the Final Four in 2006 because, duh, they beat George Mason twice that season.

The transitive property is particularly useless when it comes to projecting how a I-AA team would fare in a I-A conference, because imagine the kind of advantage the I-A teams would enjoy with 22 extra scholarships over the course of an entire season, not just one game.

Still, though: To examine the CAA’s success against I-A schools this year is to once again ponder if the end game for the conference is in fact a leap to I-A.

The CAA is 4-7 against I-A foes so far. The rest of the I-AA conferences are a combined 0-59 against I-A. Oh-and-fifty-nine.

The average margin of defeat for the CAA in these games has been 11.5 points, almost three touchdowns lower than the overall average margin of defeat for the I-AA conferences (32.3 points). The Missouri Valley has the next lowest average margin of defeat at 22 points.

CAA teams have lost two games to I-A foes by eight points or less. The rest of the I-AA conferences have combined for eight such losses. The CAA has absorbed one shutout loss, and Northeastern’s 54-0 loss to Boston College marked the only time a CAA school was held under 10 points. The rest of the I-AA conferences have endured nine shutouts and 23 other games in which the loser scored less than 10 points.

The stats don’t tell the entire story. One big reason the CAA has fared so much better than the rest of I-AA is its athletic programs are well-off enough, financially as well as football-wise, so that they don’t have to take the really big payday and go to a true I-A monster and endure soul-crushing defeats. The same cannot be said for Idaho State (a 64-0 loser to Oklahoma), Charleston Southern (a 62-3 loser to Florida), Southeast Missouri State (a 70-3 loser to Cincinnati) or Grambling (a 56-6 loser to Oklahoma State), just to name a few.

None of the CAA’s I-A foes—who enter play this weekend with a combined record of 18-24—are going to be in the national championship discussion, and the most successful of these squads will likely be relegated to nothing more than a token appearance in a bowl nobody watches the week before or after Christmas.

But the ubiquitous nature of the CAA in the weekly polls, as well as its record-setting success in the I-AA tournament, indicates just how far ahead it is of the field. Mike Litos wrote earlier this month how he foresees this dominance continuing—in football as well as the basketball version of I-AA—once Division I realigns sometime next decade.

And that would appear to be the best way to go. Sure, Western Michigan and the rest of the MAC are technically playing for the biggest of the big prizes in football, but the BCS isn’t exactly known for inviting the little guy to the dance. Better for the CAA to establish itself as the best league at a pretty darn good level and enjoy the opportunity to regularly compete for the national title in football and basketball.

But Division I-AA doesn’t send hearts aflutter among the general population, and it would be regrettable—if completely understandable, from the human perspective—if the same feelings trickled up to the administrative level within the CAA and the league’s eyes grew bigger than its stomach as it envisioned Boise State-like success for its top programs.

I imagine the concept of Boise State leaping to I-A was fairly unimaginable 15 years ago, when the Broncos were coming off a season in which they did not even receive a vote in the final Sports Network poll. Yet here it is, 2009, and Boise State is one of the most successful I-A programs in the land, one that is currently ranked in the top five of the AP poll and positioned to once again crash the BCS party, if not the actual national championship game.

If Boise State has made the jump to I-A superstardom, why can’t Richmond or James Madison or Delaware or Massachusetts, all of whom have won the I-AA national title since 1998?

But Boise State is the exceedingly rare outlier. A perfect CAA team at I-A would be far more likely to experience what MAC champion and former I-AA power Marshall did in 1999, when the Thundering Herd went 13-0 but still only ranked 10th in the final AP poll and played its bowl game Dec. 27.

Sure, a CAA team might follow the path blazed by Boise State. But no matter how well the CAA has fared against I-A opposition recently, my guess is it’ll be more fun to wonder how Richmond would fare at I-A than to actually find out.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Time to take the long view at QB

Lisa Simpson will not be nearly so happy after she reads we're touting Steve Probst as the starting QB instead of Cory Christopher.

So there I was in my recliner (actually, that’s where I am right now, too) Saturday night, listening to the Flying Dutchmen threaten to take an 11-point second quarter lead over Western Michigan and figuring I might have to pen the mother of all mea culpas today.

Remember when I said Hofstra should de-emphasize the football program? Never mind. After the rout of Western Michigan Saturday, it’s Big East or bust! Upgrade to 85 scholarships immediately or cancel my Pride Club membership!

Alas, a touchdown that would have given the Dutchmen that 11-point lead was called back due to penalty and Western Michigan scored two quick touchdowns before the half to take the lead for good on its way to a closer-than-it-appeared 24-10 victory.

There’s some positives to be gleaned from remaining competitive against a I-A team that made a bowl game last year (albeit something along the lines of the Fargo Bluebonnet Cherry Bowl presented by, especially in the aftermath of last week’s thoroughly demoralizing 47-0 loss to Richmond.

To bounce back and throw quite a scare into Western Michigan speaks well for the players as well as the coaches. There is no shame in losing to a I-A team, and these kinds of near-misses serve as a reminder of just how handy those extra 22 scholarship players are. It’s one thing to outplay a I-A team for one half, quite another to overcome the depth disadvantage for 60 minutes.

But it was tough not to wonder what if, as well, and to think this was a moral victory that could have been so much more. The Dutchmen defense played an inspired game as it produced two goal-line stands in the first half and forced and recovered two fumbles on consecutive possessions in the third quarter with Western Michigan up 17-10. But a methodical offense could not capitalize as the Dutchmen averaged just 4.1 yards per play in the second half and produced no points despite twice driving inside the Broncos’ 35-yard-line twice.

Some credit, of course, must go to the Western Michigan defense, but a piecemeal offense has been a pretty consistent problem the last two years for the Dutchmen, who ranked ninth in the CAA last season with an average of 4.8 yards per play. They recorded a lower average gain per play in six of their eight losses.

The average gain per play is a tick higher this year (4.9 yards per play), but the total is inflated by a 467-yard outburst in the 40-24 win over Bryant. Remove that game from the equation and the Dutchmen are averaging 4.2 yards per play.

All of which makes me wonder how much longer Cory Christopher will be the starting QB. Christopher is already sort of splitting time with sophomore Steve Probst, who took 11 snaps Saturday, and he appeared on his way to a similar time share with Joe Sidaris before Sidaris suffered a knee injury that could sideline him until November.

I usually subscribe to the theory that teams that play two quarterbacks don’t have one. And since this is not shaping up as a playoff-bound season for the Dutchmen, might it be better for the long-term view to ditch the rotation and go with Probst full-time?

Trying to ride out last season with Christopher made a lot of sense with the Dutchmen in obvious rebuilding mode and Cohen reluctant to burn a redshirt season for either Probst or his fellow freshman Joe Sidaris. The possibility of a redshirt sophomore season is obviously gone now for Probst.

