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GTTS: Patriot League Expansion, Part II

Ok, Part I gave us a pretty good explanation of the playing field. Now we can judge the candidates. Who is a good shot for expansion? Who isn't? Let's not waste time - let's jump into Part II!

Strong Contenders for All-Sports Membership


The Blue Jays appear to be the perfect type of school that the Patriot League could be targeting. Competing in the D-III Centennial Conference in football (and in all other sports, save lacrosse), if you look at their recently upgraded facilities and teams, they are a "D-III school in a D-I body." Facility-wise, the Jays could put some other Patriot League schools' athletic training rooms to shame.

Academically, there are zero questions - they are exactly what the Patriot League wants. If you're in the Top 20 Universites nationally, you've got an open Patriot League invite.

Athletically, Johns Hopkins' Men's Lacrosse team (competing as a Division I independent) captured the NCAA title in 2005, so you know they can play with the best if they want to. As for fitting into the Patriot League model, it would take some time to adjust from zero-scholarship to need-based aid, but they seem like an ideal school to try. It would also allow them to play their favorite rivals in all sports, such as Princeton and Navy, which could only help spur a buzz on campus. In football, I could see Georgetown/Johns Hopkins developing into something special as well.

It's not a total slam dunk, however. Do they want to go to the Patriot League?

There is that Amherst/Williams school of thought that all scholarships are evil for sports, and D-III is "pure sport". Does Hopkins feel that way?

Also, it's not like the Blue Jays light up the D-III atendance charts in football or basketball. Will they do what's necessary to build up a Division I program?

Finally, are they willing to give up historic Centennial Conference rivals Gettysburg and McDaniel? Rivals who have played each other nearly 100 times are not easily given up without a fight.

Overall, however, they seem like a nearly perfect fit. The only question is, do the powers-that-be have the will or desire to make it happen?

Currently a member of the Big South conference, this military college has one of the smallest enrollments in I-AA (1,300 cadets) but one of the highest athletic participation rates (33% of the cadets play in a sport). It's a school with a strong historic and academic reputation that is a good Patriot League fit.
For VMI, the chance to compete with service academies Army and Navy in most sports would most likely be a large carrot for them, but an additional carrot is the overall great quality of athletics programs across the board in the Patriot League. In basketball in particular, the Patriot League is definitely a step up (in my mind) from Big South basketball. That combo could be too much for the Keydets to pass up.
For the Patriot League as well, there are great benefits to extending the league footprint into the mountains of talent coming out of Virginia every year. As an added bonus, you would make the "Greatest Military Rivalry of the South" with The Citadel out of the Southern Conference a part of our league as well, adding a possible future affiliations with the SoCon for athletic opponents year in and year out. (Think of Lehigh playing Appalachian State or Furman in football every couple of years.) Getting The Citadel/VMI every year in football and other sports would greatly add to the rich history of the Patriot League.
Some may think that VMI is considered a step down academically, but one look at some of their programs, such as engineering, shows that they are a very solid academic school. They aren't Johns Hopkins (very few are), but they fit the Patriot League mold very well.
Facility upgrades are underway, and they are a proud school who truly value athletics - their football facilities, for example, would be equal to or greater than Fisher Field in my mind. No issues there.
The biggest question mark regards the "scholarship issue". VMI does not operate like, say, Army and Navy in that all tuition is free if you're accepted. VMI does offer athletic scholarships, though they are not near the allotment of 63 in football and they do offer grant-in-aid's as well. Could they go to a grant-in-aid system, and will vocal alumni go for it? Or will we see resistance from both faculty and alumni?
My bet would be yes, and I think they could definiely find an upgraded home in the Patriot League.

