Idaho’s Return To Big Sky Shows How Broken FBS Membership Is

People rightfully can paint me as an FCS football fan.  I love Football Championship Subdivision, the section of Division I where Lehigh and the rest of the Patriot League competes.  I find the quality of the games tremendous, and the emphasis on football and competition as the exact right balance.

From that fact, some might also think I'm performing cartwheels around my office now that the University of Idaho, after they were unceremoniously cast out of the Sun Belt as football-only members, have decided that their only choice to retain football is to join the rest of the Big Sky in sponsoring football at the FCS level, starting in 2018.

You'd be wrong about that.

What Idaho's decision really should be telling us is that the process for switching subdivisions is a senseless, conference-driven exercise that forces schools into making tough decisions that they shouldn't be forced to make.
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Closing The Book On Lehigh Spring Ball

(Photo Credit: Gaby Morera/B&W Staff Photographer)
Before we close the book on spring ball, I wanted to pass on my thoughts and observations about the spring session and the prospects for the 2016 season.

But before I do, I also need to share one of the great traditions of the Lehigh spring game - the announcement of the recipient of the Jim Gum scholarship.

Presented by the non-profit Jim Gum Foiundation, the scholarship award is presented in the name of Jim Gum, a three-year starter for Lehigh in the 1980s and Penn Argyl standout.  He died due to complications from ALS in 2006.

Senior RB Kenny Crawford was the recipient of this year's award in what is always a heartwarming yet humbling ceremony on the field.
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Defense’s Intensity Brings Sacks, Victory in Brown/White Game, 33-19

You might have thought that Lehigh's Brown defense, fresh off a strong performance in the spring game, might have let themselves let up a little once it was deemed that the morning practice was complete.

Instead, in front of a swarm of fans who watched Saturday's scrimmage on a picture-perfect April day at Murray Goodman stadium, the defense were doing running drills.

As junior DE Tyler Cavenas explained, this was no accident.

"That's our new thing now," an out-of-breath Cavenas told the assembled media.  "If we're not running to the ball after every single play, it counts as a lack of effort and we need to run after practice."

The surprise of the running drills aside, the defensive effort that resulted in eight sacks while only yielding one late touchdown, could have been the most striking aspect of the Brown and White game on Saturday,
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LFN’s Five Questions Heading Into Brown/White Game

This Saturday, Lehigh football fans will finally get a chance to get a free sneak peek at the 2016 Mountain Hawks at Murray Goodman stadium.

Scheduled to start at 11:00AM, it will be a bit of a different spring game than usual, due to the fact that it will be a no-tackling practice, unlike the one I happened to catch that was partial tackling.

"We never had a full practice that was all tackling," head coach Andy Coen told Lehighsports.com.  "I picked about three practices where he had at times, full contact. We never put ourselves in a situation where we were doing too much. I do believe if you want to get good at these things, you have to practice them. We've been using a lot of the techniques that the Seattle Seahawks have utilized over the last couple of years, and those techniques have been very productive for us.  We're getting a lot better with our technique and are coaches are doing a great job of staying on top of our kids regarding technique."

So considering that this spring game will be a little bit different than other ones we're used to, what can we expect to learn?  Plenty, fortunately.
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High Defensive Energy As Spring Practice Enters Final Stretch

From early in practice on Friday, when the 2016 Mountain Hawks were performing tackling drills on what looked like huge red padded human-sized donuts, the defense brought the energy to the practice field on what was a beautiful Friday afternoon in the Lehigh Valley.

From the drills to the scrimmages, rising senior LB Colton Caslow and rising senior CB Brandon Leaks stood out in terms of their energy level, flying to the ball.

On one play during the scrimmage I saw, Caslow nearly took out someone holding up a down marker as he left his feet, trying to get at the offensive player.

On another, Leaks made a break on his receiver to give the Brown side a chance to crow against the White-jerseyed offense.

Though the contact has been "very limited", coach Coen said the tackling practices have been making a difference thus far in the spring season.

"I was very happy with our defense," head coach Andy Coen told me.  "I believe our veteran players really took the bull by the horns and were very good leaders during practice."
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Lehigh’s Biggest Spring Goal Might Be To Stay Healthy

Coach Andy Coen at football practice (Morning Call)
Lehigh's spring session has been underway for several weeks now - the period of time where Patriot League championships are won.

