As I wait for the full text of Sedale's media day speech to become available somewhere, I offer a mash-up of the media day events and the big league news that came out of there. One of the issues I have was that too many local papers didn't even have a proper write up of the event. (The Utica Observer-Dispatch has to take the cake for the smallest-ever press release on the event - and that's more than New York City, Washington, DC, the Worcester Telegram-Gazette, and Daily Item, Bucknell's local paper, had!) It's a real shame - and they actually missed some big news as a result of that.
The biggest news by far, reported by me on College Sporting News and by Keith Groller of the Morning Call, was about a fast-tracked study about tweaking the league's academic index and the topic of athletic scholarships. This external study, made by independent consultants, is expected to be finished in the next two weeks and presented to the school presidents this October. (No word if a copy of my extensive report on the Academic Index and scholarships, published in the College Sporting News in May 2007, had a factor in any of this, but I encourage you to read it and judge for yourself.)
Not to be neglected is the word from Paul Solokowski at the Easton Express-Times about removing the I-A and I-AA football terminology and the autoqualifier. As of last November we're no longer considered I-AA football: it's now Football Championship Subdivision (or FCS for short) while Penn State plays in "that other division" called Bowl Subdivision (or FBS for short).
Here's the mash-up:
"There was some confusion [about I-A and I-AA]," said [Lafayette coach Frank] Tavani, "Football was the only sport that had the I-AA designation. Now it's all Division I.
"It makes it a lot clearer to people," Tavani continued, "just differentiating between championship series because we actually play a championship series as opposed to a bowl championship series."
"Being called I-AA gave people the impression that we were something less than Division I," [Executive Director Carolyn] Schlie Femovich said. "We feel strongly that all our athletes are Division I."
Ms. Femovich, on the Academic Index study: "We are getting close to the end of the study. We are expecting a report in the next two weeks from the consultant group that we dealt with. The study was really based on a statistical analysis so we had good information as opposed to anecdotal information. When it's done, that study will be forwarded to the presidents, athletic directors and our policy committee people. We will take up recommendations that come out of that report at an October retreat that the [Patriot League] presidents are having. Hopefully, decisions can be made then, or certainly by December when they have their formal council presidents' meeting. So it's being fast-tracked: it certainly takes time to collect the data and make the analysis, but I feel we're moving in a good direction.
"I think the Academic Index in and of itself seems to be serving the league well, but I think there are some issues that need to be addressed with respect to some of the metrics and how we manage the variables. I don't think the index inself will be going away, but I think we will make some adjustments."
In 2006, Patriot teams were 13-23 against outside foes and 4-14 against the Ivy League. Lafayette and Lehigh, the league's co-champs, were 2-9 in non-league games, including the Leopards' playoff loss, and a combined 0-7 vs. the Ivies.
"All of those things are a concern to the coaches because the Patriot League hasn't been doing very well [against outside competition]and losing our automatic playoff berth is a concern down the road," Georgetown coach Kevin Kelly said. "Our school is expensive as are all the schools in our league. It costs $51,000 for one year to attend Georgetown. That's an eye-opening figure for the parents of potential recruits.
"Kids are starting to go to lower-tier academic schools because they can't make financial ends meet to attend a Georgetown, Lafayette or Lehigh. So, we need to push for scholarships. We want to be competitive with everyone and we want to keep that automatic playoff bid, which the Ivy League doesn't have."
In contrast to what coach Kelly said, Bucknell Athleticc Director John Hardt said that "The Patriot League's in very good shape... we are maintaining our automatic qualifier as far as playoffs are concerned."
Holy Cross coach Tom Gilmore, a former Lehigh assistant who played at Penn, said scholarships would help.
"They allow you to recruit a higher level athlete and compete with everyone in the country," he said. "When you don't have that scholarship, some families, some prospects, will turn their back on you early on in the process.
"In the context of our league institutions, it would permit us to increase the level of student-athlete in our programs and allow us to compete with the Ivies and the Northeast Conference. When the Northeast Conference went to scholarships, some people snubbed their noses and said 'That's not going to affect us because we're recruiting a different type of student-athlete.' That's no longer true.
"We're all approaching $50,000 a year to come to one of our schools," Gilmore added. "Even with a significant amount of financial aid, a large gap exists. The financial reality is that kids are going to take the scholarship route."
"We have some issues we're trying to address, not only in football, but every sport," [Ms. Femovich] said. "The admissions process and maintaining the academic quality of our student-athletes are always of concern to us. We're looking at the academic index and looking at data to analyze how it's been working. The academic profile of all of our students continues to increase and that forces the expectations on the incoming athletes to also increase. It means it's getting harder and harder for coaches to recruit and bring in quality athletes with also the same high academic standard.
"There's more and more pressure to play Bowl Subdivision schools. And issues like this raise the question on whether the Patriot League should offer scholarships. It is being talked about. What we have to evaluate is philosophically if it's the right thing to do in football and whether or not it's something financially we can afford to do. Additionally, on some of our campuses there's a strong feeling that we started out as a need-based conference in football to play against the Ivies. It's part of our heritage. The question is: is it time to change that?
"It will be in discussion throughout the fall, and it will be a part of the discussions in the retreat and in the president's council meeting in December."
On the field, Patriot League fans will notice a few rules changes -- which were approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel.
Most importantly to league coaches, the clock will start on the snap after change of possessions like it did prior to 2006. Last year, the clock started when the official signaled the ball ready for play -- which achieved the desired effect of quickening games but rankled coaches who believed they lost around 14 offensive plays per game.
Kickoffs will be moved to the 30-yard line this year from the 35 in an effort to bring more excitement to the return game.