Friday, June 13, 2008

BREAKING: Patriot League Changes Academic Index

The Patriot League just issued the following statement:

Center Valley, Pa. - The Patriot League Council of Presidents endorsed and finalized a set of recommendations for revising the League's academic index to provide more consistency in the application of the index and internal equity among member institutions. The revisions will go in place for student-athletes that will enter Patriot League institutions in the fall of 2009.

"The Patriot League is committed to being the ideal home for outstanding student-athletes," said Bucknell University President Brian C. Mitchell, Chair of the Council of Presidents. "These recommendations provide a higher level of consistency and clarity that strengthens not only the League but also the programs of every one of our member institutions."

The revised index will also enhance admissions and athletic competitiveness of programs externally while maintaining the integrity of the League's founding principles. Included in the revisions are the implementation of a common League admissions floor, the creation of a system of admissions bands for football and basketball (men's and women's), and a methodology for including transfer student-athletes into the academic index calculation.

In a nutshell, what is going to be happening is that the Patriot League will be implementing an academic index that is similar to the way the academic index is calculated in the Ivy League - with a series of "bands" from a league-wide floor.

Initial impressions: The really, really interesting thing about the release isn't so much for football - where the Patriot League is simply following the Ivy League's methodology they've been using for some time - but for men's and women's basketball.

In the Ivy League currently there are no bands for men's and women's basketball: there, basketball is lumped together with "all other sports" to compute a department-wide "AI without football", and as long as the average is in line with the average of the incoming class, everything is considered fine.

It is in the world of basketball where the Patriot League is going where no league has gone before.

I will be looking to get more details on specifics and I will post some of them here when I find out more. Check in for updates.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Next Patriot League Member... Loyola (MD)?

"Oi... My Good Heavens man. What are you THINKING? Loyola in the Patriot League in All Sports... including a football team?" That's what St. Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Society of Jesus) seems to be saying in the picture to my left - and I think there are a fair amount of people out there who might agree with him.

But is it really as outlandish as all that? The rumors are flying on messageboards that Loyola might be looking for a new conference. The Greyhounds currently reside in the MAAC in all sports - and despite the fact that they don't currently sponsor it, football may be part of the equation.

So what's the truth? Could there be any truth to the rumors? Let's look at a tale of the tape and see what we can figure out.

The Tale Of The Tape
Loyola College is a private Jesuit school located in Baltimore, Maryland of approximately 3,500 undergraduates. As a Jesuit school, they fit perfectly in the Patriot League on several levels: they are a small private school. Fellow Jesuit school Holy Cross is considered a peer institution in all sports, and when you add football affiliates Georgetown and Fordham would also be peer institutions.

US News and World Report lists Loyola as 'more selective' - the same selectivity as Holy Cross and Fordham. They are known for their post-graduate schools of business and education.

Loyola's future plans involve its expansion from being a college to becoming a University, ambition that could serve it well in becoming members of the Patriot League. However, it's endowment at $156 million is a little small in terms of peer institutions (Lafayette's, by comparison, is $689 million, and American's is $340 million).

Why Would They Leave?
The Greyhounds are an odd dog in the MAAC. Long the southern outpost of the league, all the other MAAC institutions are in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut area, and the MAAC does not support by far the most successful sport for Loyola which is Lacrosse.

Until this year, Loyola competed in the powerful ECAC in Lacrosse. However, the future of the ECAC is uncertain as Big East lacrosse finally has become a reality. What that has meant is that the ECAC has gone from being an eight team powerhouse in Lacrosse to a five team league that has no autobid.

Loyola is now left scrambling... and could very well find a nice home in the Patriot League in Lacrosse with perennial power Navy as a nice regional rival. Both Navy and Colgate made the NCAA Lacrosse tournament, and the addition of Loyola could make us a powerhouse.

Worthy of mention too is the fact that Loyola could jump to the Patriot League and not suffer a downgrade in basketball stature (the Patriot League's RPI was ranked ahead of the MAAC last year) and would find themselves playing peer institutions (Holy Cross) and local schools (Navy, American) in league games. Last year, Loyola's RPI was 142 - a nice place for a Patriot League school.