In the D-III Centennial Conference, there are some other high-academic schools that aren't as far along facility-wise but could be potential candidates, such as Gettysburg or Franklin & Marshall. There is also Widener out of the Middle Atlantic and Carnegie Mellon out of the UAC, but all would require more work than Johns Hopkins in their athletic facilities.
On the D-III front in New England, you have three schools the Patriot League would salivate over: Amherst, Williams, and Wesleyan (CT). However, as I mentioned before, these "Little Three" schools out of the NESCAC are the spiritual center of the "Division I Athletics are Evil" philosophy, so there is little to no chance any of these great candidates would ever move to Division I.
In I-AA, you have to consider non-scholarship MAAC teams such as St. Peter's, Iona, and Marist, and limited-scholarship teams out of the NEC like Sacred Heart, Wagner, St. Francis, Robert Morris, or Monmouth, but none of these teams come close to VMI or Johns Hopkins academically (or any of the aforementioned D-III candidates). Also, unlike VMI, it's unclear if any of these NEC or MAAC schools are upset about their direction in men's basketball (although, in my opinion, Patriot League basketball is better than both). Without a burning desire to jump conferences, it's questionable that any of these candidates would go to the Patriot League on their own.
Football-Only Members
So let's say the Patriot League shoots the moon and gets Johns Hopkins and VMI on board in the Patriot League in all sports. In my opinion we then could use a 10th school for football, opening possibilities for divisional play and good regional matchups.
What makes a good affiliate? That's easy - just look at our two affiliate members in football, Fordham and Gerogetown. They are in big-time basketball conferences (the A-10 and Big East, respectively) but still want to play football.
Here's where the surprise comes in. Here's the best candidate for a football-only affiliate.

Yes, the same Boston University that unceremoniously dumped football in 1997. With the exit of their infamous chancellor John Silber, who (charitably) had a vendetta against football, a potentially more football-friendly administration could get it started again in the environment of the Patriot League.
When football was dropped in 1997 unceremoniously by a chairman hell-bent on killing it, the "reasons" given were a lack of fan support, Title IX considerations, and the fact that the athletic department was losing money. (Which didn't prevent the school from opening a multi-million dollar sports arena for basketball and hockey nine years later, but I digress.)
The realities on the ground have changed since 1997. The aforementioned arena is done, so you'd think their athletic department would be "in the black". There are ways to hande Title IX considerations, and the possibility of BU football rising once again has been at a slow burn in many student and alumni hearts.
The only private school in the America East conference, BU has always been the odd dog, if you will, in the conference for other reasons as well. Although BU has had great success dominating men's basketball in the America East the past four years, in other sports such as rowing or their nationally-respected hockey team they compete in other conferences, so competing in the Patriot League in football is hardly a stretch.
Having had football before, football facilities are not an issue - they still have Nickerson Field. A Holy Cross/BU rivalrycould brew very easily, not to mention playing other local teams like Harvard and Northeastern. Acaemically, BU is another great Patriot League choice, and they may be very willing to "play ball" with the Patriot's rules on scholarships.
The only question is: is the "Silber Mindset" finally a thing of the past? Although fans and alumni want football back, how sold is the administration on reviving their 98 year-old program?
I think the tides are changing at BU, and they could surprise the Patriot by knocking on our door. Without an America East conference in football, the Patriot would clearly make the most sense for them, and would benefit us as well.
Plan B's
All the other possible affiliates would only come about if something out of the Patriot League's control were to happen. For example, take Villanova of the Big East and Richmond of the Atlantic 10. Although they both fit academically and athletically, it is unlikely they would agree to playing in the Patriot League unless they were booted out of the Colonial Athletic Associaion (where they are football affiliates) and needed an emergency home. It's very unlikely that either school would choose to leave the CAA to enter our scholarship structure, unless the Patriot would be willing to change its stance on scholarships.
Other A-10 schools that play at a non-scholarsip level, like Duquesne and LaSalle, seem like longshots out of the 5-team MAAC. Academically, they're not of the same caliber, and they would need to upgrade to the Patriot model - although, if the MAAC were to fold tomorrow, and they needed a home, perhaps the Patriot would consider them.
As you can see, there's a rich choice of schools for expansion. Can we see it happen is the question? I hope so.


Anonymous said…
Excellent reviews, but shows just how difficult it'll be to expand, even for football alone. Would love VMI but never happen, their fan base tends southerly, not toward NE. JHopkins sounds good if THEY decide they will to go 1-aa. BC also fine, but again, THEY have the football mountain to climb. And for Nova or Richmond, I don't think anyone in the CAA would choose to go Patriot. Too bad no other candidates in PA, Ohio and mid-Atlantic region. To me the ideal football league number is eight- seven league games and four NCG. Perhaps two Ivies leaving two to play further afield ( like the Wofford series)- helps recruiting and gets you known by getting into new regions and away from always NE. Just and old grads opinion. Good work
Anonymous said…
Every added Patriot League football team means one less game against the Ivies, something that is very important for the identity of the league. Of the candidates you mention, only Johns Hopkins, Williams, and Amherst are attractive candidates, IMO (the rest are a big step down academically and would likely replace an Ivy on the schedule). Johns Hopkins seems unlikely and Williams and Amherst seem to be the longest of longshots.

