Welcome to the summer mailbox. Over the past few days many of you e-mailed in some very good questions and my answers are below. Enjoy.
Erik Anderson asked: "I expect there will be more games at Soldier Field in the future. There's a lot of discussion that the athletic department is selling out DeKalb and local Huskie fans when moving a 'home' game to Chicago. My thinking is that it’s a financial necessity to do so now, as opposed to simply choosing to do so for the cash. As I recall, the current coaching staff payroll was bumped up considerably when they signed [Jerry] Kill and his staff (and for that matter the same for basketball). Where did all this extra money come from? I'm thinking what got the ball rolling on this in the first place was the Soldier Field game with Iowa. And if they want to keep this funding level in place going forward, they'll have to continue scheduling these games at Soldier field. Thoughts?
“Sounds like [Jason] Schepler stepped up his blocking skills during spring ball and needs to work more on his pass catching skills. How's that coming along? I hope he starts open day considering his upside.
“How's Chris Smith coming along after his injury during the spring?”
John Sahly: Erik, I think you're right on target with the Soldier Field game being a necessity to help fund the athletic department and not a choice. If you want an indoor practice facility, if you want to cover $150,000 in bowl losses, if you want to bring a BCS team to Huskie Stadium, a game at Soldier Field can help with a lot of that. Potential donors that live in Chicago like a game in their own backyard.
Plus, those midweek home football games don’t bring in the same money as a Saturday home game (less tickets sold, fewer people buying concessions, etc.) so you have to go looking for additional revenue streams.
Now, it will be up to the NIU athletic department to figure out a way to maximize revenue from that game. The split with Iowa from the first Soldier Field game wasn't ideal if you're NIU and hurts for the Wisconsin game in Chicago since the Badgers get a $1 million payout. Wisconsin wasn't just going to ignore what Iowa got and accept a much smaller payout for the same game. Pay special attention to the Toledo-Ohio State game at Cleveland Browns Stadium this season and what the numbers look like coming out of that game.
I think to continue this level of funding NIU will have to keep scheduling a game at Soldier Field once every four years or so. But anything more than that and DeKalb residents and business owners are going to be even more upset at the athletic department and might pull their business from NIU. Plus a game every year or two at Soldier Field would lose its luster.
I'll try and keep this to a Cliff's Notes version of NIU’s scheduling philosophy, but of the four non-conference games every season, three are pretty much set in three different categories – an FCS team in DeKalb, a mid-major home-and-home and a road trip to a BCS team for a payday. The fourth game looks like it's open to be some sort of swing game. And, not that you've asked, but if I were in charge, that fourth game would have a four-year rotation and look something like this:
Year 1: Soldier Field game vs. Big Ten/Big 12 team
2: @ BCS team, minimum $800,000 payout
3: BCS team in DeKalb
4: @ BCS team, minimum $800,000 payout
That way, you get two big paydays with road games, a major payday with the Soldier Field game, and a BCS team in DeKalb once every four years. Of course, I make it sound so easy. The reality is it takes months of talks and negotiations and years of planning to get these done.
As for your extra money question, take a look around college football. Non-BCS teams are cashing in when they go play BCS teams on the road. Some Sun Belt teams are getting paydays of $1 million-plus to play at SEC schools this season. The original payday for NIU going to Wisconsin a second time was $300,000 and athletic director Jeff Compher negotiated it up to what has been the going rate in college football of $800,000.
To answer your Jason Schepler question, I can tell you he was working out with the quarterbacks at Huskie Stadium last month and they spent significant time working on routes. At the end of spring football, Chris Smith was expected to be healthy in time for summer workouts.
Bob Sotkas asked: "Is NIU playing @ Loyola this year? Do you have a date?"
JS: Bob, haven't heard anything about Loyola on the men’s basketball schedule. But the schedule is due to come out any day and I've heard it has had some last-minute work done to it.
Chet Young asked: "John, with the loss of our soccer coach, can NIU maintain the progress it has made to become a significant presence in national and Midwest soccer? The new soccer field is nice, but they never put the lights in. Why? Also, for recent games I've attended, no one was there to get viewers to pay to get in. Free attendance was nice, but I don't think that will sustain the programs. Charging a few bucks to get in plus concessions would help pay for lighting, officials, and maintenance. Soccer is the next big thing in college athletics.”
JS: Chet, that’s the million-dollar question for the men’s soccer team. Eric Luzzi has the credentials to get it done and has a few important things going for him, most important the new soccer complex. My understanding is that lights were the last piece of the puzzle and the fall of 2009 was the earliest they would be put in. But, we’ll make sure to keep an eye on it.
DPR13 asked: "The women's cross country and track program has suffered due to the lack of facilities. This issue prohibited NIU from attracting quality athletes. This obstacle has been overcome with the new track complex installed on campus. My questions are: Is NIU recruiting top-notch track talent for the 2009-2010 season? Have we signed any state championship type performers?"
JS: DPR, I spoke with coach Connie Teaberry when the track complex opened and she was confident the new facility would bring in high quality track recruits. So far, that’s proven to be true. One recruit, Porsha Lewis, ran a 25.4 second 200-meter dash this past season. That would have been the fastest time for the Huskies this year. Camille Smith’s 400 time of 58.3 seconds would have made her the fastest NIU runner in the 400 this season, too.
Also, there is one recruit that, if it is true, you will be very interested to hear about. But we’re still working on confirming it so it so stay tuned.
