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Duquesne, Nuclear Scientists, and the Patriot League

My wife and I are old movie buffs, and Turner Classic Movies is one of our favorite TV channels. As we were watching The Heroes of Telemark last night, we saw a classic campy 1965 tale of how playboy nuclear scientist and part-time Norwegian spy for the British Kirk Douglas basically singlehandedly thwarted the Nazi's attempt to create a nuclear bomb. Douglas played a character who could ski like Jean-Claude Killy (complete with Jean-Claude's choice in sweaters), could expertly sabotage the Nazi nuclear program like a Navy SEAL, could decimate half the Nazi empire with perfect marksmanship (must be all that biathlon training), and for good measure could save a bunch of Norwegian kids from sinking on a ferryboat. Basically, he's the perfect candidate for thwarting the nuclear aspirations of the Nazis.

Richard Harris, playing the Norwegian underground resistance leader Knut Straud, certainly looked like someone who could probably have wiped out a battallion of Nazis himself. But, strangely, in order to get the job done he had to hunt down ol' Kirk Douglas, who on top of his anti-fascist credentials, marksmanship, spying skills, and his ability to be an agent saboteur, he also was a nuclear scientist.

Don't worry, there is a point to all of this. As Patriot League fans, too often we're like Knut Straud when it comes to schools wanting to join the Patriot League. It's not enough that they're interested in our league, offering grants-in-aid, and willing to upgrade their programs to get in line with some of the spending on football. They have to be nuclear scientists too, with academic indexes in the top-half of one percent, small private schools, and top-notch research facilities.

Duquesne made an announcement this week that they are leaving the five-team MAAC football conference in 2008 to join the limited-scholarship NEC. The move doesn't come as a huge surprise - representatives from Duquesne had been making noises last year about the fact that they were looking to perhaps increase their competition in football, and with Stony Brook leaving the NEC this year, it seemed like a natural fit for a school that has acheived just about all it could in the non-scholarship MAAC with six straight championship years. Add to that the high-profile Patriot League and A-10 scalps last year captured by NEC members Albany, Central Connecticut State and Monmouth, the timing couldn't be better for the Dukes to join the NEC in football.

As the Duquesne domino falls, the members of the MAAC find themselves looking at themselves in the mirror. Unless they can get a former member to sponsor football again (Fairfield, Siena, Canisius, St. John's) or unless they can get a different affiliate to play non-scholarship football in their league (Campbell), these members are likely to have to face the prospect of competing non-scholarship as an independent, joining the non-scholarship Pioneer League (comprised of non-scholarship schools from Florida to California), or "upgrading" and joining a league like the Patriot League.

Of the four remaining MAAC members that may be scrambling for a home, there is one school that looks like a much better candidate for football than the others. Not only have the Marist Red Foxes made a great effort in scheduling Patriot League football opponents (they've played Holy Cross, Lafayette, Georgetown, Bucknell, and Fordham in the past two years alone), they have also upgraded their stadium and secured a MAAC football co-championship in 2006 as well.

Adding kerosene to the speculation is the fact that Marist's AD and head coach recently went on record as saying that the Patriot League would be a "terrific option for us", as close to a formal request to the Patriot League office as far as I can figure. They have shown they are willing to spend money on football. They're a private school. Their football record at the non-scholarship level, especially recently, isn't too bad. Best of all, they seem to really want to join, maybe even abandoning the MAAC altogether to join the Patriot League in men's basketball as well. In men's basketball, the MAAC is in decline; the Patriot League is on the rise.

But are they nuclear scientists? Folks who think Marist shouldn't be a part of the Patriot League fall in the Knut Straud category. They're not a Top 20 University... what's their endowment? Are their academics good enough to be Patriot material? Some folks seem downright elitist on their membership, as if Marist is Podunk State and Lehigh, Lafayette and Colgate are Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Some are still smarting from the Towson (State) experiment. But Marist is no Towson.

Marist's academics are solid, and improving. Their athletics are solid, and improving. Geographically, they fit perfectly in that "empty area" between Holy Cross and Colgate (and Fordham, for football). It's my feeling that if we wait for a nuclear scientist, we could miss out on a solid school that is willing to play ball on so many levels for our league. We should be trying to get Marist on board in the Patriot League right away, and welcoming them with open arms.


Anonymous said…
You have to be kidding. Marist is a small catholic school which is in the Monmouth category in academics. There is no need to destroy the Patriot League to save it. Simply offer limited athletic scholarships and add look to schools of the Richmond, VMI, and William & Mary category to complete the League. With stadium capacity and facilities we offer together with similar academics a fit for this type college.
Anonymous said…
I don't see why my alma mater would want to join a league of snobs. I would rather play Football as an independent than be associated with a bunch of clowns with their collective noses in the air.

-Marist Alum
Anonymous said…
Marist is an independent college (no longer Catholic) but ecumenical. It has roughly the same enrollment as many of the Patriot League schools and academics that are comparable. It might take a few years of getting beat up before they could be a contender in Patriot League Football, but in other sports (e.g., basketball, lacrosse) they’re as good if not better than many of their potential Patriot League opponents. The MAAC has become a stagnant conference with football in the death throws. Marist would make a great addition to the Patriot League and benefits would be realized by both the school and the league. I AA Football is great and the Patriot, Ivy, Pioneer, and MAAC offer a certain purity that other conferences lack; particularly the Ivy and Patriot with solid athletic programs and great academic reputations. Marist can compete with Patriot League peers in both arenas.
Lafayette ‘90

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