You created this issue out of the blue, right? Why is expansion per se a good thing? You didn't convince me.
Anonymous said…
If academics were so important, how was Towson a part of the Patriot League? I'm sure it's a fine school but they are not known for their academics. East Stroudsburg (another state school) is considered good enough to be in the EIWA for wrestling so why not bring in a "lesser" school for Patriot League football.
Anonymous said…
Wow, East Stroudsburg? come on! I think the best fit is Johns Hopkins, none of the A 10 teams will leave and Duquesne doesn't know what it wants. Academically the Dukes are not on the same par as the Patriots
Ngineer said…
I think the best shot would be for Boston Univ. to decide to reactivate football. Would create a nice destination trip and a nearby rival for Holy Cross.
Anonymous said…
hey chuck, great topic! Look at what you have generated to date- not only PL expansion comments, but thoughts on scheduling too! Am sure the AD loves that. So far I tend to understand the (he or she) old grad thoughts. Eight team football league is almost a must if Lehigh intends to continue its quest to be nationaly recognized football 1-aa team. You cannot do that by "staying" in the New England and NE only. The Ivies can, the Patriot teams cannot, and expect to get talent nationally. We are razor thin with seven teams. Just one more loss and we slip below the radar. The national post season 1-aa "pickers" will not be favorably inclined to pick a team from a league which only plays five other "league" teams. Eight gets us a bit more strength, especially if we branch out and play "beyond" the Ivies for at least two games each year. I think what the AD has been doing is great, and lets do even more. PL plus Ivies only is a boring schedule to some ( not all I'm sure) but this is an opinion piece isn't it. So, so far, I vote with the first comments, and the old grad. Lets try to add one more football school, and keep a schedule which will provide a challenge to our fine athletes, and I fully mean student-athletes."
Anonymous said…
That was a great piece from the last poster. The only issue with ngineer's BU thought is, that it would take some time to reestablish BU. Yes that would be wonderful, I saw their last Yankee Conference game against UCONN and it was a very sad day for both sides. The tradition was there, it would be fun to see, but not sure BU would join. They would have to log alot of miles as well. BU would be the best name team to bring in with the Boston market (no pun intended)but it would take alot of work.
Anonymous said…
And I repeat, TOWSON? The PL can't be all that concerned about maintaining academic standards if that state school was admitted at one point. How about Rowan? Actually, as awful as they have been Temple has been talking about "downgrading" their program. Perfect fit.
Anonymous said…
Temple, excellent thought! We could whup that ass already!
Anonymous said…
I have one for you. If we're talking Johns Hopkins, how about Trinity College from hartford, Ct. 30-0 over the last 3 seasons and home of Offensive coordinator Chris Rorke. Academically they are in the same class as the patriot league teams and support their athletics is strong from their administration
Anonymous said…
Both Hopkins and Boston Univ. would be great additions to the Patriot League. BU is a solid school that is at least on par with Fordham and American. Johns Hopkins is without a doubt one of the best colleges on the planet. Both schools have had D-1 sporting success in the past (Hopkins with lacrosse & BU with basketball and hockey). Unfortunately both schools would more or less have to create 1-aa football programs from scratch and Hopkins would have to revamp their whole athletic department. Many (but not all) non-football sports would go up to a 10 team league, which I have no problem with but football is another matter. Since the Patriot League plays 11 games per season some of the Ivy games may have to be sacrificed. A nine team football league means only 3 out-of-conference games. Frankly, I am split on that issue. Playing the Ivies brings a certain level of tradition and prestige but on the other hand maybe it is time for the Patriot League to develop a reputation beyond being the Ivy League schedule filler. As for VMI, I just cannot see them leaving for the Patriot League. They are a great school but their identity is Southern and traveling to Worcester, Mass every year probably would not get their alumni excited.

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