Friday, September 24, 2010

Homecoming 2010: Let Them Eat Cake

A piece of library cake does not a Homecoming make.

Hofstra Homecoming is this weekend, except it’s not really Homecoming, which is why I’ve a.) been grumpier than usual the last few days, during which I have been b.) chewing on this post and wondering if my criticism of the festivities was a bit overboard and overblown. (Yes, believe it or not, I occasionally think before hitting “publish post”)

And then we went to the Hofstra birthday party yesterday, the 75th anniversary of the day classes began at Hofstra College. The main attraction on the Adams Quad was a cake made by Charm City Cakes (which, according to my wife, has been on the Food Network show “Ace of Cakes,” I wouldn’t know, I’m too busy watching movies in which stuff explodes—oh and Beverly Hills 90210 reruns) and modeled after the library, complete with a Unispan attached to it.

The cake was really sharp looking. But I determined, as I watched the cheerleaders and Hofstra mascots lead the crowd in cheers, watched Stuart Rabinowitz briefly address the crowd in his Convocation regalia and listened to the band play its stable of songs, that it was no longer hyperbolic to declare Hofstra is acting positively Orwellian this weekend.

The school that has spent the last nine months trying to earn our forgiveness for killing football is now resorting to the belief that if it looks like a football game and sounds like a football game, we’ll think we’re at a football game, even if we are actually at a freaking cake cutting.

This didn’t begin with a library-themed cake. Last year, a press release promoting Homecoming used the word Homecoming 10 times. This year, what was once known as Homecoming is now known as “Diamond Celebration Weekend,” and the only mention of the word Homecoming that I could find anywhere was on the Homecoming & Reunions page at Hofstra’s website, where the headline is “75th Anniversary Celebration – incorporating Family Weekend, Homecoming and Reunion.”

There is no football game Saturday, but there will still be a Homecoming Parade—err, “Annual Parade of Floats and Student Performances.” Never mind that a “parade of floats” without a football game is like ordering an ice cream sundae and getting just the whipped cream: Irrevocably incomplete.

Perhaps, if cake cuttings and parade of floats get us properly revved up, we’ll fail to notice that only two varsity sports have home games this weekend, and that only men’s tennis (Sunday at noon against Siena) is actually in season right now (the women’s lacrosse team is hosting the Second Annual Nick Colleluori Women’s Lacrosse Classic Saturday against New Hampshire). There were three regular season games during each of the last two Homecomings: Football and two women’s soccer games last year and football, women’s soccer and field hockey in 2008.

Coincidence? Maybe. But how can it not feel like this is salt in the wound of those who loved football and remain devoted to Hofstra sports despite last December’s treacherous execution of football? Especially when there is no mention of the varsity sports events in the Alumni and Family Weekend program but there is a note, on page seven, about the alumni games for the baseball, men’s lacrosse and women’s lacrosse programs as well as the men’s rugby game against SUNY-New Paltz? No knock at all on the alumni games or club sports, but how do we not see that as a slight directed at Hofstra varsity sports and further confirmation that athletics is completely irrelevant to the administration?

Anyway, maybe we’ll be so excited by all that is going on we won’t notice that this Homecoming—hey, I can call it what I want—seems to be less about bringing old friends together and more about putting money into Hofstra’s pocket. The “Live At 75” concert Saturday costs $25 to attend without a “Diamond Pass.” Those who buy a “Diamond Pass”—which cost $75 by Aug. 31 and $100 after it—get free admission to several of the other festivities but still have to pay $15 for the concert.

In addition, the Jimmy Fallon concert Saturday night is $25 with a Diamond Pass and $35 without. (Side rant: Jimmy Fallon as a headline attraction—haven’t we suffered enough already?)

As was noted a billion or so times last December, students and alumni didn’t really support Hofstra football. But we almost always supported Homecoming, which was an affordable way to meet up with friends and revisit old haunts.

A ticket to the Homecoming game in 2008 cost $10 (I can’t find my ticket stub to the Maine game last year, but I’m almost sure it was $10 as well). The “Touchdown Package” to the 2009 game, which included a ticket, a Hofstra souvenir and entrance to the alumni brunch, cost $20 with pre-registration last year and $30 the day of the game.