(In the same boat as Loyola for lacrosse is Fairfield University - but they are squarely in the footprint of the MAAC, making them a less likely option. Also worthy of mention is the fact that like Loyola, they don't sponsor football, and their RPI last year was 206 - not as good as Loyola's.)

As if there wasn't enough of a link to Holy Cross, in 2005 Fr. Brian F. Linnane became the 24th president of Loyola College. His academic background consists of - you guessed it - a stint as assistant dean at Holy Cross.

Loyola's overall athletics program is historically strong, especially recently where they won the MAAC's commissioner's cup for overall athletics excellence. In basketball, Loyola could deliver part of a lucrative Baltimore TV market to the Patriot League - and you can imagine that a city rivalry between Baltimore (Loyola) and D.C. (American) would get some serious interest.

What About Football?
So why would a school adopt football that hasn't played the sport since the 1930s? The position of Fr. Linnane on fielding a football team at Loyola is unknown, but his last year as Dean coincides with the first year of Holy Cross head coach Tom Gilmore's first year - the first year of the reversal of football fortune in Worcester - so at a minimum he has seen how football can coexist at a Jesuit College like Holy Cross.

But what's really been fanning the flames is Loyola's commitment to a new 6,000 seat stadium, complete with artificial turf - for the lacrosse team:

For Loyola, the Woodberry site represents a chance to develop an athletic site away from its cramped North Charles Street campus and showcase its often nationally ranked men's and women's lacrosse and soccer programs. Along with the 6,000-seat stadium, the school's proposal includes practice fields and up to 675 parking spaces. Loyola officials continue to negotiate to buy property from the city and Sinai Hospital, upon which the college wants to build a road that would connect the athletic complex to Greenspring Avenue (following the route of an existing unpaved path); Loyola had already proposed a road linking the facility to Cold Spring Lane.

By doubling its stadium capacity from the 3,000-seat Curley Field on campus, Kelly says, Loyola could compete for National Collegiate Athletic Association playoff games in soccer and lacrosse and reap the attendant revenues. The college also is in dire need of practice space, he says, adding that Loyola teams now must frequently work out at the nearby College of Notre Dame and St. Mary's Seminary on Roland Avenue.

A 6,000 seat stadium to feature lacrosse and soccer a couple times of year? Riiight. And they really need those practice fields, too. Did I mention that the ECAC was dying in Lacrosse?

Football-wise, 6,000 could be a nice number for FCS football in the Patriot League for five or six home games against Georgetown, Fordham, and Holy Cross. Nothing official has been said, but this dream artificial turf complex for lacrosse and soccer would be making more money by also hosting football games.

As late as 2006, it was speculated that at least on Loyola student was pushing to reinstate football.

Hollis, also the Student Government Association's director of Academic Affairs, is in the process of researching football programs at other universities and colleges with the goal of gathering a report that he hopes will eventually be presented to Loyola's Board of Trustees upon its completion.

As the project is still in the very beginning stages, Hollis does not have a timeline planned as of yet.

"We're just trying to look at team designs, financial considerations and see what problems other schools encountered in starting their programs," said Hollis.

So if it's a slam dunk, what are the reasons not to take Loyola? There are three.

The first is that Loyola would be the 9th core member of the Patriot League - which would cause nightmares for scheduling in all sports. (One Bucknell poster, interestingly, pointed out on the Loyola thread that Holy Cross might be hurt if Loyola is taken as a 9th school since Holy Cross wouldn't have a travel partner.) This would mean that a 10th team would probably need to be added at the same time to mitigate scheduling - probably a Northern school close to Holy Cross - and if Loyola isn't planning on adding football, the other member would probably need to sponsor it. (Marist, anyone?)

The second is that the Patriot League isn't interested in members that won't shore up football. Although speculation here centers on Loyola starting up football, if they don't start up pigskin it is possible that Loyola won't have cleared all the hurdles to be a serious consideration for League membership. (Though, as mentioned before, Loyola would probably have to be packaged with a football team, or possibly admitting Fordham in all sports, in order to make the balance work out just right.)

