Friday, June 15, 2007

MAAC-roeconomics

The one thing you can say for certain about the demise of St. Peter's football is that it came at the absolute worse possible time.

It came at a time when FCS powers were meeting in Chicago, IL to discuss the future on non-scholarship football in Division I. I'm guessing that the demise of a non-scholarship conference wasn't on the original list of talking points.

Forget for a moment that clever MAAC puns (like the not-so-funny one titling this post) are history. Forget that you won't be seeing any matchups like Iona/St. Peter's in 2007. Forget that St Peter's scheduled out-of-conference foes for 2007 in the form of Monmouth, Wagner, and St. Francis (and a bunch of non Division I teams) are now left in the wilderness with extremely slim chances to reschedule games in the next couple of months. (Although this blogger feels confident about Monmouth's chances of rescheduling.)

Forget the St. Peter's football alumni. Forget the returning players of the 2006 team, who attended spring practice yet ended up playing their last down without any sort of fanfare or congratulation. Even forget a moment about the incoming freshmen, who accepted an education at St. Peter's with the thought that they would be able to play football - who now have seen the plug pulled on them, giving them no opportunity to transfer to a place where they perhaps could play. It's all a terrible situation for all of them, and I feel badly for all these people, but at least they might have seen it coming.

Instead, think a minute instead about the seniors on Iona, Duquesne, LaSalle, and Marist. Due to no fault of their own, their conference is now a memory, despite the confusion you're hearing about that the MAAC is left with only four members. They've gone from competing for a MAAC championship to competing for... what? I see no other alternative for those schools except for competing as independents, with essentially zero shot at the postseason. Their existence, tied tightly to the fate of St. Peter's, is now in serious question - and remember the 2007 season is now only two and a half short months away. Some of these schools may not even know if they're going to be suiting up for 2007, much less 2008.

How much ill will must this make for St Peter's with the two existing MAAC members in all other sports, Iona and Marist? I have no inside knowledge, but they cannot be happy about this. Are these two schools going to want to stay in the MAAC for all other sports when it's clear their football programs weren't protected at all? What's the benefit if they can't protect their programs? Might they look to a tighter-knit conference - say, the Patriot League - as a better source of NCAA autobids and protection of its members in all sports, not just football?

A former Peacock head coach talks to the Newark Star-Ledger about it:

"I know we could have kept it going," said Stern, now the athletic director and football coach at Hudson Catholic High in Jersey City. "We brought 129 players to camp and had 105 on the roster when I left. There is no reason we couldn't do what Monmouth was doing. It didn't take a brain surgeon to see the administration's lack of vision. The timing of it stinks. I feel bad for Coach (Chris) Taylor."

Stern had put together back-to-back winning seasons for St. Peter's, 10-1 in 2001 and 6-5 in 2002, but decided to resign when he didn't see the commitment from the administration.

"It's like having a plant: If you don't keep watering it, it dies," Stern said. "They left the plant out in the sun and ignored it. I shouldn't say I was shocked because I knew this day was coming. I saw one of their spring football practices and they had about 35 kids out there. I knew right then they were in for a rough situation."


So what does this mean for FCS and the Patriot League, with four new independent non-scholarship programs? What are their options? Who might want them as a part of their league, and what might need to happen?

Although many forecast that this day would come, not only did it come so suddenly in a way to throw the entire 2007 non-scholarship football season into turmoil, it's far from clear what three of the four other schools will do as a result. The only thing that can be said with certainty is that all three schools will need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and see who they are now, and what they want to be next year.

Of the four schools, Duquesne's move to the NEC in 2007 either was the domino that set things off, or a prescient move by Duquesne's athletic director Greg Amodio. Their future is secure; they looked at the landscape and decided that limited-scholarship football was for them. They are set for this season and beyond. That leaves Marist, LaSalle, and Iona looking for a home.