That’s a price that lures people back to campus, even if they don’t care about football. Of the top 20 crowds at Shuart Stadium during the Division I-AA era, 12 were for a Homecoming game, including seven Homecomings last decade. And even the recent Homecomings that didn’t make the top 20 still drew healthy crowds far larger than the typical Hofstra game: The William & Mary game in 2002 was played in front of 3,032, the Northeastern game in 2003 was played in front of 5,324 and last year’s tilt was played in front of 5,453.

Is paying $25 or $35 for a concert going to have the same type of appeal? I doubt it. But hey, when one ticket to one of these Homecoming 2010 events brings in 2.5 or 3.5 times as much money as one ticket to a Homecoming game of yesteryear, who cares?

I left campus yesterday feeling insulted, as if we’re a part of Hofstra history but not necessarily welcome to celebrate it unless our wallets are wide open and we’re willing to act as if a cake cutting or a parade of floats are just as good and festive as a football game. I left pining for the days—a mere month ago—when Hofstra seemed more desperate to remedy the mistake of punting football than to make us forget it ever existed.

New Pride Club president E. David Woycik penned a letter dated Aug. 16 in which he introduced himself to us and unveiled his motto for the next two years: “THE PAST IS THEN AND THE FUTURE IS NOW.” His caps, not mine. I feel bad for him, he’s got a tough job ahead of him, especially considering that by the sheer power of their numbers, ex-football players were the biggest pool of donors for the Pride Club and that most of them are, how shall we put this, not happy football is no longer played at Hofstra.

The school also appeared anxious to regain any lost donations from football fans and players when it made the payment for men’s basketball season tickets due Aug. 27. Last year, it wasn’t due until Sept. 18. Two years ago, to the best of my recollection, we didn’t even get our first notice about season ticket renewal until early September.

Such actions were an implied acknowledgment that, yeah, maybe there were better ways to prepare for a 75th anniversary celebration than by killing one of the school’s best-known exports. It didn’t do much to fix things, but it sure beat Thursday, when the cheerleaders, mascots, school president and band all tried to get us excited about eating a piece of cake.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The NCAA’s a joke in our town

If only MTV still played music, maybe I could turn the Brad Kelleher debacle into a video.

The first instinct upon Tuesday upon learning the long-rumored Brad Kelleher news was indeed true—the NCAA has ruled the Australian transfer, who was already declared ineligible last season for signing a professional contract in his native country but never playing in a game, must miss the first eight games of this season as well and that Hofstra’s exhibition games do not count towards his suspension—was to do nothing.

After all, who gives a crap? You can’t fight City Hall. The NCAA remains the biggest joke in an America with no shortage of laughingstocks. The year-plus that Hofstra spent exhausting all its options and appeals on Kelleher’s behalf is the latest proof that all the bellyaching and screaming won’t accomplish a damn thing. It is above the law and creating it all at the same time. It will do what it wants to do. Anyone paying even a whit of attention and not rooting for one of the BCS schools the NCAA serves recognizes what a joke the “governing body” has been for decades and will be for decades to come.

But that’s what the NCAA wants us to do. It wants to bludgeon us into apathy, to exhaust us into silence with its nonsensical explanations and lawyer-speak. It wants us to throw our hands up in the air, and maybe even throw up a little too, and to surrender and admit defeat, to stop fighting and rooting for the little guy and just sit there and smile as we watch a Final Four contested between the blue bloods and consume commercials paid for by corporate sponsors.

We won’t do that. Not today. Not on a day in which Kelleher, who should be the poster boy for all that is right about the NCAA—a foreign-born student parlaying his basketball skills into a good education and a great cultural experience—is instead the symbol of all that is wrong with a hypocritical and illogical “organization” which specializes in selective justice.

This is not to say Kelleher shouldn’t serve some sort of punishment. As honest a mistake as Kelleher made, and as stupid as the rule is that he supposedly broke, a small sentence would have been tolerable. Sure, we would have made the requisite jokes about Hofstra getting punished because Kentucky really went overboard. But we’ve been down this road before with Miklos Szabo and Greg Washington. This is just how it works.