And while Christopher is an exciting player to watch, his clock management skills Saturday—when he had to burn two timeouts with the clock stopped in the second half—was Herm Edwards-esque and he’s been the starting signal-caller for 11 of the last 16 games. His ceiling is pretty defined, while Probst remains an unknown quantity.

Going with Probst all night Saturday probably wouldn’t have a what if near-miss into the CAA’s fifth victory against a I-A school this year. But better for the Dutchmen to make the change now instead of wondering next season how much further along they might be if they had a more experienced starting player behind center.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Friday, September 25, 2009

Maybe this will get the Dutchmen on the scoreboard the next time they play the no. 1 team in the land…

Forgive one more foray into the world of pop culture, but this was too good to resist. If you’re not watching Glee every Wednesday night on Fox, you’re missing the most inspired, creative, hilarious and all-around brilliant show network television has offered in quite some time. This is from Wednesday’s episode, when the slumping McGinley High School football team—quarterbacked by a player sporting uniform no. 5, isn’t it ironic?—resorts to catching its opponent by surprise with a last-second dance routine.

Regardless of who lines up behind center tomorrow, history suggests the Dutchmen won’t have to dance for their points against Western Michigan. The Dutchmen have gotten on the board against I-A foes Marshall (losses of 45-21 in 2003 and 54-31 in 2006) and UConn (a 35-3 loss last year). And they did a lot more than just score in 1999, when the Dutchmen went on the road and beat Buffalo (20-13) and South Florida (42-23), each of whom were transitioning from I-AA to I-A.

Of course, as discussed yesterday, a lot has changed in 10 years. A week after one of the most disheartening losses in program history, it’ll be encouraging if the Dutchmen can merely remain competitive against Western Michigan and generate some momentum heading into the rigorous portion of the CAA schedule. Of the Dutchmen’s final seven games, three are against teams currently in the top 15 of the coaches’ poll and another two are against squads that collected votes in the most recent poll.

Remarkably, the Dutchmen also received votes this week in both the coaches’ poll and the media poll. Alas, even that silver lining provides a reminder of the changing times for Hofstra football: The Dutchmen were tied for 57th in the media poll, one vote behind Old Dominion, which has played 668 fewer games all-time. Ahh, to be an overachieving newcomer to I-AA.

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The Debut of the 1994 Time Machine

The original plan this fall at Defiantly Dutch was to celebrate all things 1994-95, not just that year’s Flying Dutchmen football team. So of course here I am debuting that feature a full six days before October dawns! Hooray chronic attention deficit disorder!

Anyway, I arrived on campus in late August 1994 determined to make up for some lost time. Going away to college a year earlier was a particularly big deal for someone who attended community college for two years and, at almost 20 years old, still hadn’t spent a whole lot of time outside of a hometown in Connecticut that was about as far removed from the hustle and bustle of Long Island as humanly possible.

I was just beginning to overcome my natural shyness (I know, I know, nobody else believes it either) and was in the process of really getting comfortable at Hofstra in the fall of ’93 when my sister was involved in a serious car accident in October. She was OK, thankfully, but even after she got out of the hospital and went back to school (where she made the honor roll while I had to drop a math class to maintain a 2.5), I found the pull of home harder and harder to resist. I went home almost every weekend the rest of the fall semester and every other weekend or so in the spring.

But by the summer of 1994 I knew I was ready to dive in. I was comfortable at the newspaper, had established a familiarity with the campus as well as the sports I was covering and was prepared to immerse myself in Hofstra. I had great friends and I figured this might be the year I finally met Her.

Those were high expectations to meet, but the 1994-95 school year—and the fall of 1994 in particular—was everything I thought it’d be and a whole lot more. The success of the athletic department and the football team in particular provided plenty of inspiration and fuel for an aspiring sportswriter. I came to understand that the friends I’d made at Hofstra were as loyal and ever-lasting as the ones I had at home.

Popular culture seemed to understand the magnitude of the moment, as well, and provided incredible sights and sounds that served as an unforgettable soundtrack. I am a firm believer that college provides that Time for everyone, that perfect era in which everything is intertwined and related. But as good as your Time might be, you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you the fall of 1994 was the best time ever to be a music fan, a moviegoer and a fan of “The Simpsons.”

Don’t believe me? Within a three-day span 15 years ago this week, R.E.M. released Monster and the movie The Shawshank Redemption hit theatres. And it only got better from there.

Who knows what kind of tricks my memory is playing on me, but I’d swear on a stack of 1994 media guides that the video for R.E.M.’s “What’s The Frequency Kenneth” had its world premiere the day classes began. I remember watching the video in my dorm room and thinking that the soaring opening licks and the odd yet inescapable buoyancy of the song summed up the immediacy of the moment and the grand potential of the year to come. Or maybe it was the perpetually dour R.E.M.—fresh off one of the most depressing records ever, Automatic for the People—rocking out that proved anything was possible, I don’t know.

(I know, I know: The last thing R.E.M. ever wanted to do was inspire some hair metal-listening kid from an idyllic home in the suburbs, but that’s what Michael Stipe & Co. did there.)

The song would also become a defining one for our group of friends. One late night at The Chronicle, as we cranked the song, the news editor blurted out “Leavitt”—the last name of his top writer—instead of “Kenneth.” It made syllabic sense and, at 3 am, the type of hilarious sense that is unexplainable outside of a newsroom.

Leavitt was also the last name of the girl on whom I was beginning to develop a mad crush. A couple weeks later, we had our first date, and a couple weeks after that, I made her a mix tape (look it up, you damn iPod-listening kids) that I dubbed “What’s The Frequency Leavitt?” You may have guessed by now she is in fact Her.

The farther back 1994-95 is in the rear-view mirror, the more fond the memories become, because adulthood is a constant reminder of how often seemingly perfect moments and opportunities turn out to be something far less than that. Hopefully, these occasional forays into the pop culture world of 15 years ago will remind you of your Time as well, even if it wasn’t the fall of 1994.

And you also get my humble apologies if this bores you to tears, but I can assure you, even if this sucks in a really large way, it’s still better than 1994 eyesore Natural Born Killers.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fifteen years ago today: Lafayette

Fifteen years ago today, the Flying Dutchmen traveled to Fisher Field and made Lafayette pay for its pregame shenanigans.

Editor’s note: “Fifteen years ago today…” is a feature we’ll be running all fall at Defiantly Dutch as we look back on how the unforgettable 1994 football season unfolded. I’ll add quotes to note and other random memories of the games as well. Our first entry, in which we reflect on the games against Butler, Bucknell and Fordham, can be found here. Today: A recap of the 27-6 win over Lafayette Sept. 24.