Bill asked: "Why don't you have a column on how former Huskies have performed after each NFL weekend? This would be of interest to fans and students as well as possibly being a recruiting factor for high school players considering NIU."
JS: Bill, this was actually a feature on the front page of our sports section every Monday during the NFL season called “NIU in the NFL.” But we’ll try and add it to the blog this season.
Jim Lentz asked: "(1) Since opening, the Convocation Center has not consistently drawn big crowds to give men's basketball a true home court advantage. Winning teams attract the fans especially the much-needed student support. Coach [Ricardo] Patton is headed in the right direction. How can the Huskies fill the Convo to give coach Patton's team the 'Electric Atmosphere' needed for that all important home court advantage?
“(2) Coach Kill is expanding his recruiting base to other states. Has coach Kill been able to retain the strong recruiting relationships coach Novak had over the entire state of Illinois?”
JS: Jim, good to hear from you. I think you kind of answered your first question yourself. If NIU starts winning, the Huskies will become more popular and more people will show up to games, especially students. If they don’t, expect to see more games with the lower bowl half-full.
I think the best answer I can give to your second question is what I saw during spring football. Almost every day there was a group of high school football coaches that made the drive to watch the coaching staff and talk with Jerry Kill. A few of those Saturday practices were packed with high school coaches, which is one of the major benefits of having practices open to the public.
Gyros&cheesefries wrote: "John, For the most part, Huskies' passing game was MIA in the second half of the season and play calling showed a lack of confidence. Reports from spring practice sounded like they were working on expanding the play selection (ie throwing over the middle). Prediction time. Will Harnish, the returning WRs, plus the 4 incoming freshman provide the spark that this offense was missing last year? BTW, Huskie Wire is great. Thanks"
JS: Gyros, thanks for your kind words and reading our coverage. I think you’ll see an improved passing game this season, just because Harnish has a season under his belt and the playbook should be expanded. But as to how much the passing game will improve…check back with me when fall practice starts.
J-Ran asked: "John, love Huskie Wire. My question is what exactly is Jerry Kill's recruiting philosophy? I understand we're in the heart of Big Ten recruiting territory and that four- and five-star players are not exactly putting NIU on their short lists, but it seems to me that Kill is all over the board with what he's trying to do. Is he a guy who is trying to recruit players that fit his system, or is he trying to recruit the best athletes? How well really can the Kill system work in 1A? It wasn't good enough for a 1AA title.
"Final question: John, did you find yourself scratching your head on more than a few play calls last season? Who calls the place for the Huskies? "
JS: J-Ran, I think even Kill himself is still figuring it out a little bit. The big theme of this year’s class was athleticism. The coaches felt the team needed to be more athletic after the bowl game. Next year could be different. I think the coaching staff doesn’t mind going for athletes they can mold and even move around.
Look at Victor Jacques. Leading up to the start of fall practice last season, Kill talked a lot about how excited he was to have Jacques at fullback and how good of an athlete Jacques is. Fast forward to the spring and Jacques, who didn’t play in 2008, was moved to linebacker. And if spring was any indication he’ll see playing time there. Tommy Davis alleviated the coaches’ concerns about depth at corner after moving from wide receiver.
This leads me to believe that Kill’s system trends more towards athletes because the coaches believe that skill is easier to teach than athleticism. I don’t think that’s true at every position, especially quarterback, but it seems to fit their style.
Also, I think this coaching staff is spending more time in Florida, the Sun Belt states and of course Texas. That’s where the athletes are. I saw new wide receiver Daniel Rodriguez, from Florida, when I went to check out the new turf and he doesn’t look like a freshman. I can definitely tell you that.
One more thing on this: You’ve heard the old adage that you need three years to fully evaluate how a college coach is doing? Part of that is to get a track record on a coach when it comes to recruiting at that school, so I think we’ll have a much better read on this after next year’s recruiting class is signed.
To answer you other question, yes, at times I did. The playcalling, especially on offense, became predictable after the first few games. Ball State knew exactly what NIU was going to do. Central Michigan’s first-half game plan was even better. Louisiana Tech had a pretty good grip on what the Huskies were trying to accomplish on both sides of the ball.
The coordinators, Matt Limegrover on offense and Tracy Claeys on defense, call most of the plays. Both coaches said in the spring that having a full year of the players working under their systems would help with play calls this season.
DiehardHuskie wrote: "John - I love reading your coverage of all things NIU. Keep up the great work. My question is: what have you heard in regards to future non-conference home football games. Any Marylands or Iowa States heading back to the Dog House anytime soon?"
JS: Diehard, thank you. There are a few schools out there that I’m hearing. But there’s nothing concrete, so I don’t want to get your hopes up. I will keep you posted when there is something to report, though.
NIUFAN1977: "John, I enjoy your Huskie Wire reports - keep up the good work. I posted a comment on the "Mike Korcek says good-bye to NIU" article (which ought to be on the Huskie Wire). Any chance of additional sports articles by Mike Korcek for the Chronicle? He has such a ton of knowledge about NIU. The two of you would have "everything Huskie" covered, past and present."
JS: Thank you, NIUFAN. I don’t think you’ve seen the last of Mike Korcek’s name in the Daily Chronicle. Mike will always love NIU and I would definitely keep your eyes (and ears) open to the next time Mike shares his vast knowledge of Huskie athletics.
That’s it for the summer mailbox. I hope you enjoyed it and we’ll do this again down the line. Those were some quality questions and I appreciate all of you who e-mailed and commented with your queries. Thanks again.