At least Szabo missed just two games and at least Washington was able to redshirt his freshman year. But forcing Kelleher to the sidelines for a year-and-a-third when he only has two years of eligibility? For an offense that, by all accounts, was a clerical one? When far worse offenses go unpunished every single day at the higher levels of Division I?

When a Hofstra gets punished, it’s so easy to crack bitter jokes about Kentucky because Kentucky has been brazenly breaking the rules and mostly getting away with it for generations. Last year, shortly after Kentucky hired John Calipari—the only man to preside over two Final Four berths that did not happen—freshman phenom John Wall was suspended two games (one of which was an exhibition, honest to God, you can’t make this up) for receiving “travel benefits” from his AAU coach, who just happened to be a certified agent.

Kelleher will have missed 43 games, counting this year’s exhibition against Molloy College. So judging by the punishments meted out by the NCAA, Kelleher signing a contract with a professional team in Australia but never suiting up was 21.5 times worse than receiving benefits from a coach who also happens to be an agent. But of course the NCAA benefits from the exposure Wall provides before he bolts to the NBA and becomes the league’s top draft pick.

Hofstra will probably be in trouble again within the next year: Incoming Kentucky freshman Enes Kanter received $100,000 in cash and other benefits from the professional team he played for in his native Turkey. This news comes straight from his general manager. Who wants to wager Kanter’s punishment is much closer to Wall’s than Kelleher’s, even though Kanter both played for and was paid by a professional team?

It’s also impossible not to note the incongruity of the Kelleher news coming down the same day Reggie Bush gave back the Heisman Trophy he won in 2005. You can stake whatever fortune you have earned on the fact that Bush is nowhere near the only Heisman winner to receive illegal benefits during his award-winning season. As the eternally awesome Joe Posnanski put it on Twitter yesterday: “I hope every Heisman winner who got paid under the table while in college takes a moment tonight to polish their trophy.”

A very quick Google search, in fact, finds no fewer than seven other Heisman Trophy winners since 1987 who played for schools that were either on probation or were investigated by the NCAA for shenanigans that occurred during their collegiate careers.

Carson Palmer played for USC before Bush arrived but while the program was on probation. Matt Leinart, of course, played with Bush. Troy Smith won the Heisman in 2006, a year after he was suspended for accepting $500 from a booster.

Vinny Testaverde and Gino Torretta played for the University of Miami, which was such a renegade program in the 1980s and 1990s that Sports Illustrated called for the program to be eliminated (if only Stuart Rabinowitz was there at the time). Andre Ward won the Heisman in 1989, a year after Houston was placed on three years probation. Barry Sanders earned the award in 1988, mere weeks before Oklahoma State was placed on four years probation.

But now, just like with Kelleher, the NCAA can say it did something and punished somebody now that Bush has forfeited the Heisman, even if it looked the other way for decades, even if it took an expose by Yahoo! Sports to finally push the NCAA into action and even if the so-called adults within the USC program escaped unscathed. Pete Carroll, Bush’s head coach at USC, bolted the Trojans just before the cavalry arrived last winter and won his debut game with the Seattle Seahawks Sunday.

The Bush expose was authored, in part, by Yahoo! Sports’ Josh Peter—who, as a reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune in 2003, wrote a piece detailing the unusually nice car driven around campus by Duke star Chris Duhon and how the parents of Duhon and Carlos Boozer got high-paying jobs at companies operated by powerful Duke boosters.

Duke, of course, escaped without punishment or any sort of serious investigation—just as it did when it was revealed Corey Maggette was paid cash by an AAU coach shortly before he signed with Duke in 1997. And why not? We wouldn’t want that—wouldn’t want anyone watching the NCAA Tournament every March to think anything other than Duke is pure and perfect.

But if I were Brad Kelleher, I wouldn’t accept that offer of a bottle of water from a classmate in a hot classroom this afternoon. You know, just in case the NCAA once again gets the itch to prove how serious it is about enforcing the rules.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Never Forget

The heroism displayed in the minutes and hours after the most vile act ever perpetuated on American soil is what I'll remember today. As Loyal Reader MetSox so eloquently put it: "Two planes hit those buildings, shrapnel was raining from the top of them, and the first responders ran into the building. They ran into the building! Those are the people I want to be like. And that's why I'll never forget."