Sept. 24, 1994
Hofstra 27, Lafayette 6

QB Carlos Garay, back in the starting lineup after missing a game with a separated left shoulder, threw for 184 yards and two TDs and RB Hayward Cromartie rushed for 166 yards and a score as the Dutchmen came back from an early deficit to trounce Lafayette in Easton, PA. Garay’s nine-yard TD pass to Michael Wright gave the Dutchmen the lead for good at 7-3 late in the second quarter. A 35-yard TD pass to Wayne Chrebet shortly before the half increased the lead to 14-3. Cromartie’s nine-yard TD run in the third quarter gave the Dutchmen a 21-6 lead. It was the third straight 100-yard game for Cromartie, who entered the season with two 100-yard efforts in his first two years. Freshman Jeff Yeakel racked up 112 yards on six returns (three punt returns, three kickoff returns).

Quotable: “Everything started to click. Everybody got the feel of what was going on. We got the momentum.”—Garay

“[The Dutchmen are] a damn good football team.”—Joe Gardi

Other random memories: I didn’t cover this game—I was home that weekend for my birthday, I think—but Nick Renzetti’s game story in The Chronicle alludes to some funny business perpetuated by Lafayette coach Bill Russo, whose decision to hold a practice at Fisher Field the day before the game forced the Dutchmen to get to Easton hours earlier than they’d anticipated. “There was a lot of foreplay involved before that game,” Gardi said. Thanks for THAT visual, Joe.

With the win, the Dutchmen “moved” to no. 43 in the I-AA poll with 13 votes. Not to play spoiler or anything, but I’m willing to bet you they got a lot more votes a week later.

Next game: vs. New Hampshire, Oct. 1 (Homecoming)

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When it comes to football, the CAA and scholarships, breaking up is hard to do--but necessary

That Jennifer Aniston is really hot is a secondary reason I posted this photo. OK maybe not.

The following is not solely a reaction to the Flying Dutchmen’s 47-0 loss to Richmond Saturday. It’s a truth that would have been easier to ignore or conceal had the Dutchmen been more competitive in defeat, but one that is more stark and obvious following such a one-sided thrashing.

But it’s time. Enough is enough. Enough with the pretense that Hofstra can compete any longer at the highest level of Division I-AA football.

I realize such a stance will inspire unhappiness (at best) from the small but loyal army of football supporters. Nor am I saying Hofstra should drop football entirely (more on that later), or that the coaches suck or the players stink.

But the current arrangement is not working, on multiple levels. To watch Hofstra in the CAA is like watching a loveless marriage or a workplace relationship lacking any cohesion. It cannot go on forever like this, so at some point, someone has to say it’s not you, it’s me or utter something about how the chemistry just isn’t working, and wish the other good luck with no hard feelings attached.

As noted multiple times this calendar year, the CAA cannot simply add to the current roster of 12 once Old Dominion and Georgia State complete their probationary periods at I-AA. Nor are the CAA’s decision-makers likely to display much patience with programs that can’t keep up with the conference’s record-setting pace.

And a pretty clear line between the haves and have-nots can be found here: The only three CAA schools to suffer shutout losses to I-AA opponents since the start of the 2007 season are Hofstra, Northeastern and Rhode Island.

Hofstra is the only school to suffer multiple shutout losses to I-AA opponents, and the three blankings at the hands of CAA schools in the last 11 games are as many shutout defeats as the program absorbed in the preceding 328 contests dating back to 1978. At some point, the CAA is probably going to clear its throat and ask Hofstra if it can have “The Talk.”

I’m pretty sure the decision-makers at Hofstra are well-aware of this, and have already held some internal version of “The Talk” and pondered how to tactfully tackle the giant elephant in the room.

Supporters of the football program have long been worried about its long-term prognosis, but I didn’t really begin wondering too until Jack Hayes’ interview with WRHU on May 31. Asked to summarize the 2008-09 season for Hofstra athletics, Hayes mentioned nine squads by name and spoke generally of how many teams displayed improvement that was largely produced by underclassmen.

He did not mention the football team, which seemed to be a particularly glaring omission given the one positive to come out of last year for the Dutchmen gridders was how many underclassmen got valuable playing time in a rebuilding season. (The interview is no longer available on the WRHU blog, but I transcribed the entire Q&A and have the quote here if you’re interested)

Now Hayes didn’t mention the cross country teams, or the tennis teams, or baseball, either. But that’s precisely the point, isn’t it? It’s one thing to be irrelevant and a blip on the bottom line. It’s quite another to be irrelevant and to account for a giant chunk of the entire athletic budget.

To even take a cursory look at the numbers is to be glad you’re not in the shoes of Hayes or President Rabinowitz. According to, the athletic department budget at Hofstra in 2008 was a little more than $19.5 million. The highest-profile program on campus, the men’s basketball team, had an operating budget of just beyond $1.85 million. But the scholarships alone for the football team cost almost $2.7 million.

I-AA football is a monetary eyesore even for the most successful programs in the land. “Football costs at this level, and the benefits you get are not financial,” Richmond athletic director Jim Miller told the Richmond student newspaper, The Collegian, last October, a mere two months before the Spiders won the national championship.

The benefits of I-AA football are certainly not being felt within the Long Island community. Twenty of the top 35 all-time football crowds at Hofstra/Shuart Stadium have occurred during the Dutchmen’s 18 seasons at I-AA. Twelve of those occurred on Homecoming. So once every other season or so, Long Islanders show up to a Dutchmen game in droves—or waves, or at least groups—for the actual football.

It’s too bad, because there’s plenty of pageantry to be enjoyed at the I-AA level. The food smells just as good during the pre-game tailgate parties. The sounds and sights of the game are far crisper from your seat at Shuart Stadium than at, say, Rutgers Stadium. And, once again, if you’re a pure sports fan, you have got to love the idea of a college football national champion being determined on the field, not by equal parts computers and politics.

But it’s been close to two decades now and it’s just not working. The New York sports fan—spoiled by the expectations, success and coverage that accompany the area’s professional sports teams, the Islanders excepted—is a snob. Watching a local team compete in a sport whose national championship game is played on a Friday afternoon or evening on ESPN just doesn’t do it.

The community not being inspired by I-AA football was a surmountable hurdle in the 1990s, when Hofstra’s power brokers were football alums who wanted to see the program race up the ladder. And under the direction of the likes of James Shuart, Harry Royle and Joe Margiotta, a program that began the decade as a Division III power ended it a regular visitor to the I-AA playoffs.

But the folks in power no longer have any ties to the football team. And if the program is not benefiting the president and athletic director who have made personal investments in it, then does it really have a chance to succeed?

It’s always dangerous to try to gauge the emotions of an entire football program. But is it too much to wonder what kind of effect the tepid support of the administration—or at least the perception thereof—for the program has on the Dutchmen?

How is it that the Dutchmen are on equal footing—financially, at least—with the top programs in the country yet farther away than ever before? How is it that the 1994 team handed Yankee Conference champion New Hampshire its only regular season defeat—by three touchdowns, no less—yet the Dutchmen have lost their last two games to a no. 1 ranked team by a combined score of 103-0?