Do they see what happens in this non-scholarship conference? Perhaps all the schools that wish to remain non-scholarship get together and form their own alliance/league and play their own postseason bowl game? Let's say Marist, Iona, LaSalle, Wagner, St. Francis, Sacred Heart, Davidson, Campbell, and Jacksonville form their own non-scholarship conference (call it the East Coast Football Conference, or ECFC). Then the Pioneer Football League continues on with Dayton, Butler, Drake, Morehead State, Harding, Lipscomb, Valparaiso, San Diego, and Detroit.
The winner of both conferences then plays in the "Gridiron Classic" for Division I non-scholarship supremacy.

Is that an attractive option for Marist, Iona, or LaSalle? Scheduling would be easier, it gives kids a postseason to shoot for, and it allows these schools to continue to pursue cost-containment football. For Marist, Iona and LaSalle, however, it could mean that they need to schedule trips to Jacksonville or Davidson once a year, never mind a "Gridiron Classic". Is it a part of their football vision?

Furthermore, how likely is this to happen? This also would mean that the NEC would have to jettison its three members (Wagner, Sacred Heart, and St. Francis) that seem to have a less-than-enthusiastic embrace of limited-scholarship football. Where does that leave the NEC? It seems unlikely they'd be happy with a five-member conference consisting of Monmouth, Duquesne, Central Connecticut State, Albany, and Robert Morris.

But do any of these MAAC schools perhaps have a desire or the economic ability to "move up", or disassociate themselves completely with their former football conference? LaSalle is an associate anyway, so they have a lot of freedom to go anywhere they wish as a football team. But are Marist and Iona happy with their association with the MAAC in other sports? Might the temptation of an all-sports membership be a good one for some schools?

Marist in the past has talked about being interested in the Patriot League as a possible future option for expansion, and I think the league office would have to be crazy not to consider Marist as a potential all-sports member. But do the Red Foxes really want to remain in the MAAC in basketball, while going somewhere else only as an affiliate in football? The current climate forces Marist into a decision point. Is it better for them to push for Patriot League membership in all sports, or continue in deep cost-containment football as an associate member somewhere in uncertain waters? And would the Patriot League accept them?

An even bigger wild card in this is Iona. They don't have the same academic profile or football facilities as Marist, but have shown an interest in continuing their football program, filling in often for full-scholarship FCS teams that need an emergency opponent. But they've shown no interest that I can see in increasing spending for extra grants-in-aid or scholarships. Do they stay non-scholarship and hope for the Chicago meeting to go well? Do they decide to try to join the Patriot League in all sports along with Marist? Would the Patriot League be interested in accepting them as well?

And does LaSalle fit in as well? They have decent facilities, but seem to be committed to cost-containment football. Are they willing to play ball in the Patriot League as well? And is the Patriot League interested in having them join as an associate?

This drop of football by Saint Peter's raises a great deal more questions than answers. Hopefully, some light will be shed on this soon by somebody. But it really nets out to: Do they want to live in an FCS-economic world, or a MAACro-economic world?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

News You Need To Know

"News You Need to Know" sounds like a good blog posting title for a list of those dibs & dabs around the world of Lehigh, the Patriot League, and FCS Football that good Lehigh fans ought to be aware of. Even though kickoff is 86 days away, it doesn't mean that there's no news to speak of. As a matter of fact one huge development could be occurring today in Chicago.

Expansion with Bryant?
One fact in which there is no doubt is that Bryant University, based in Smithfield, Rhode Island, is beginning an exploratory year where this D-II school out of the NE-10 conference is hoping to join Division I.

“Filing this application shows the seriousness of our intent,” Bill Smith, director of athletics, said yesterday.

Bryant has had informal discussions with the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), Northeast Conference (NEC) and Patriot League... “The next step is to continue conversations with the commissioners, athletic directors and presidents. We have to see if one of these conferences thinks we’re at their level and express an interest in us. We want to make sure there is interest on both sides,” Smith said.