The final reason would be that old bugaboo: Title IX. Loyola's student population is currently 60% female, which means that football could pose a problem for other sports at Loyola. (Though, it must be said, football might change their ratio a bit to improve male enrollment.)

Even if Loyola isn't going to be sponsoring football - and I believe the talk of the large lacrosse complex sounds suspiciously like a school that wants to add football down the line - they are a fantastic fit for the league for basketball and lacrosse. Furthermore, grabbing both Loyola and Marist would serve the dual purpose of getting two all-sports members AND shoring up football if Loyola isn't adding football. (It also seriously marginalizes the MAAC in basketball, men's and women's.)

Loyola's links to Holy Cross would seem to serve them extremely well - those links alone would appear to make Loyola's inclusion less problematic than other schools. If there was ever a school that had an 'in' with the Patriot League presidents, it's Loyola. That gives one reason to believe that talk of Loyola being 'not good enough academically' won't be as much of an issue as it's been for other schools.

I think adding Loyola and Marist would be fantastic for the Patriot League.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Latest From "Athletic Turf News", And Around the Patriot League

No, Virginia, I didn't know that "Athletic Turf News" really does exist. But it does: and yes, they are showing the big news that Lehigh is upgrading the natural grass that has been in place since even before Murray Goodman Stadium existed. (Actually, those lazy reporters over at ATN actually just cribbed the report from Lehigh's website.)

An entire photo gallery of the renovation lives here (and that's where I got the great shot to my right).

Cheer up, Lehigh fans: you don't need to renew your subscription, here's the scoop right here:

"This project is part of our University's ongoing commitment to facility maintenance, and had been planned for some time,” Lehigh Dean of Athletics Joe Sterrett ’76 explained. “Goodman Stadium is a distinctive setting for football, however, the grass turf and subsurface had reached the end of a long (40 years-plus) life.”

He continued, “The availability of modern irrigation and drainage systems and the comparative durability of specialty athletic grasses will help to make the field one of the best natural fields anywhere."

Lehigh head coach Andy Coen offered his thoughts on the project. “I am very pleased with the upgrades we are being able to make to our surface in Goodman Stadium. I believe it really shows Lehigh's commitment to providing the best to its student athletes.”

He continued, “What we have been able to do is make the best venue in the Patriot League even better. I expect that when the project is completed we will have the best natural surface in the Northeast. Goodman has always provided a great environment for our players and now we will have a surface to match that.”

I'm on the record before as saying that I'm just thrilled that Lehigh is keeping the natural grass field - one of a dwindling number of natural-grass fields in the entire country. Too many schools have given up on the real stuff (like "that school in Easton") with the argument that grass is too expensive to maintain. To that I say: 124 years of Lehigh football with grass fields - um, yeah, I think we know a little something about it, and we've been able to make it work.

A bit more about what is being done to the field is described here - as LSU's field is undergoing a similar process to Lehigh's.

Some more miscellaneous bits from around the Patriot League as well:

* The CFO of Pfizer recently had this article published about him, where it describes his days playing college ball and - it is reported - his son has been awarded a scholarship to play at Bucknell. It's probably the typical typo about the Patriot League and the awarding of scholarships - but if the son of Pfizer's CFO is getting a scholarship... it must be Bizarroworld.

* My buddy Jake over at Roar Lions Roar reported about the most recent development regarding New York City college football: the beginning of the NYC National Football Foundation chapter there. Given great star power with the appearances of folks like Eli Manning, Rudy Giulliani, Fordham was represented by AD Frank McLaughlin and Columbia's representative was AD Dianne Murphy. If anything can generate better coverage of Fordham or Columbia games, it hopefully will partially be a result of this long-overdue chapter getting active about promoting football in the Big Apple. Anything that helps publicize Fordham - and by extension the Patriot League - is great for our brand of football. ("Eli Manning" and "star power" in the same sentence. Who would have believed that in, say, 2006?)

* Colgate RB Nate Eachus, the local superstar and one of Lehigh's that "got away", had an article published about him and the "Big 33" game coming up this weekend. (Having those kids practice in this heat? Hey Mr. Hershey, can't we just give them all some Krackels and call the whole thing off?)
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