Is it that crazy to think the Dutchmen of 15 years ago were fueled as much by the passion and support of President Shuart & Co. as Joe Gardi’s declaration that Hofstra could run with the big dogs?

The Hofstra football dilemma is another example of college athletics providing a life lesson. At some point in your career, you will be inherited by a new boss who wants to put his or its own stamp on the company. Perhaps the new boss man will decide you’re a building block. More likely, he or it will want his or its own people in there and either outright fire you or make things so difficult you have no choice but to leave. They say it’s not personal, and of course you take it personally, and the fact it occurs every day in every state in every walk of life doesn’t diminish the upheaval it causes. But that’s life.

And that’s what’s happening here. There are no bad guys. Just an administration that wouldn’t have had the football team in mind when it leaped to the CAA.

Now, for the betterment of everyone involved—the players, the coaches, the conference and yes, even the fans—it’s time to find a solution, one that I certainly hope still includes football at the non-scholarship level. No longer mingling with the Richmonds and Delawares and Montanas of the world will be a difficult pill to swallow for those who took—wait for it—pride in the rise of the football program, but past glory isn’t getting these Dutchmen anywhere nor is it resonating with those currently in charge.

Perhaps, in these toxic economic times, Hofstra will be far from the only I-AA school to deemphasize the program, and maybe those schools can compete in an NIT-like tournament to determine a champion of the new division. Or maybe the non-scholarship league we envisioned in May will not only form but eventually earn an automatic bid to the I-AA tournament, where the conference champion will have an opportunity to make a Colgate-type run.

There can still be football at Hofstra, and the pageantry of I-AA football can still be enjoyed by those who are aware of it. But the journey that began 15 years ago is coming to an end. And quite frankly, the sooner it happens, the better.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bits and Bytes: Meanwhile, Luke Bonus and Charles Jenkins are probably having lunch in the Ratt

An unidentified Kansas basketball player, left, and football player get serious about their brawling in this file photo.

Fifty-one days until the opening tip at Allen Fieldhouse and the pressure of having to play the Flying Dutchmen as the no. 1 team in the country is getting to the Kansas Jayhawks. Twice in the last 48 hours, members of the Jayhawks’ basketball team have fought members of the football team on campus.

One of the brawls left Tyshawn Taylor, a starter on the basketball team, with a broken finger that could sideline him until after the start of practice. Taylor didn’t exactly cover himself in glory before the incident, either, with a Facebook posting in which he used a racial term and promised to “mug back” anyone who mugged him.

With the Jayhawks football program beginning to experience the type of success enjoyed annually by the men’s basketball team, I imagine this is a more violent version of the Alpha Male ding-a-ling swinging that goes on at places like UConn, where Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma went years without talking because each feels threatened by the other’s success.

In other words, it’s something inconceivable here, where the baseball and football teams usually fill in the student section at basketball games to make it look like people are actually showing up. The closest thing we’ve had to a skirmish between programs is Joe Gardi hilariously telling Jay Wright that he might be the man on campus after a winning season but that Joe was still “The Show.” Ahh Joe.

Anyway, add the fighting nature of the Jayhawks’ basketball team to the chemistry-busting potential of the Henry brothers and I’m really beginning to like the Dutchmen’s chances of knocking off the distracted Jayhawks come Nov. 13.

Of course, let’s give Kansas some credit. There are worse ways for the members of its student body to get into trouble and end up in the national spotlight. And I guess we’ll just leave it at that, won’t we?

Some other bits and bytes:

—Your good friend and mine Mike Litos decided it was a good idea to taunt me—and by extension, all of Dutch Nation, snort—by not only debuting his Hofstra preview at the same time as his Mason preview but also by picking Mason ahead of the Dutchmen. (Click the link to see how little Litos thinks of the Dutchmen!) Clearly Mike has missed the “Do Not Taunt” signs strung up all around this here blog.

Amazingly, Litos is not the only one underrating the Dutchmen. The annual previews from Lindy’s and Athlon also have Hofstra ranked below first (I’ll debut my now-annual running tally on the preseason predictions soon…amazingly, I didn’t begin doing that last year until late October). That’s OK. Those of us in Dutch Nation (where there is always plenty of room on the bandwagon!) are used to the damn liberal media being against us.

In all seriousness, if you haven’t checked out Litos’ previews, do so. His obvious hatred for Hofstra aside, nobody is better-informed, more plugged in or, quite frankly, more excited about the upcoming CAA season than Litos. Even if he doesn’t like us.

—I’ve spent the last couple days pondering and fine-tuning a football post that has required a good bit of massaging. Hopefully you’ll see why tomorrow. But in the meantime, I’ll say, no matter how bad things may seem for the Dutchmen, they’re still in better shape than Indiana State. Hmm. Is it too late to schedule Larry Bird U. for Homecoming?

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Friday, September 18, 2009

Payback is a Bonus

Every single time he trots out to the practice field, Hofstra middle linebacker Luke Bonus recalls how he felt during December 2004, when the high school senior was told by then-Hofstra coach Joe Gardi that the school—the only one to even minimally recruit the undersized Bonus, who is listed at 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds—was no longer planning to offer him a scholarship but that he was still welcome to apply to the university and walk on to the football team.

“Most every school I’m playing against was a school that said I couldn’t hack it,” Bonus said. “Including the one I’m at. So I come out to practice with a chip on my shoulder.”

Gardi retired after the 2005 season, which Bonus spent on the sidelines as a redshirt freshman, and his replacement, Dave Cohen, not only made Bonus a starter but also granted him a full scholarship prior to the 2006 season. Still, if Bonus gets fired up for practicing for a coaching staff and against a bunch of teammates who had nothing to do with his recruitment—or, as Bonus calls it, the “lack thereof”—imagine how he’ll feel Saturday, when Hofstra visits top-ranked Richmond.

An ex-Richmond coach has a pretty good idea of what’s in store for the Spiders. Bonus took great pleasure the previous three seasons in tweaking former Hofstra defensive coordinator Mike Elko, who now serves in the same capacity at Bowling Green and was on the Richmond staff when Bonus was in high school.

“I used to like to tell him, because he was at Richmond before I came here, ‘I love playing for you because you didn’t recruit me,’” Bonus said Thursday. “So everyday, I’m getting to prove him wrong. Every game is something to me that I have to prove to somebody. Every team that I look at on our schedule is a team that said I wasn’t good enough, [that] I couldn’t hack it. And I love it. It’s something I get to go out on the field with every day. I don’t need any extra inspiration.”

Bonus’ emergence from walk-on to All-CAA player and All-America candidate is remarkably similar to the story penned at Hofstra in the early ‘90s by Wayne Chrebet, who put Hofstra on the map when he followed a brilliant senior season with the Flying Dutchmen in 1994 by making the Jets as a rookie free agent the following summer and eventually becoming one of the most successful and beloved players in franchise history.

