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GTTS: Patriot League Expansion, Part I

This talk about Patriot League Expansion was so big that I ended up breaking it into two sections. Part I will be published tonight. Tune in tomorrow for Part II!

A Local Piece Makes a Big Stink
It's funny how a little Sunday piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, labelled "District Spotlight", can have such a big impact on the Patriot League and expectations for expansion.

This piece talks about Duquesne's prospects from moving "out of a deluded [sic] MAAC" and into another conference for football. It's clear that Duquesne is growing tired of playing in a non-scholarship conference with five schools (and the scheduling headaches that come with that) every year.

Here are the quotes that affect Patriot League Football directly:

"The Patriot League isn't taking any additional members just for football," [Duquense AD Greg] Amodio said. "I want to make it understood that Duquesne is not leaving the Atlantic 10 Conference... [and t]here's no thought in having a university without a football team."

Duquesne, rumored for years to be on the Patriot League radar, appears in no uncertain terms to be off that radar at present. But the additional words "just for football" in the quotation is equally as important. It signals that if the Patriot League expands, the powers-that-be would appear to want primarily all-sports members, not just another football-only affiliate.

It's June and a couple months from the beginning of the 2006 football season, so it's a good time to look at the shifting possibilities for adding any new teams to the Patriot League.

Who Is the Patriot League?
In order to look at what schools would be good expansion targets, it's worthwhile to look at how the current Patriot League is comprised. What like-minded institutions would be interested in joining?

Our beloved Patriot League, now officially twenty years old, is a conference whose core principles are academic excellence in a highly competitive sports environment. We consider the Ivy League to be our peers and we consider Division I athletics to be our proving ground athletically. We stretch from Maryland to Massachusetts, comprising of private institutions who are top schools nationally with superb academics.

In the Patriot League, there are five all-sports members (Lehigh, Lafayette, Bucknell, Holy Cross, and Colgate), three schools that participate in all sports except football (Army, Navy, and American), and three schools that are affiliates in one sport only (Fordham and Georgetown in football, and Villanova in women's lacrosse). All of these schools are small to mid-sized private institutions, so it makes sense to look at smaller, private schools for potential membership. (For a long time, we had Towson as a member, and as a mid-sized state institution, they never really fit in.)

Originally, the Patriot League offered no athletic scholarships in any sport, including football. Over the last twenty years, however, this stance has softened. For example, in football the use of creative grant-in-aid's have allowed teams like Lehigh and Colgate to give grants to certain students that have a certain level of need. This has the effect of being a "scholarship" without the name.

In addition, softening scholarship rules with other sports (such as men's basketball) has allowed the Patriot League to be competitive nationally in many sports. For example, without basketball scholarships, Bucknell wouldn't have had a prayer in the NCAA tournament in the past two years - but with them, Bucknell has the potential to be a permanent "bracket buster" featured on ESPN for a few games a year. Furthermore, had we had basketball scholarships ten years ago, Fordham probably would still be a member of the Patriot League in all sports.

Who Should Be Considered?
So who might the league office be looking at? The first thing I did was ask the Patriot League office about their policy on expanding the league. After they rejected my offer of a crisp bill (with George Washington on it) demanding detail on the schools involved and names of officials, they nevertheless did offer me this:

We are always examining the possibility of expansion and the academic, athletic and competitive advantages of adding a new member in football and for all sports.

Sure, it's an official statement, but it also speaks volumes. The league is not closed to the right deal to expand, with either an affiliate or an all-sports member. They'll expand, but only if it makes sense. This somewhat debunks the story of Duquesne's AD somewhat - in the right circumstances, the Patriot League will take an affiliate member.

If the league is "examining the possibility of expansion" with institutions that are similar to our current schools, so far we have in potential candidates: great academic schools, private, small-to-mid sized, who can possibly live with the scholarship restriction. Now, what would motivate a school like this to join the Patriot League?

The first part of the discussion has to be a desire to upgrade all their sports to a Division I level, or if they're already Division I, to get into a better athletic conference overall. Generally speaking, this means getting into a better basketball conference (as to allow the school better opportunities at NCAA Tournament money), but not always.

Second, the school has to have a desire to align their school on a academic par with the Patriot League. There are schools that would love to rub elbows with all members of our league for reasons other than just sports -- mostly academic prestige, but not always.

Patriot Concerns
Finally, we have to come to the concerns of the league itself. What does expanding the Patriot League by one team in all sports give us? Answer: a major scheduling headache across the board. Try scheduling a basketball season with 9 teams and you'll see what I mean. It is much more likely that the Patriot will expand by two all-sports members, making the league an even 10 members and easing scheduling issues.

If the two teams both have and desire football, it would also open the door for another football-only affiliate to join the league. The reason is that the 7 teams currently in the Patriot League plus 2 new teams makes that difficult 9-team conference once again. Add another affiliate, and you're back at a magic-number of 10 teams. This opens up possibilites: divisional play and stable travel schedules leap to mind.

What should be becoming abundantly clear at this point is that expansion is not nearly as easy as it sounds. Now we're not only talking about adding a school as a football-only affiliate or an all-sports member. We're now talking about adding two all-sports members, AND a football-only affiliate, in order to round out the league. We're out of the realm of slam-dunk admissions and into the world of having to work at it to get three schools to decide to join the Patriot League. Is it worth it?

The answer to that is clearly: You bet it is! If the Patriot League can expand with the right schools, not compromising academically or on the athletic scholarships issue, and expanding the footprint of the league down south to Virginia or up north into New England, it's a major accomplishment. Not only the obvious competitive advantages of athletic competition, but also maintaing the quality of academic standing. More than ever we'll not only able to stand toe-to-toe with the Ivy League as equals - we'll be equal to them academically, but in a more compettve place athletically. (Well, maybe not in endowments, but you know what I mean.)

Tomorrow I'll conclude this essay on expansion with a list of schools - and who I think those three best candidates would be.


Ngineer said…
Good subject. However, I wonder if the PL really wants to expand to 9 or 10 in football. Doing so would put the kabosh to a lot or non-conference games that, to some degree, are more interesting than some of our PL bretheran; like Harvard, Princeton, Yale (and even Penn if they'll regrow their 'nads) as well as some A-10's ('nova, Delaware, Richmond, etc.)
colgate13 said…
I agree with ngineer. I don't think you're looking at 10 football schools. 5 team divisional play isn't that great and teams like their Ivy games and scholarship games.

I think at most you'd see 9 football schools. Basketball scheduling concerns would be secondary.

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