Today, on a sunny cloudless day eerily similar to the one we woke up to on Sept. 11, 2001, think of those heroes and the 2,998 who died in the attacks, including the 13 Hofstra graduates who died at 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 8, 2010

It's beginning to feel a lot like basketball season...

The 2010-11 Flying Dutchmen basketball schedule: More fun than a BB gun, and safer too!

It’s still hot out, hurricanes are the biggest weather worry and kids of all ages are heading back to school. But it feels a little like Christmas because the 2010-11 Flying Dutchmen basketball schedule is finally out.

(Good thing I’m not this late when it comes to actual Christmas. “Hey honey Happy New Year! Here are your Christmas presents! Oh but you just came back from your Mom’s!” Sorry for the delay, paying work was on the front burner the last few days)

Anyway, like any pesky little kid, we’ve already got an idea of what we’re getting. We carefully slid our fingers under the wrapping that covered the Farmingdale game. And the Wagner game. And the Binghamton game. And the Florida Atlantic game. And the Manhattan game. And the Iona game. And the UNC Wilmington games. And the Old Dominion game. And we know what that big box is—that’s the North Carolina game! Mom and Dad worked hard to save for that one.

But as awesome as it will be to play with our UNC toy, what we really wanted to know the bulk of the CAA schedule. Because, as always, it doesn’t matter if Hofstra goes unbeaten in the non-conference schedule, it’s not going anywhere if it doesn’t win the conference.

Finally, we have our answers. And as I sit here, in my pajamas surrounded by wrapping paper, I have to say, it’s a pretty good haul. The CAA schedule looks much friendlier, from a travel and pacing perspective, than a year ago. But first let’s discuss the non-conference schedule, which is both encouraging and discouraging.

It’s encouraging because it looks like a schedule with a lot of winnable games that should give the Dutchmen confidence heading into January. And as I wrote last week, it’s great from a travel perspective—with the exception of the Puerto Rico games, every one is within easy driving distance.

But it’s also discouraging because, aside from the Puerto Rico Classic, this looks nothing like the big-time mid-major schedule the Dutchmen put together last year. The usual warnings about how one year is not always an accurate predictor of the next, especially in college basketball, apply.

Still, judging by how the seven non-conference, non-Puerto Rico Classic opponents fared last season, this non-conference schedule is about as unimposing as the oft-maligned 2008-09 non-conference slate. Only one of those games is against a school that finished in the top 100 in the RPI last year (Iona, 21-10 with an 89 RPI). Only one other team finished with a winning record and in the top 200, and the Dutchmen are playing Rider (17-16, 140 RPI) only because it’s the back end of a Bracket Buster home-and-home.

Now, Iona should be very good with a veteran team under new coach and Hofstra product Tim Cluess, Wagner will be a lot better than 5-26 under Danny Hurley and Binghamton may not need walk-ons to field a team. But still, this is not going to satisfy those who thought Tom Pecora played too weak a non-conference schedule.

That said, I get why it’s the non-conference looks this light. Like two years ago, Charles Jenkins is the one certainty on a roster filled with question marks (though the Dutchmen can count on Greg Washington as a sure-fire starter). This is going to be a team that needs to build confidence and find its identity during November and December and create some momentum heading into the CAA schedule. It’ll do the Dutchmen no good to play a Northeastern-type OOC, get hammered and go into January at 3-9.

And it would REALLY do Mo Cassara no good. There’s plenty to be optimistic about regarding Cassara, but it’s seasons like these that turned the term “trial by fire” into a cliché. A year ago at this time, he was the third assistant. Now he’s the head cheese. It’s fair to expect a learning curve and lots of trial and error as Cassara gets used to the job. The best way to do that is with some winnable games, not by trying to boost the RPI for an at-large bid that will never come.

Still, this is something to keep an eye on. We’ll have more hypotheses about the non-conference schedule and what it may mean for the future of the men’s basketball program later in the week.

As for the CAA portion of the sked: The most notable thing is how fair it is to the Dutchmen. Indeed, I think the Southern Bias Coalition must have been burning up the phone lines trying to buy tickets to “So You Think You Can Dance” tour when it came time to screw Hofstra.