Long before he was a household name, though, Chrebet was an undersized New Jersey kid whose football career almost ended with his high school graduation because even Division I-AA programs would not look beyond his unimposing 5-foot-10, 180-pound frame. Chrebet’s father sent tapes of his son to several area schools and Hofstra—which was years away from awarding football scholarships as it began the transition from Division III to Division I-AA during Chrebet’s freshmen year in 1991—finally offered Chrebet a chance to play.

Bonus’ father also sent footage of his son to Hofstra and other schools, but Bonus—who earned all-state honors in New Jersey as a senior and holds the Shawnee High School record for career tackles—was ready to leave football behind when it looked like the opportunity to earn a scholarship to Hofstra had disappeared.

Pep talks from his parents convinced him to give it a year, but like Chrebet—who caught just 36 passes for 309 yards his first two seasons and pondered transferring—Bonus didn’t get much of an initial opportunity. He thought about quitting once again after a frustrating redshirt freshman season in which he was shifted to safety but decided to give it one more season after Cohen arrived and moved him back to linebacker, where he won the starting job during training camp and immediately began paying back the programs that ignored him a couple years earlier.

Bonus led Hofstra in tackles as a freshman and a junior, earned All-CAA honors last year and has collected 10 or more tackles 14 times in 37 career games, including last week against Bryant. He was named team MVP last year and selected a captain this season as much for his passion and production on the field as his efforts off it: Bonus has been named to the conference’s all-academic team in each of his three seasons.

“He just plays snap to whistle as hard as anyone I’ve ever coached,” Cohen said. “He’s just relentless. He’s very bright, he’s over a 3.2 [GPA] student, he’s a complete person. And then you add that relentlessness, that motor that never stops, it just creates someone very fun to coach.”

Now, the guy who needs no extra inspiration may be on the verge of providing some, a la Chrebet. Bonus was just eight years old when Chrebet played his final game at Hofstra, but he was familiar with Chrebet’s tale long before he began following in his footsteps. As a teenager in 1999, Bonus read Chrebet’s autobiography Every Down, Every Distance.

“You always heard about Wayne Chrebet, a small kid, this school Hofstra,” Bonus said. “And then everyone was saying ‘What’s a Hofstra? What is Hofstra?’ But it was always kind of how I knew about it. [It was] a turning point for me to really look at this school.”

Bonus met Chrebet during his redshirt season in 2005, when Chrebet would occasionally stop by practice during his final year with the Jets. “It’s the ultimate complement, man, [for] someone to tell me that I’m compared to someone like Wayne Chrebet, who is obviously a legend at this level [and] especially at this school,” Bonus said.

Between Bonus’ resume and the success of Chrebet and other recent Hofstra alums in the NFL, there seems little doubt Bonus will elicit some interest in the months leading to April’s draft. He may not have to take a Chrebet-path like to the NFL, but the slights of 2004 and 2005 will nonetheless keep Bonus as hungry as ever.

“I think that the walk-on process, as tough as it is, I really believe it’s a great gauge for people,” Bonus said. “When I first came in, I didn’t get the feeling that I was needed here, you know what I mean? I didn’t get that feeling at all. But I grinded through it and obviously I worked my way to the top.”

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fifteen years ago this week (and last week and the week before that, too)

Wayne Chrebet would have a lot more people to talk to than just me and two guys from Newsday by the fall of 1995.

One of the things I planned to do this fall was to take a look back at the 1994 Flying Dutchmen football season by recapping the games as they unfolded 15 years ago. I thought it would be a cool way to kind of measure how the momentum built that season, from a pre-season in which Joe Gardi expressed quiet confidence to a perfect September to an October in which the unbeaten Dutchmen surged into the national rankings and into the playoff picture before a heartbreaking loss to Towson and, finally, a November that began with long-shot playoff hopes and ended with the unforgettable tie at Delaware.

Of course, me being me, here it is, mid-to-late September, and that feature has yet to debut. But today’s the day! Hey give me some credit. At least it’s not November yet.

It was 15 years ago today the Dutchmen beat Fordham, 30-20, at what was then called Hofstra Stadium, so we’ll start with that game and also recap the first two games of the ’94 season. I’ll add quotes to note and other random memories of the games when I have them, which should be for every contest except the season opener at Butler, when the Dutchmen were pounding Butler while I was pounding beers and dodging the cops busting underage drinkers at Bogart’s. That’s actually true, by the way. Ask Sully Ray.

Sept. 17, 1994: Hofstra 30, Fordham 20

The Dutchmen started slowly in their home opener but finished with a flurry in improving to 3-0. WR Wayne Chrebet led the way with 205 yards receiving and four TD catches, the first of which was a 42-yarder that tied the game at 7-7 late in the second quarter and the last of which was an 85-yard strike that buried the Rams in the fourth quarter. Chrebet’s other scores went for four yards and 60 yards. Kharon Brown made his first collegiate start at QB in place of an injured Carlos Garay and threw for 380 yards. RB Haywood Cromartie rushed 28 times for 133 yards. On defense, Pat Shanahan recovered a fumble that led to the Dutchmen’s second TD late in the first half.

Quotable: “I really feel that we were looking beyond Fordham. I mean, we had something like 580 yards [actually 548] in total offense. If we put that many yards on the board, we should win by something like 80-0.”—Joe Gardi

Other random memories: I remember waiting outside the locker room for Chrebet, who peeked his head out, saw three reporters waiting for him, grinned and said “Oh man.” Who knew he’d be greeting far larger throngs of reporters a year later?

Next game: Sept. 24 at Lafayette

Sept. 10, 1994: Hofstra 45, Bucknell 21

QB Carlos Garay accounted for more than 300 yards in total offense, but the story of the day was the Dutchmen defense, which forced six turnovers. Herve Damas returned a fumble 13 yards for a TD and the Dutchmen mounted scoring drives after three other turnovers. Safety Pat Clark had two interceptions, increasing his season total to five after just two games, and Marcellus Payne also recovered a fumble. Garay threw for 208 yards and one TD—a 33-yarder to Wayne Chrebet—and also rushed for 106 yards and another score. WR Michael Wright and RB Haywood Cromartie (136 yards rushing) had TD runs.

Quotable: “Forcing turnovers and converting them is a sign of a good team. It’s nice to see us putting points on the board after opponent’s turnovers.”—Joe Gardi

Other random memories: As I wrote when the Dutchmen faced Bucknell last October, this was my first Hofstra road trip and I passed the time on the spirit support bus by listening to a Cheap Trick tape on my Walkman. Sigh. I am so old. I also continue to regret not getting one of the “Hammer Hofstra” buttons that Bucknell was handing out to fans as they entered the game.