It's a spring season where, frankly, there's not that much drama, especially on offense.

There's no drama at quarterback, where senior QB Nick Shafnisky is firmly ensconced as the starter, and proven sophomore QB Brad Mayes right there next to him on the depth chart.

It's very clear that sophomore RB Dominic Bragalone will be a big part of next year's offense, health willing, as well as junior WR Troy Pelletier and a many players from last year's offense that led the Patriot League in total offensive yardage.

So what is the big story halfway through the spring?

Whether there will be enough healthy bodies to have a spring game.
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Excessively Feeling The Panthers’ Pain

I love the NCAA tournament, usually.

I play in the office pool, but more than just that, I emotionally get involved with the games.  Yes, that's not an exaggeration.  Emotionally involved.  I stand up and yell at the TV set for teams located in places I've never visited, becoming hoarse for schools I didn't attend, cheering for Cinderellas I didn't know existed a month before.

Like most of America, I have fallen in love with the underdog narrative - the plucky, underdog story we've all seen in Hoosiers and Little Giants and countless good, bad, and terrible sports movies over the last fifty years.

And as a fan of my alma mater, Lehigh, I guess I live this underdog story on a near-daily basis.  Lehigh is almost always the "smaller school" in all their NCAA athletics contests, whether it's wrestlers going against the semi-pros of Penn State and Iowa, or the football team going against the 100+ scholarshipped players of Yale or Princeton.

That has to be why, after standing up through two overtimes, yelling at my TV and imploring a bunch of college athletes I do not know to somehow take down one of the richest schools of the country, I felt sick.
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The Patriot League vs. The World: Comparing All The FCS Recruiting Classes

For the last few years, "the commitee" and I have compiled the Patsy Ratings, an attempt to evaluate the incoming football classes of the Patriot League.

It's clearly "for entertainment purposes only," an effort to try to take a look at whether a schools' recruiting needs are met, whether they've secured the playing services of a lot of recognized talent, and whether some of their measurables look good.

However, I frequently find myself wanting the Patsy Ratings to do more.  For example, how did the Patriot League as a whole do in comparison to other FCS schools?  Did the Mountain Hawks crush their FCS competition?  Or was the actual picture different?

Without, say, an equivalent James Madison Football Nation willing to make these Patsy-like evaluations of the incoming classes of other FCS schools, there was no real good way to make that type of comparison.

However, my curiosity got the better of me.  "There must be a way," I thought, "to at least be able to see how the different schools stack up against other schools in different conferences, even if it's not as good or as thorough as the Patsies."

I found out that there was.
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The 2016 Patsy Ratings: No. 1 – Lehigh

The Committee member popped the DVD in the player once again.  "The Top 25 Moments in Murray Goodman history."

"What'cha doin'?", another Committee member said.

"In a way, I hate this time of year," she said.  "With the Patsy Ratings done, all we have left to get us through the offseason are all these videos.  Sure, there's spring football, of course, but fall always feels so far away in March."

"Is that a VHS copy of Colgate beating Florida Atlantic in 2003?  Didn't Howard Schnellenberger order that all surviving copies of that game be destroyed?"

"That was a heck of a find," she said.  "Apparently they were cleaning up some house in Ithaca and the kids were going to throw out an old shopping bag filled with videos.  Incredibly, they found it, along with rare footage of Cornell playing a competitive game with Colgate."

"Do we have any Yuenglings in the fridge?"

"Sure.  Pull up a chair.  The 1991 Holy Cross/Lehigh showdown is on."

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The 2016 Patsy Ratings: No. 4 – Lafayette

"Come over here," one Committee member said.

She ran to the door, and saw a basket with two spotted creatures.  She couldn't help but stifle an "Aw!" as, for a moment, her heart, hardened by hours or work on the Patsy ratings, melted.

"Oh great," another Committee member said.  "More strays.  Should we print out more flyers to see who might adopt them?"

"More worryingly," another Member said, "is this an attempt to try to impugn the sanctity of the Patsy Ratings?  Could this be an attempt to bribe the Committee by offering them some cute Leopard cubs?"

The Committee  member looked back at the Member quizzically.  "Since when did the Patsy Ratings have sanctitiy?" they asked seriously.

"Look, they're playing!" she said.

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The Road Back to Greatness Starts Today