Most of the schools in the three conferences Bryant is considering are similar in size, and Byant is academically compatible with many of them. The geographic diversity is attractive to Bryant as it tries to expand its student-population base beyond New England.


This has stirred a passionate debate amongst fans about the possibility of Bryant coming to the Patriot League as a full-time member. They are a private school, which fits the Patriot League profile. Academically, Bryant boasts an institution with an exceptional business school, but without the same broad number of academic offerings that other Patriot League schools generally have. Their endowment is quite large. However, they're considered "Selective" by US News and World Report, while almost all the Patriot League football schools are listed as "Most Selective".

Athletically, they are a very good fit. They have a very successful men's D-II football program and have a men's basketball program that hasn't been scared to "play up" against Big East basketball programs such as Syracuse. They've recently built a 4,600 seat field for football. Geographically, they add another school out East for the league that fits nicely between Fordham and Holy Cross (for football) and Army and Holy Cross for all other sports.

My opinion is that the Patriot League shouldn't dismiss any expansion candidates, especially if they want to join up in all sports. I could see a scenario where both Marist and Bryant join our league in all sports, making our football conference a perfect nine members and a manageable ten members in basketball. Such a situation would make our athletic leagues stronger - provided that these schools continue to work towards making their schools more selective.

The Non-Scholly Conference
Why is today so important, though, about Bryant? The reason is in Chicago today there is a summit involving the future of non-scholarship football hosted by the commissioner of the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League (or PFL). This summit is timely; with Duquesne recently announcing their intent to join the limited-scholarship NEC, the non-scholarship MAAC after this year is scheduled to dip to four members, and could disband as a football conference.

The rumor is representatives from Bryant are at this meeting, trying to determine what sort of football team they may want to have in Division I. If they decide to have a non-scholarship team, they may be the breath of life for the MAAC to keep that five-team conference afloat at least another year. If they want to be a grant-in-aid school, they could join the Patriot League. If they want to be a limited scholarship school, they could join the NEC.

The MAAC's future after this should also be watched closely by the Patriot League. If the league disbands, what do the other schools (Marist, Iona, LaSalle, St. Peter's) do? Do they try to become football independents? Do they simply close up shop? I've reported before that Marist seems interested in joining the Patriot League, while LaSalle and Iona have been putting money into their facilities, not cutting them. Where do they go from there?

The answers to these questions could be forthcoming, based on an important meeting in Chicago, and could have huge ramifications for the entire league. [UPDATE: Today St Peter's of the MAAC has announced they are dropping football. This basically spells the official end of the MAAC conference sponsoring football, based on the press release which mentions the "demise of the MAAC football league".]

HoyaSaxa: Improving the Fan Experience
Hoyasaxa.com has a great series running inviting fans to have a dialogue about how to improve the Georgetown football experience. All three installments so far have been great: the intro, Part I, and Part II (and no, I'm not saying this only because I was quoted several times in there), and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series. Of note is a very cool idea to use the "southwest quadrangle" at Georgetown and access transform it into a "Gate" complete with international tailgate food. I could really, really get into that - and I think it would be an easy sell for my wife, too.

Dibs & Dabs
Aside from the earth-shattering news that I'm hoping to spruce up some of the items in the Lehigh Football Nation Clothing Store with some new stuff for the 2007 season (and, by the way, it's the last day for guaranteed delivery before Fathers Day for some of the closeout items on there), RichH's poking around the 2007 roster pointed out that one of the "Faces to Watch" in 2007, freshman Charles Brallier, not only is listed as a NT/OT but is also listed at a beefy 330 lbs. Could he enter the summer training camp to play on the offensive line? Very interesting... and I'm smiling right here thinking of senior OT Jimmy Kehs on one side and Brallier, potentially, on the other!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Football and Academics Crunch in Big-Time Football, Too

It's becoming more and more clear that Patriot League schools aren't the only schools among the intellectually elite institutions that are having the debate about athletic recruiting and academics. This article from the San Francisco Chronicle treads a lot of the same ground I did in my "New Realities" blog postings and the College Sporting News article, even though the subject matter is the long-term survival of Stanford in the Pac-10.