Sept. 3, 1994: Hofstra 41, Butler 0

WR Michael Wright scored three TDs—two rushing and one receiving—and the Dutchmen recorded the program’s first road shutout of the Division I-AA era in blanking Butler. Wright caught an 11-yard TD pass from Carlos Garay, who was making his first start since Sept. 19, 1992 against James Madison, and made his only two carries count by rushing 13 yards and 36 yards for scores.

Quotable: “So far this year, I’m very excited about our offense. We’ve moved the ball in practice this year as well as we have in the last five years. We’ll score a lot of touchdowns.”—Joe Gardi previewing the Dutchmen in the week prior to the Butler game

“We’re not thinking of anything but winning. We’re not making predictions, but we know we can be a good football team.”—Gardi

Other random memories: Have I mentioned beer?

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Of all of Greg’s Gigs, Hofstra remains closest to his heart

Bryant defensive coordinator Greg Gigantino doesn’t have to be preparing for Hofstra in order to be reminded of his days as the Flying Dutchmen’s defensive coordinator.

“I’ve got two of my linebackers in my office,” Gigantino said last Friday, a day before the Flying Dutchmen beat Bryant 40-24 in Rhode Island. “And I’ve got a picture of [Gene] McAleer, Jimmy Shannon, Jon Evjen, Pat Clark. They’re looking at them and I’m telling them about them. All those guys—they came with no scholarships and they turned out to be really good players.”

There will probably never be another experience quite like the Hofstra one for Gigantino, who arrived in Hempstead with Joe Gardi in 1990 and helped oversee the Dutchmen’s rapid transformation from a national championship contender in Division III to a powerhouse Division I-AA program.

But Gigantino finds plenty of familiarity as the defensive coordinator at Bryant, where the entire athletic program is in the process of moving from Division II to Division I. The Bryant football team, which began play in 1999, is a member of the Northeast Conference and will eventually offer 40 scholarships (the I-AA maximum is 63).

“The biggest difference is we didn’t know where we were going when I was at Hofstra,” Gigantino said. “We know we’re going into this league and what the parameters are going to be.

“We’ve got a president that’s like Jim Shuart: He’s a football guy and wants to do good in football and he understands what it’s going to take,” Gigantino said. “Obviously, we’re in the midst of moving all our sports up, so it’s a little more of a financial burden than at Hofstra. All we were doing was moving football up [to Division I], everything else was already there.”

Bryant has experienced immediate success, albeit not the sensational type Hofstra enjoyed in the early-to-mid 1990s, when the Dutchmen went 12-8 while playing partial I-AA schedules in 1991 and 1992 and 24-6-2 with one playoff berth during the program’s first three full seasons at I-AA from 1993-1995.

Bryant reached the NCAA Tournament in each of its last two seasons at Division II before it went 7-4 last year in its first season as a I-AA program, including 5-4 against I-AA foes and 4-2 against the Northeast Conference. The Bulldogs improved dramatically as the season went on: They went 4-1 in their final five games overall, during which they lost only to nationally ranked UMass and outscored Robert Morris, Duquesne, Iona and St. Francis 90-24.

As encouraging as such performances are to Gigantino, he remains aware of the long road still ahead for the Bulldogs and how patient he and the rest of the staff—which features another ex-Dutchmen assistant in quarterbacks coach Mike McCarty—must remain.

“You’ve got to know your limitations,” Gigantino said. “Philosophically, you can’t ask guys to do things they’re not capable of doing. A lot of defenses look good up on the board, but you’ve got to say ‘Can our people really do this?’”

Had things gone as Gigantino planned earlier this decade, he would have succeeded Gardi as head coach and stood on the other side of the field Saturday at Bryant. Still, despite the bittersweet nature of the reunion, Gigantino remains fond of Hofstra and the extended period of time he spent there. Gigantino spent 13 seasons at Hofstra (1990-97 and 2001-05 with three seasons as Cornell’s defensive coordinator in between), by far his longest stint at one school during a 32-year coaching career that has taken him to eight stops up and down the east coast.

“You can’t be somewhere for 14 years and not have some memories of it, one way or the other,” Gigantino said. “The way coach Gardi always treated me was just unbelievable. Jim Shuart and Joe Margiotta and all those guys, they were all great people that gave Greg Gigantino a chance.”

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at 

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bits and Bytes: Poor time management confuses the mind…

The Hat is not in this video.

Twelve hours after I became the oldest rookie in WRHU history (blatant yet delayed self-promotion, many thanks to Christian Heimall and Jonathan Lauder for having me on the air) last Friday, Sully Ray became the oldest rookie in the history of our fantasy football league (in which, you’ll no doubt be interested to know, the conference names are Yankee, Patriot and Colonial) when he joined the rest of the Defiantly Dutch readership (and nine other people, too!) at our fine suburban residence.

You’re probably saying to yourself “Didn’t the season start Thursday?” Yes. Yes it did. But really, you’ve got to admit, drafting after the official start of the season makes a lot of sense for a league “run” by me.

Along those lines, Sully Ray had some sharp words as we waited for the draft to begin.

“Beach you were supposed to work all weekend last weekend and you didn’t,” he said in the familiarly admonishing tone of someone who arrives five minutes early for every appointment, pays all his bills two weeks ahead of time and gets his eight hours of sleep from 10 pm to 6 am instead of 8 am to 4 pm. The responsible adult is so boring.

Alas, the boring responsible adult Sully Ray is also right. I have been lax here, partially because of some paying work that was due last week but also because of awful time management skills that should earn me a starring role on some late-night infomercial.

“Hi I’m Jerry Beach, locally famous author and blogger. Before I took Timmy Time’s course, I spent all day surfing the Internet, watching old music videos on YouTube, watching episodes of old sitcoms and soap operas I’ve already seen 100 times apiece, crafting witty status updates on Facebook and obsessing over my fantasy baseball and football teams. My blog posts were made during caffeine- and exhaustion-fueled bursts in the middle of the night. But one day with Timmy Time has me working a regular 9 to 5 schedule, limiting my television viewing to live sports and living an otherwise productive existence! Thank you Timmy Time!”

Where in the hell was I? Oh yes. Anyway, please accept my humble apologies for the tardiness of posts this month as well as the declaration that I’ll try to be more on top of things. It’s no fun watching Extreme’s “Hole Hearted” and worrying the song was written about me, even if I was 16 when the song was written.

With that, let’s get to the news of the past few days:

— An out-of-town trip for Labor Day weekend and an imploding car, respectively, made it impossible to attend either of the Flying Dutchmen’s first two football games, so I’m not going to sit here and pretend I’m some expert on what transpired. I will say that the wins over Stony Brook and Bryant seemed to go about as well as possible for the Dutchmen, who never trailed in dispatching of the Seawolves and Bulldogs and escaped the games mostly unscathed, injury-wise.

