Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Decision: The Presidential View: Georgetown's "Options"

Anyone who has followed the Patriot League in any capacity has some sort of opinion on the decision to allow football scholarships.  (Including myself, of course.)

But in the end, it was only the opinion of ten men and women who mattered - the eight presidents of the full-time Patriot League schools, and the two presidents of the football-only members.

Shortly after history was made, there were a flurry of different documents released - including an official Patriot League release of comments from all seven of the football-playing schools - as well.

The varied documents provide a fascinating glimpse at a process that was, over the course of the past five years, basically closed to the public, save the occasional leak to the local press.

It also gives a look as to which schools are enthusiastic about the move - and which ones are not.

The comments from President Dr. John G. DeGioia makes it clear that the move to scholarships was not unanimous:


Georgetown offers 29 varsity sports and is committed to Division I football as part of its broadbased approach to intercollegiate athletics. Since 2001, Georgetown has been committed to competing in the sport of football as an associate member of the Patriot League.  This has allowed the University to compete with institutions that shared the same academic values and  need-based financial aid philosophy.  
Georgetown will continue its membership in the Patriot League in the sport of football and explore all of its options, including our ability to compete as a need-based aid program.  We remain committed to our goal of providing our student athletes with an unparalleled academic experience and an athletically competitive football program.

While it's not necessarily a statement that the Hoyas will definitely be leaving, "exploring all of its options" certainly isn't a seal of approval, to put it mildly.

What is open to interpretation, though, is the reasoning for his position.

Namely: was it the fact that need-based aid is a deep-seated value?  Or that football scholarships for the rest of the league will make Georgetown noncompetitive, because the Hoyas are unable to ever get to the point where they are possible?

It seems to me like the term "competitive", which is used four different times in his statement, is the key.  Dr. DeGioia is not going to allow his Hoyas to participate in a league where they have no chance for the league title in August.  If scholarships make that impossible, he appears to want no part of it.

Nobody knows whether football scholarships will have that competitive effect on the Patriot League, but it must be said that scholarships had little effect in the Georgetown/Fordham game this year, which the Hoyas walloped the Rams 30-13.

But Dr. DeGioia talked about "exploring all its options".  

So what, exactly, are they?

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One possibility is - and nobody wants to hear this - dropping the football program.

It would mean that nobody would have Hoya football to kick around anymore.  But it would be the most tragic of endings to a historic football program that has bucked the odds its entire existence - and a yank of the plug when finally the program seems to finally be turning the corner.

Let me quickly say that I don't think that's what's going to happen.

To me it seems like Georgetown is indeed committed to fielding a team and competing for championships - not least because Dr. DeGioia is the only Patriot League president to actually don a football helmet in college.

After all, the Hoyas could have decided a long time ago to drop their program when they struggled in the 1990s in the Patriot League, but did not do so.  Their tenacity in the face of some tough odds - and the fact that their tiny stadium does pack a surprising number of fans - leads me to believe that this isn't an option.

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If the Hoyas don't drop football, they can either join a conference that either offers only need-based aid, or a limited amount of scholarship aid to a level where the Hoyas feel they can compete for the championship - or stay in the Patriot League

Three other potential conferences exist that do not operate with a maximum of 63 scholarships - the Ivy League, the NEC, and the Pioneer Football League.

The Ivy League needs no introduction.  They've been the same Ivy covered eight for sixty years this year.  They've never expanded.  They've never accepted associate members.

Is there even an inkling of a chance that the Ivies might allow such a high-academic member in their midst, as the Ivies' first-ever associate member?

Think about it for a second.

While some schools would frown upon a "restrictive" academic index, Georgetown wouldn't flinch.  After all, they've been dealing with the Patriot League's academic index for years, and it wouldn't be an adjustment at all.

Some presidents care deeply about wins and losses for their football programs, but others care more about the luxury box.  It's not about winning on Saturday - it's about rubbing elbows with another president with the same trials and tribulations.

Rubbing elbows with Georgetown's president on a regular basis would be something, I would think, Ivy League presidents would welcome.

With a ninth member for football , too, the Ivies could expand their schedule to the same 11-game, one bye-week schedule that the rest of FCS enjoys, with a perfect balance of eight conference games and three out-of-conference games.

The eleventh game could open up the Ivies for all sorts of scheduling that are not currently available to them now - FBS games, and more varied out-of-conference games for FCS teams.  It could even open them up for a spot in the FCS playoffs - one that would take all of thirty seconds for the FCS playoff subcommittee to deliberate before they'd say "yes".

Despite the obvious advantages to all involved, however, the odds are that it wouldn't happen.

The biggest impediment for the Ivies making this bold move would probably be their own presidents.

The Ivy League presidents have been notoriously inflexible in regards to any matter regarding football over the decades, including altering the ten-game schedule, playing in the postseason, or even putting football games on TV.  Heck, it took them three decades to allow freshmen to play on varsity teams.

But another problem might be the Hoyas' lack of a decent facility to offer to the Ivy League presidents in DC.