If anything, it shows that the subjects being tackled by the Patriot League in regards to academic indexes and institutional control are hardly unique to our league.

From the article:

"They can't keep raising the bar,'' said Dave Tipton, a former All-America defensive tackle at Stanford who served as an assistant coach there for 18 years under five head coaches. He said the admissions standards for football players are "markedly'' higher than they were 10 years ago. "Hopefully it will go back to where it was, which was tough but at least doable. Some of these kids are getting admitted to the Ivy League but not at Stanford.''

A former Stanford administrator who asked not to be named said that beginning around 2000 the admissions department began to sharply reduce the weight it gave to athletic excellence in assessing applicants. "I think it's a shame, a tragedy,'' he said. "You see it in a total lack of support for the football team.''

It's not just a football problem. Don Shaw, the men's volleyball coach who last year ended 26 years at the school, most of them as women's coach, said, "There were three years (recently) when we couldn't get a top recruit even though they were great students. They raised the bar without telling us. ... It was like somebody turned off the faucet on us.''
...

The common denominator is the rosters of those teams were largely determined during the 2000-05 tenure of Robin Mamlet as dean of admissions. She came from Swarthmore, a small liberal arts college near Philadelphia that competes in sports on the Division III level. She had not worked at a Division I school previously and apparently had little experience dealing with applications from elite athletes. "She was tough on athletics,'' Tipton said. "Before her, the admissions people were easier to deal with.''


First, what's especially interesting is the power one admissions officer can have on athletic teams. In the Patriot League, admissions is controlled by the admissions office and the presidents have the final say on admissions decisions, not the athletic departments. But even in a league environment where this was decidedly not the case, it looks like Stanford's president gave Ms. Mamlet this level of control at Stanford as well. To me, that's pretty extraordinary for a big-money Pac-10 school.

Worthy of note also was that only a few months after Ms. Mamlet left for Stanford, Swarthmore's president Alfred Bloom decided to cut the historic football and men's wrestling programs amid an uproar from angry students, parents, and alumni. Ms. Mamlet was an admissions officer that must have shared president Bloom's visions about athletics -- and makes one wonder if she helped set the stage for the demise of Swarthmore football with her admissions decisions there. As an admissions officer at a D-III school, she would have had control over all admits to the school, so she could have chosen to admit a cellist over a good football player.

To me this emphasizes the need to strike a balance between admissions and athletics. Nobody wants athletics to grow so big that it runs the school, yet it's also a mistake to have admissions have so much power that they squeeze the life out of programs that give a lot of joy to students and alumni.

Some alums think former athletic director Ted Leland should have battled more forcefully against rising standards for athletes and for more of a commitment to athletic success. "Lowering the standards to admit athletes just so you can win games is not going to work on the Stanford campus,'' said Leland, now a vice-president at Pacific. "I would say we want to go to the Rose Bowl, and people would agree. But if I said lower the criteria, they'd throw you out of the room.''

A dean of admissions can be a convenient scapegoat when teams struggle. In her book about the job, former Stanford dean of admissions Jean Fetter wrote, "As someone once noted, when the Stanford team performs well, the coach gets a lot of credit; when the team performs badly, the dean of undergraduate admissions is held responsible.''

I think that last line is pretty disingenuous, especially when you look at two proven examples of admissions officers coming in with "stronger standards" and seeing the football teams go to losing records. It's awful hard to look at Stanford under Ms. Mamlet and Dartmouth under Karl Furstenburg (who, ironically, got in trouble for writing Mr. Bloom of Swarthmore, praising the decision to kill football) and say that it was the coaches' fault that things went sour. Stanford went 9-3 in 2001, including a bowl game. The next year Buddy Teevens came in and went 2-8. It's hard not to ask, "what changed?" -- and then ignore the fact that Mamlet came in 2000.