Unlike last year, the Dutchmen will get a chance to get their sea legs under them before embarking upon the Hempstead-to-Virginia shuttle. The Dutchmen, who host Towson in the look-but-don’t-touch CAA opener Dec. 4, open 2011 by visiting Drexel Jan. 3 before hosting George Mason Jan. 5. Oh boy, I can’t wait for that one! When it comes to three-in-six, the Dutchmen can’t ask for much more than two road games against rebuilding teams and a home contest against a squad that was hilariously immature last year.

The Dutchmen’s first back-to-back set of road games is at NAC foes Northeastern and Towson Jan. 8 and Jan. 12, after which they get consecutive home games against Old Dominion and UNC Wilmington. The latter game marks the beginning of a seven-game span in which the Dutchmen alternate home games with Virginia trips from Jan. 19 through Feb. 5. They’ll follow up the home game against Northeastern with a road trip to Georgia State and Delaware. There will be plenty of travel in February, which the Dutchmen end with a road Bracket Buster game and a trek to Wilmington before hosting Delaware in the Senior Day finale (Delaware to end the regular season—that’s the way it should be)

That’s a challenge, but nothing like the one the Dutchmen faced last January, when their first eight games went like this: William & Mary, at George Mason, Towson, at Old Dominion, VCU, at William & Mary, George Mason, at Drexel. The Dutchmen’s late-season run was fueled by better health but it’s no coincidence they got hot once the travel schedule got less rigorous.

It’s a good thing I’m not a conspiracy theorist or else I’d wonder if the departure of Pecora—who was never shy about telling CAA schedule makers, in the saltiest language possible, just how he felt about their efforts—had something to do with the Dutchmen’s draw. Nahhhhh.

The unbalanced CAA schedule also tips in the Dutchmen’s favor this year, when they are scheduled to play ODU, VCU and James Madison—three teams likely to be picked among the top four come October—just once apiece. Two of those games (ODU and Madison) will be in Hempstead.

The Dutchmen will need a few things to go right to exceed expectations and grab the first-round bye that seemed such a certainty before all hell broke loose in March and April. This schedule appears to give them the best possible shot at entering January feeling good about itself and sustaining those happy vibes for the February stretch run.

At least that’s what I think in September. If my optimism proves unwarranted, I reserve the right to wail about how unfair this all is and to demand I take back these Christmas presents.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Welcome, Hofstra newcomers, to the best years of your life!

Don't argue with me over the awesomeness of classic Foreigner!

I had a depressing thought Saturday, which was the 17th anniversary of the day I moved in at Hofstra: The transfer students moving in over the weekend were very likely no more than three years old when I arrived in Hempstead as a transfer student. And this year’s freshmen were a year or two old. Get off my damn lawn.

Fortunately, the equal parts excitement and abject terror that accompany going away to college are timeless, and so it is that I can still have an idea of what the newcomers are thinking today as classes begin, even though today’s teenagers and 20-somethings are far cooler than I ever was (a short hurdle to clear, that).

As if to embody how uncool I was and remain, I cranked the above tune before my first class—some horrendously boring communications theory class, I think—17 years ago Monday morning. Yes, it was and is cheesy, but it was also perfect for a kid from a small town who felt ready to take on the big city and was certain the next two years would be the best, most pivotal and most defining of his life.

And I was right, except it took three years.

Whether you are a freshman or a transfer, you’ll probably never feel this way again, never have such an opportunity to start anew and have such a clean canvas on which you can design your future. Enjoy it, embrace it and savor it, because these will be the best years of your life.

And do what so few of your predecessors have done by also enjoying, embracing and savoring your school’s athletic program. Hofstra will test your patience and your loyalty, on and especially off the field, but there’s nothing finer than rooting for a mid-major and enjoying a connection you’d never have at a bigger school.

So with that in mind, stop back later today or first thing tomorrow for our second annual Defiantly Dutch primer—the same as last year, but much different too! And after you crank some Foreigner, take notes for me in that communication class, because I’m going to hit snooze on my alarm clock until about noon.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at