Thursday, March 03, 2005

Richmond to Patriot - Dead? Or Not?

A lot of words have been spilled about this over the past 24 hours, with upset Richmond players, fans, and alumni (if you beleive the Richmond boards) having mobilized thousands of signatures to talk to the trustees on whether Richmond should join the Patriot instead of the CAA in 2007.

Updating the press, the following showed up in the Richmond Times-Dispatch today:
Move won't pay?

In the article are half-truths about the Patriot League and Richmond's eligibility in the Patriot that should be debunked here:

If UR chooses to join the Patriot League in 2007, the Spiders would find themselves in an uncomfortable state of flux for several seasons. Richmond would remain an A-10 member in 2005 and 2006 with teams that could be affected in many ways by the change of the school's football philosophy.
Misleading. Many PL schools issue grant-in-aid which has the effect of being like scholarships. This implication that Richmond will all of a sudden have Siena-like recruiting classes is wrong.

In 2007, UR could begin Patriot League competition but probably wouldn't be eligible for that conference's championship until all Spiders scholarship players had exhausted their eligibility.

I am pretty sure that in 2007 Richmond could/would have a waiver. Holy Cross used to be a scholarship football school in the late '80s (as an independent) and were able to compete for the PL championship that year (which they won a few times). More recently, when Fordham went to the PL in basketball they had a team stacked with scholarships that represented the PL a couple years in the tournament.

The I-AA columnists I talked to are in effect "waiting and seeing" for Friday. If you believe the Richmond board and other bulletin boards, the vote won't even be taken on Friday since the president of Richmond himself said it won't go to a vote. If you beleive the folks I've been in touch with, it's still up to the feelings of the trustees tomorrow, and it should be an interesting vote.

I know nobody in Richmond. I do know the Patriot League presented to the trustees earlier this week and that there are a lot of Richmond fans and alumni that are really upset at what they see to be a steady slide of Richmond football into its final death. Although I can understand the fans' grief to some extent about lack of control over their football program, what is being said out there shows a real lack of understanding and disrespect for the Patriot League.

And anyone who thinks the Patriot League is just "phase one" of burying Richmond football should take their tin foil hats off for one second. Lehigh, Colgate, Fordham, Bucknell, and Lafayette have great programs that can stand toe-to-toe with anyone in the A-10/CAA - and have proven it. The Patriot League wants Richmond (should they accept membership) to challenge and win titles, not just sit back and watch their program self-destruct.

It's not up to me, but I think Richmond would be a great addition to the Patriot League. I just hope there's still a vote on the matter.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Richmond to the Patriot League?

A series of articles have shown up in the press concerning the fate of the Atlantic 10 (A-10) football conference, and the Patriot League has been placed squarely in the middle of the proceedings.

Last year, the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) open themselves to the advent of creatingg a I-AA football conference by making Northeastern their twelfth all-sport member, and their sixth potential football member.

It didn't affect the A-10 competitively in 2004, as 4 teams qualified for the I-AA playoffs, including the evential national I-AA champions James Madison University. But considering that 3 of those playoffs team (JMU, William & Mary and Delaware) already were a part of the CAA in all other sports, the A-10 had to be shaking in their boots. If the CAA wanted to make a championship I-AA football conference, taking their 6 teams that were already committed to the CAA in all other sports, what would stop them?

The speculation here and elsewhere was that the CAA had a few options after the 2004 season: either try to get all the A-10 football institutions to sign up for competing as the CAA in 2007, or make a football conference with the six teams they had, and any other A-10 teams that desired it. From there, the A-10 could either choose to keep the remaining football members together as a toned-down A-10 conference, or abandon football altogether, leaving the six institutions to fend for themselves.