Still, the 2-0 start doesn’t seem to have filled the faithful with optimism. Perhaps it’s because the Dutchmen are supposed to beat Stony Brook, against whom they are 12-0 all-time, and a fledgling I-AA program such as Bryant. Or maybe it’s the specter of upcoming road trips to top-ranked Richmond, the defending I-AA national champion, and I-A Western Michigan and the possibility of back-to-back unmitigated floggings.

My hunch is the Dutchmen are, for the most part, playing with house money the next two weeks. A split would be outstanding (let’s not even get into the 1994-like euphoria a sweep would inspire). And going 0-2 won’t extinguish their playoff hopes, as long as the losses are reasonably competitive and not of the James Madison variety.

For the sake of a program that needs all the momentum it can get, here’s hoping the next two games provide some encouragement for the Dutchmen as well as some reason for Long Islanders to come out to Shuart Stadium the first two weekends in October. Otherwise, the bridge to basketball season could be a bleak one.

—Speaking of basketball, your good friend and mine Mike Litos has already begun unveiling mini-previews at his site, and the school batting leadoff in his series is also the school he’s picking to win the whole darn thing. I won’t ruin the suspense by revealing the team here (click the link!), but I will say it’s not Hofstra.

I’d like to threaten to unleash the full venom of Dutch Nation (snort) upon Litos for not picking the Dutchmen first, but the truth is, as evidenced by this pre pre-season poll conducted by the fine folks at, we’re in agreement. Of course, I only picked against Hofstra to ensure I wouldn’t hex them. Yeah. That’s the ticket.

—Interesting stuff, too, from Litos last week about the future of the CAA. We’re in agreement that a football conference that is almost laughably better than the rest of the I-AA field will determine the direction of the CAA, but while Litos foresees a I-AA landscape in which the CAA is the dominant football and basketball conference, I still wonder if the CAA will try to ride a handful of programs that could support I-A football into a seat at the big boys’ table.

Litos’ theory that the BCS schools will run away and hide sometime next decade, thereby allowing the NCAA to finally shed any pretense of equality and divide Division I into a I-A and I-AA, is something I’ve wondered about myself the last few years. But I change my mind on an hourly basis as to what it would mean to potential I-AA program such as Hofstra.

On one hand, it would be nice to have a legitimate chance to compete for a national championship, albeit a less glorified one. But I also remember the blank stares I got when telling friends about Hofstra’s outstanding I-AA football program in the mid-90s and how frustrating that was. Apparently, the carrot that lures one to Hofstra as a teenager remains just as dangly and attractive in his mid-30s.

Plus, as much as it sickens me to type this, George Mason proved in 2006 that it is still possible—bloody unlikely, but still possible—for a mid-major to overcome the odds and the obstacles placed in its way and crash the party. Of course, it also helps to have a crooked athletic director on the Selection Committee, but I digress. Why rob the rest of the mid-majors of that once-in-a-generation opportunity just to help the obscenely rich get even more obscenely rich? (Because college basketball is life, that’s why)

It wasn’t a good opening week of the season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the official NFL team of Defiantly Dutch, but Newsday ran a nice feature on new Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris, who tells the newspaper he is less than a decade removed from hoping he could someday become the defensive coordinator at Hofstra.

Instead, of course, Morris ascended the coaching ranks in remarkably fast fashion is now the NFL’s youngest head coach. He’s also single-handedly attempting to increase employment among Hofstra graduates: Ex-Dutchmen Kyle Arrington and Kareem Huggins made the Buccaneers’ 53-man roster and practice squad, respectively. If only Hofstra graduates ran websites and newspapers. Sigh.

—Lastly, I’ll end where I began with our fantasy draft, because I’m sure you want to know about my fantasy team as much as I want to know about yours, and let you know that while I may be an inconsistent blogger, I am consistent when it comes to following my own fantasy football advice. That’s right, I drafted the Colts’ Donald Brown, a mere 54 weeks after he carved up the Dutchmen in UConn’s 35-3 win.

Watch out world and watch out Sully Ray, who was in such a hurry to leave a draft that lasted several hours beyond his bedtime that he left his sharp Bethpage Black U.S. Open hat here. Sully Ray wrote me earlier today with a brief but forceful request: “Don’t wear my golf hat.”

Apparently, he’s forgotten how I infuse non-descript hats with character as well as world-wide fame.

Fine, Sully Ray. I’ll trade you your hat for Cowboys wide receiver Roy Williams. Otherwise, the hat and I are going on the road with Extreme.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Friday, September 11, 2009

Never Forget

Eight years since we saw the absolute worst humanity has to offer, and some of its best in the hours and days afterward. Think today of those who redefined heroism—the innumerable responders and the 2,998 who died in the attacks, including the 13 Hofstra graduates who perished in the World Trade Center: Lt. Glenn Wilkinson, Frederick Varrachi, Neil Levin, Alisha Levin, Edward Mardovich, Andrew Stern, Courtney Walcott, Alok Menta, Jeffrey Dingle, Richard Fitzsimmons, Noell Maerz, Glenn Winuk and Julie Lynne Zipper.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What if Saturday is just the start for the CAA in I-A?

Rodney Dangerfield would appreciate the plight this week of the Flying Dutchmen football team.

The first tip of the basketball season is more than two months away, but the Virginia-based CAA schools are already screwing Hofstra. Clearly, it was part of the Grand Conspiracy for Richmond and William & Mary to thrash Duke and Virginia in their season openers, thereby minimizing in the eyes of voters nationwide the Dutchmen’s routine win over Stony Brook in the annual (for now) Unwinnable Game.

And it worked! The Dutchmen fell out of the top 25 in the coaches poll—at the expense, I kid you not, of a pair of teams that LOST their season openers. Granted, Eastern Kentucky and Liberty gave I-A Indiana and West Virginia quite a scare before falling by six and 13 points, respectively. But still, they got style points for losing while the Dutchmen got the boot for winning. Why doesn’t Tom Yeager just go ahead and award CAA membership to Eastern Kentucky and Liberty!

Of course, all blog bias aside, it was pretty awesome to hear about Richmond and William & Mary beating Duke and Virginia. (I guess Villanova’s win over Temple counts as a win over a I-A opponent, even if Temple hasn’t been any good since Hofstra was pounding the Owls so badly it scarred Bill Cosby for life)

All good Americans loathe Duke, even if getting Schadenfreude-like joy out of the Blue Devils losing a football game—which Duke does better than just about anyone else in I-A—is a lot like laughing at Pittsburgh because of the Pirates. It’s kind of mean-spirited and the source of your contempt doesn’t even acknowledge its inept brethren, but in a pinch it’ll do. So hooray Richmond!

And it’s always nice to see arrogance—in this case Al Groh, who is one of those fools of minimal accomplishment who nonetheless thinks he’s superior enough to protect the identity of his starting quarterback as if it’s a bigger secret than the code to The Bomb—brought down a peg. Yeah Al, that really worked for you last week. Presumably, Eric Mangini—who followed in Groh’s footsteps by first inexplicably landing the head coaching job with the Jets and then approaching said job in hilariously secretive fashion—will learn that this week. So whoohoo, William & Mary!

