H omecoming has the potential to be great for any school. A ton of alumni (read: possible donors) all in the same place, interacting with your campus and taking in the athletic events you have on tap.
But with the way events unfolded for Penn Athletics on Saturday, it is hard to call this rain-soaked homecoming successful for the athletic department.
All year, you’ve read about the football program’s struggles. A 1-5 record going into the weekend makes it pretty obvious that something was wrong, and the alumni got a pretty good view of the newly-minted 1-6 Red and Blue.
Dropped touchdown passes. Poor defense, particularly in the trenches. And a loss to a middling Brown squad the Quakers had no business losing to going into this season.
On top of that, the athletic department missed an opportunity to begin celebrating coach Al Bagnoli’s career. Since it is pretty clear that the team isn’t competing for an Ivy title, it is time for Penn to take the focus away from the players and put it on the coach who has a true legacy of success.
And while Bagnoli’s final home game — the impending massacre at the hands of Harvard on Nov. 15 — will surely be ripe with applause for the coach, there is nothing that says the program couldn’t have done something to start directing the focus away from a real low point in the program’s recent history.
But Penn football wasn’t the only program to have a big loss this weekend, although men’s soccer’s loss wasn’t truly a defeat but rather was a loss of a big opportunity.
The Quakers, quite frankly, blew their best chance to take control of the Ivy League, letting a 1-0 lead slip through their fingertips at Rhodes Field. While a draw wasn’t the end of the world for Penn, it was certainly a major setback.
Coach Rudy Fuller even said that the Brown game was one “where if we don’t win it, we don’t deserve to be champions.” While that statement may sting some, the team is still in Ivy contention, despite some things being out of the Quakers’ hands.
What about the other sports, you ask? Yes, field hockey and women’s soccer picked up impressive wins on their respective Senior Days. And yes, Thomas Awad won an individual Ivy League title for the Quakers.
But at this point, it looks like Awad will be the only fall athlete who will claim any sort of Ivy title. Unfortunately for Penn Athletics, the people who it is counting on to donate to its athletic programs weren’t in Princeton, N.J. to see it happen.
In that way, Homecoming was a microcosm of a weak fall season for the Red and Blue. A football program struggling for the first time in a while. Soccer programs that were Ivy favorites yet seem to have an Ivy title just out of grasp. And zero team Ivy League titles.
What does zero Ivy League titles mean? Well, hate to beat home the point, but unhappy alums. And pressure on Athletic Director Grace Calhoun to change things just four months into her tenure.
That doesn’t mean Calhoun needs to fire every coach and start from scratch. Far from it, in fact. All of the fall sports have been in competition near the top of the Ivies in the last five years.
But it is a troubling trend that Penn isn’t finding the kind of team success that other Ivy schools are having.
Some of that can be chalked up to extenuating circumstances and it also certainly can’t be put on Calhoun when she is only in her first year on the job.
But this Homecoming can also become a mandate for Calhoun to push for excellence. To expect more out of Penn’s teams, whether there are a large group of potential donors in attendance or just 100 dedicated parents of the athletes.
So no, this wasn’t a great Homecoming for Penn. But it can be the catalyst for a great one in 2015.Comments powered by Disqus
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