True, it's unfair to completely blame admissions. Yet to me it seems very clear that admissions certainly has the power to stop a successful program in its tracks if it's given the power to do so. The analogy of the water tap is apt.

"I don't want Stanford to lower their admission standards for athletic success,'' said [Tom] Williams, now a special-teams coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars. "But I probably couldn't get into Stanford anymore. That's disappointing because they're turning down guys who could be successful there.''

He cited the case of wide receiver Mark Bradford as an example of a player who came from a difficult background but who had the drive and intelligence to get good grades from Stanford. "We had to fight tooth and nail to get that kid in school,'' Williams said.

Bradford, who will be a senior in the fall, "is maintaining a 3.3 GPA," Williams said. "He's thriving.'' But many other athletes with similar credentials have been denied, he said.

If that continues, Williams said, Stanford won't be able to compete in football at the top level. "Every year you need 25 guys who can qualify and help you win the Pac-10,'' he said. "In any given year, across the country, there are only 75 guys who can do it, maybe 85 to 100 in a great year. If you get one of three of those guys, you have a chance. Stanford will get one of six; that's not going to cut it.''

Whether Richard Shaw can or will help [Jim] Harbaugh [pictured] rescue the football program is anybody's guess. Bob Bowlsby, the former Iowa athletic director who took over as Stanford AD last summer, says he's convinced the school can compete in the revenue-producing sports even with the current admissions standards.

...

Admission rates

Stanford admissions for the fall of 2006:

-- Only 10.9 percent of the freshman applicants were admitted. For comparison, Duke admitted 21.2 percent while Harvard accepted 9.3 percent.

-- Only 17.4 percent of applicants with an SAT verbal score of 700 or higher were admitted.

-- Only 14 percent of the applicants with an SAT math score of 700 or higher were admitted.

Stanford is one of the elite academic institutions in the world, with the Lehigh's and Colgate's just a (very small) notch below them and the Harvard's, Yale's, and Princeton's. Just like the Patriot League schools, higher standards are squeezing athletics applicants at Stanford as well. In the Patriot League, the Academic Index institutionalizes our commitment to admitting great student-athletes, but it's institutions everywhere that seem to be squeezed to find talent if they are also committed to fielding winning football teams. Stanford, Harvard, Lehigh, they're all competing on a national level to find these kids. (And in the first block above, Harvard and Stanford are finding themselves going against each other for the same athletes... and Harvard wins.)

Yet Tom Williams also points out something else I've been saying. He feels that the admissions departments are turning down kids that could "thrive" at Stanford, and I think a restrictive AI could be forcing Patriot League schools to turn down the same types of kids at Patriot League schools. I think a model should be in place that makes it more attractive for these types of kids that could thrive at a Lehigh, Lafayette or Holy Cross. I'm afraid that tying our league too closely to the existing, unforgiving AI could also keep kids who could thrive at Patriot League schools out as well.

Overall, the Chronicle article is really well-done and indirectly talks about some of the issues I brought up about the Patriot League. With the League looking again at the AI model, it's a golden opportunity to take a stand at a national level to help create a new model which properly balances academics and high-level Division I athletics.

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Coach Coen announced two additions to his coaching staff last week. Bob Admunson comes from D-III powerhouse Rowan to become an assistant defensive backs coach, while Mike Kapusta, an assistant at Temple, will be coaching running backs. Kapusta was a former fullback at Penn ('04) who played for Coen. They replace R.J. Ryan (who took the offensive coordinator position at D-III Franklin & Marshall) and Jesse Gambone.

Hard to say what the impacts of these hires might be, though Kapusta seems like an interesting hire to me showing coach Coen's emphasis on the running backs. Of course, maybe I simply can't wait for September 8th. Only 88 days until kickoff at Goodman!

In sadder news, Lehigh Lacrosse coach Chris Wakely announces he is stepping down since he's been battling Multiple Sclerosis for the past four years. Our thoughts and prayers go to coach Wakely.

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