The urge following a day like Saturday is to declare several CAA teams could compete in a I-A conference, or at least the ACC. Such declarations are usually foolish, because as invigorating as it is to bound off the porch and knock off the big dogs, such performances are rare outliers. The three wins by the CAA were the only wins for I-AA teams in 37 games against I-A foes last week and account for one-fifth of the 15 wins I-AA teams have recorded against I-A teams since 2000. Far more often than not, those 22 extra scholarships at I-A come in pretty handy.

But I’m not so sure it’s foolish to wonder if Saturday won’t further inspire and fuel CAA football to make an eventual move to I-A. It won’t happen any year soon, and this is pure conjecture on my part, but maybe CAA football—which placed eight teams in the preseason top 25 coaches poll and five teams in each of the last two tournaments and whose schools have accounted for four of the last 11 national champions—is outgrowing I-AA.

It’s always easy to spend somebody else’s money, and making the leap to I-A would be a staggeringly expensive proposition. The NCAA requires I-A programs to play in a facility that holds at least 30,000 butts, and only Delaware (22,000) and Richmond (21,329) play in stadiums with capacities of at least 20,000. Then of course there’s the matter of adding those 22 scholarships and upgrading the program in myriad other ways.

Popular convention is that leaping to I-A is a quick way for a school to make money and become relevant. The truth is it’s a get rich quick scheme that rarely works out. More than 90 percent of all bowl money went to the six BCS schools in 2002 and most of the non-BCS bowls are played in front of plenty of empty seats.

But to look at the CAA is to see six schools that would seem, from the outside looking in, to have the fan base and the tradition to at least consider the I-A move: Richmond, Delaware, Massachusetts, James Madison, Villanova and William & Mary. Assume, too, that the infant programs at Old Dominion (which played its first football game in 68 years Saturday to great hype and anticipation), Georgia State and Charlotte will, having already spent millions to begin playing football, be more open to making a further investment and skipping the usual lengthy apprenticeship at I-AA. That’s nine schools (eight if you figure Villanova leaves for the Big East), more than enough for a conference.

And with the approaching apocalypse in Division I sports, maybe the CAA views upgrading to I-A in football as its last chance to be known as more than just a really good mid-major conference. Perhaps, as we alluded to a few months ago, it also pares down a potentially unwieldy conference and allows schools that aren’t driven by football to deemphasize their programs as painlessly and smoothly as possible.

Of course, this is a lot more complex than anything we can write in 1,000 or so words, and New Hampshire and Maine, in particular, would not be thrilled to be left behind if CAA moved to I-A. And what to do with VCU and George Mason (must resist urge to say what the CAA can do with George Mason), neither of whom play football but both of whom are indelibly associated with the CAA?

But what if the CAA decides it wants to do a lot more than just occasionally spoil a September Saturday for Division I opponents? What if the CAA is headed for the day when it is a peer with the ACC in football instead of the cuddly underdog?

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

It’s just a little late, it’s still good, it’s still good! The 2009 Flying Dutchmen football preview

Lisa Simpson runs out of patience waiting for the Flying Dutchmen preview to appear and begins raising hell at home.

Like most football teams, the Flying Dutchmen are pretty good at parroting the one-week-at-a-time mantra of their head coach. But Dave Cohen is probably pretty pleased to know the Dutchmen plan to spend Thanksgiving at his house.

The first round of the Division I-AA playoffs is the Saturday following Thanksgiving and the Dutchmen expect to be among the 16 qualifiers for the first time since 2001, when Hofstra won the Atlantic-10 in its first season in the conference.

“Take it one game at a time,” Dutchman linebacker and All-America candidate Luke Bonus said. “But we want to be up here for Thanksgiving. No one’s making flight arrangements or going [away] for Thanksgiving. We’re going to be here for the long haul, all the way through December. That’s the plan.”

To reach the playoffs this season would represent quite a leap for the Dutchmen, whose postseason hopes perished in a hurry last year during an injury-plagued season that almost defied all logic and explanation.

Starting quarterback Bryan Savage suffered a career-ending back injury warming up prior to the season opener against UConn, and it didn’t get much better from there for the Dutchmen, who lost 12 players to season-ending injuries on their way to a 4-8 finish.

The spate of injuries forced the Dutchmen, who were already skewing young following the graduation of 14 starters from the 2007 team, to embark on a complete rebuilding plan. The results were predictably painful: The Dutchmen suffered three straight losses by at least 17 points, only the fourth time that’s occurred in the history of the program, were shutout twice and lost by a combined 96 points to the three top 10 teams they faced (James Madison, New Hampshire and eventual national champion Richmond).

The hope within the program is that this year’s Dutchmen will yield the benefits of last year’s growing pains, especially with 20 starters and 40 lettermen returning.  Sixteen of the Dutchmen’s starters will be juniors or younger.

“We played about 18 more guys than most programs did,” Cohen said. “We have a lot more guys with the starting experience because of the outside factors that were beyond our control. We have more people with experience and more people that will not be wide-eyed when the lights come on Saturday night. They’ve been to the dance [before].”

The experience of 2008 has fueled the returnees and made for a cohesive spring and summer of workouts. “The summer’s been real good as far as us learning the whole offense and defense,” sophomore wide receiver Aaron Weaver said. “We have a better grasp for the whole system and it’s looking good out there.”

“Obviously, injuries killed the season, but there’s a lot of stuff that people weren’t used to as a team, whether it’s because of youth or inexperience of just overall players not getting it done,” Bonus said. “This whole offseason, we focused on doing the small things that help you win a game in the fourth quarter or even in overtime. That’s been a big emphasis on our offseason and I think it’ll show [against Stony Brook] and throughout the whole season.”

Expectations are high outside Margiotta Hall as well: While the Dutchmen were picked to finish fourth in the CAA North in the preseason coaches poll, they were ranked 24th in the preseason I-AA coaches poll and seventh by the Phil Steele College Football Yearbook, which also pegged the Dutchmen first in the CAA North.

The CAA is so deep, though, that even living up to the prediction of the national coaches may not be enough to assure the Dutchmen—the last of the eight CAA teams in the preseason top 25—a trip to the playoffs. The CAA has sent a record five teams to the playoffs in each of the last two years.

Conversely, Richmond finished third in the CAA South last year before winning it all. So anything can happen as long as Cohen is trying to figure out a way to prepare Thanksgiving dinner for several dozen hungry players

“We’re probably going to be at coach Cohen’s house,” said starting quarterback Cory Christopher, who came back from a season-ending hip injury suffered against Maine Oct. 18 to beat out sophomore Steve Probst and freshman Joe Sidaris. “I’m from Miami. I’m not planning on being on Jet Blue websites—no Deltas, none of that. I’m planning on being on Long Island.”

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