I heard a hot rumor that the A-10 leadership approached Fordham (of the Patriot League) with the possibility of jumping to the A-10 in football to keep the football league together, but Fordham said "no" since they were very happy with the Patriot League model of cost containment for their institution. I haven't verified this as a fact, but it could explain the following "shoes falling" in the CAA/A-10 saga:

Daily News-Record Online: CAA, A-10 Agree: A-10 Football Is Toast

Richmond Times-Dispatch: Spiders Consider Different Move

Quotes:


Colonial Athletic Association commissioner Tom Yeager said he is optimistic his conference will be playing football in 2007 – preferably with all 12 current A-10 members.

And for the first time, A-10 commissioner Linda Bruno conceded her league likely won’t have a gridiron presence that year.

"Probably not," Bruno said in a recent interview. "I’ve encouraged our members to do what’s best for them."

...

Bruno said she won’t pursue creating a new A-10 with basketball members like Fordham moving their football teams to the conference. The A-10 has had football since 1997, when it took over the Yankee Conference.

Bruno’s acceptance of the end of A-10 football stands in stark contrast to the league’s official stance in August, before the past season.

"When you look at what we’ve done, for us to just say, ‘Fine, it’s over,’ that’s not going to happen," assistant commissioner Ray Cella said at the time.

Now, it appears it is going to happen.

...

The University of Richmond is considering moving its Division I-AA football program to the non-scholarship Patriot League starting in 2007, several sources said. A Friday vote by UR's Board of Trustees will determine the Spiders' future football affiliation.

Richmond, sources said, is the only school among that dozen that has not yet committed to CAA football starting in 2007. The CAA wants an answer from Richmond by the end of this week. UR may commit. But it won't do so before concluding serious investigation of the Patriot League, which wants Richmond as an eighth football member.

"Certainly Richmond is an outstanding institution and I think a very high-quality I-AA football program. The combination of the two gives reason for our membership to view Richmond in a very positive light," said Carolyn Schlie Femovich, the Patriot League's executive director. "This obviously is not something new. We've thought that for many years, that the academic profile of their institution and their general location is very compatible with our members."

Joining the Patriot League for football in 2007 rather than the CAA "is a distinct possibility," said a source familiar with Richmond's decision-making process.

...

There have been concerns regarding the ability of UR, with increased academic standards and tuition costs that greatly reduce walk-on participation, to consistently succeed in the A-10, regarded as I-AA's best league from top to bottom. UR is interested in identifying the football league in which it best fits institutionally, said sources. Richmond views the expected shutdown of the A-10 Football Conference after the 2006 season and its membership transformation to the Colonial in 2007 as an opportunity to examine other options.



From the quotes in the above articles, it looks like all the A-10 schools save Richmond have made the commitment to compete as the CAA in 2007. (This may be the death knell of my dream of having Villanova join the Patriot League, at least for now.) But the fact that Richmond is considering a move to the Patriot in 2007 is big news, and they would be a great addition to the league. From the Patriot League's perspective, rather than having to take on a school that might take many years to be competitive, Richmond would be competitive right away for a title.

Richmond has a lot of bad blood with the conference that they broke with in 2000 - the CAA. When the Spiders left for the A-10 in all sports, their basketball team won the CAA championship but were not allowed to represent the CAA in the NCAA Tournament that year. It seems like those wounds have run fairly deep, and have not healed completely.

Richmond also fits the model of a Patriot League football school - a small private institution with superlative academic qualifications who wants to play quality football, yet still contain costs. The non-scholarship model for Richmond could allow them to do just that.

This is not a done deal. The mere fact that these press accounts are out there implies to me that Richmond may be "circling the wagons" trying to ensure that Richmond stays with the rest of the A-10 under the new CAA banner. But it will be an awfully interesting vote 48 hours from now, and one Patriot League representatives and coaches will be looking at closely.

Should Richmond make the move, as out-of-conference competition the CAA and Patriot would have a real opportunity to work more together regarding scheduling, as the CAA and Patriot would have a perfectly complementary geographic footprint. To illustrate, think of the possible "CAA/Patriot" OOC weekend, second week of September:

Richmond/W&M
Lehigh/UD
Lafayette/Villanova
Colgate/Hofstra
Fordham/URI
HC/N'Eastern
Bucknell/JMU
G'Town/Towson St
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