When you travel to Yale, you get the historic Yale Bowl.  When you go to Harvard, you get Harvard stadium.  But at Georgetown, with the as-yet-unnamed Multi-Sport Field holding a little more than 5,000 fans, it's simply not a destination that Ivy League presidents would love to return to every year.

There's also the matter of financial aid.

Harvard, Yale and Princeton offer financial aid packages that have the effect of making their educations so affordable to everyone that they are, in effect, scholarshipping the entire student body.  That could mean that Georgetown - who wants to remain non-scholarship - might have an even rougher go of things in the Ivy League competitively than the Patriot League.

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The NEC operates with a maximum of 40 football scholarships per team.  They have an autobid to the FCS playoffs, just like the Patriot League, and - at least in theory - offer an option to compete for a national championship while still not laying out the money for 63 scholarships.

Cutting costs, yet still being able to compete for championships, would seem to be a logical place for Georgetown to end up.

But is that still too many for Georgetown to remain competitive?

In the last two years the Hoyas have gone 1-2 against teams in that conference, going 1-1 against Wagner and 0-1 against Sacred Heart, and the Seahawks and Pioneers didn't have a winning record over that period, either.

Furthermore, the trend of the NEC seems to be to offer more scholarships, not less.  Albany has been expanding their program, most recently announcing an expansion to their multi-sports complex, which seems to indicate that the conferences' members are looking to increase spending, not decrease it.

There's also that "luxury box" issue as well.  What does Dr. DeGioia have in common with Albany's president?  Robert Morris' president?  Monmouth's president?

If the Hoyas were to go to the NEC, they would no longer need to worry about the academic index in recruiting, which might increase the number of potential players who could play in DC for Georgetown.

But their players wouldn't resemble the rest of the football players in the league - nor the academic profile of their incoming class.  Their entire program would change significantly - and they might not even save much money, if the felt like they'd need to get to 40 scholarships to remain competitive.

Is that an acceptable price to pay to continue football?

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The Pioneer Football League is a "true" non-scholarship conference in that all the athletes receive need-based aid only, which is what President DeGioia says he wants for his team.

The upper echelon of these teams are also quite good - a few years ago San Diego had a quarterback, Josh Johnson, who was an NFL-caliber player as the Toreros dominated the PFL.  More recently, Jacksonville has fielded a team that beat Old Dominion, and Dayton seems to have solid teams every single year.

In addition, the PFL is rumored to be applying for an autobid to the FCS playoffs, which would make them an even more attractive destination.

But membership in the PFL would mean that President DiGioia could be rubbing elbows in the press box with the presidents of Campbell and Jacksonville, rather than Holy Cross and Yale.  Does Georgetown have a lot in common with Campbell University in Buies Creek, NC, outside of non-scholarship football?

Membership in the PFL also neccessitates a lot of frequent-flyer miles.  Folks who are making fun of the Mountain West/Conference USA merger might want to look at the PFL as a model for travel, who have members going from upstate New York to Jacksonville, Florida to San Diego, California.

It's quite possible that the Hoyas would need to fly to three road conference games a year.

Would the cost of flights eat up any savings from not offering scholarships?  It certainly could.

However, the PFL is nearing a membership level where they could plausibly split into two different non-scholarship conferences.

The PFL, consisting of ten schools, will get an eleventh when Stetson joins the league in 2013.

If Georgetown would join, that would make twelve teams - that could either split into east and west divisions, or perhaps even split into two different conferences.

Furthermore, there could even be a couple teams that choose to leave the scholarship NEC - St. Francis (PA) and Duquesne leap to mind - to join such a conference.

While a potential non-scholarship conference of Georgetown, Marist, Jacksonville, Campbell, Davidson, St. Francis (PA) and Duquesne still might not overcome Georgetown's "press box" problem, it would certainly cut down on travel costs for non-scholarship play - and might still result in a postseason opportunity or FCS playoff opportunity for the Hoyas.

Then again, it's a position with a fair amount of risk, too.  What if the new conference doesn't have an autobid?  What if Jacksonville suddenly decides to offer football scholarships and join the SoCon?  What if Duquesne and St. Francis remain in the NEC, and the Hoyas are flying to San Diego every other year to play a conference game?

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Then there's the final possible choice - do nothing, and remain in the Patriot League.

There is a chance that scholarships might unbalance the entire league, making it impossible for Georgetown to remain and compete.

But there's also a chance that Georgetown, with it's unparalleled access to DC and world-class academics, could mildly increase some scholarship aid and use need-based and grants to make up the rest and remain in the game.

Personally, I think that's a much more potent combination than people realize.  Some well-placed conventional scholarships, and combinations of need-based aid offered to the others for a Georgetown education, could really be a winner for the Hoyas.

The luxury boxes would stay the same - those around the Patriot League and the Ivy League.

And with an increased profile, the possibilities of FBS games also loom large as well.  Might Navy pay some money to Georgetown to take a bus trip to Annapolis for a home game, which could sponsor some football scholarships or upgrades in facilities?  I have to think so.

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So which road will President DeGioia decide to travel down?

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