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The New Realities: Part II

Last week, I talked a little bit about some of the realities in regards to athletic recruiting in the Patriot League in today's world. If you hit the link above, you'll see an in-depth talk about the Academic Index (or AI) used by the Patriot League (modeled after the Ivy League's own AI), as well as a talk about the shrinking pool of athletic recruits available to all Ivy and Patriot League schools, and some of the idiosyncrasies that scholarships offer Patriot League institutions in our sports that allow them.

Today I'll talk more about the Ivy and Patriot League's AI system, and how it fits in with the big world of football recruiting on a national level. But first, it's worth talking about donuts.

Donuts, Chuck? What the Hey!?!
Not only are donuts tasty (and against all odds are a popular breakfast "food"), the best way to describe athletic recruiting in terms of the Ivies and Patriot League teams is using the analogy of donuts.

Let's think of an athletic team as a circle on a graph. On one axis is number of accepted athletes, and on another is the amount of aid they are going to receive.

Let's think of (say) Harvard. Their circular graph will look just like a Dunkin' Donuts jelly donut. Many, many players will simply play for Harvard since they're considered academic champions in the court of public opinion (which I consider to be the "Hey, we're HA-VAHD" effect). Plenty of kids will go who can afford to pay their way, but also many, many kids will go to Harvard that can only pay part of their way or almost all of their way as well. Basically, it's a nice, full, round, delicious jelly donut.

Now, let's think of (say) Holy Cross. Their circular graph will look more like an Entenmann's plain donut. There will be a significant number of players who will make the team and are willing to pay their way to get into Holy Cross (since Holy Cross is a pretty damned good school). There will also be a significant number of athletes who qualify for educational grants-in-aid for football players (which, in effect, have the same effect as a football scholarship), which make up the large lower end of the donut. What's missing is that kid in-between that Harvard (and Dartmouth, Cornell, Brown, or Columbia) gets but we don't - that kid that qualifies for some financial aid from either Holy Cross or an Ivy League school. Most of the time, Harvard, Yale, Penn or Princeton simply say "hey, we're HA-VAHD" (or the equivalent) and they're in.

Now, this is a little simplistic. The Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Penn donuts are clearly jelly donuts. However Ivies and Patriot League schools compete for a lot of the same athletes, so the Columbia, Cornell, Brown, and (most notably) Dartmouth donuts also are closer to the Entenmann's than the jelly donuts as well. But the donuts with the biggest squeeze on them are clear. They're the donuts with the schools listed as "most selective" by US News and World Report. This not only includes Dartmouth, Cornell, Columbia and Brown. It also - quite firmly -includes Colgate, Georgetown, Bucknell, Lehigh, and Lafayette (with Holy Cross and Fordham not far behind).

Who's Eating the Donut Holes?
Complicating matters is the relationship that other scholarship schools bring to the plate that affect all these "Entenmann's" schools. In the real world, it's not just Ivies and Patriot League schools competing for the same talent. Schools like Delaware (of the Colonial Athletic Conference, or CAA) are pretty damn good schools in their own right -- and they are competing for some the same recruits, with the key difference being they can offer scholarships as a result.

Delaware is a very good example since they are also in our Division I subdivision of FCS. Both Lehigh and Delaware compete for the FCS National Championship. Suppose hypothetical recruit Joe X has a 3.6 GPA, is a great football talent and is recruited by Penn, Lehigh, and Delaware. If playing for a national championship is the most important thing for him, Penn falls out of the race, and it's between Lehigh and Delaware.

Lehigh brings their AI calculators and find out that Joe X's parents make modest money and Joe could qualify for some financial aid. But Delaware turns around and says that they can offer a full scholarship as long as he's a part of the football team. It's not really a contest: Joe X's parts can go into serious hock to pay for Lehigh, or barely pay anything to go to Delaware. Delaware is in the "more selective" category of US News and World Report's college rankings (putting them with Fordham and Holy Cross), while Lehigh's in the "most selective". But a Delaware education is still pretty damn good - and it's paid for.

Delaware is a good example of a very good FCS school that competes with Patriot League schools for recruits. But those are not the only northeastern schools in the hunt for football players. The Northeast Conference, or NEC, just last year announced that they were going from a limited grant-in-aid model (similar to the Patriot League) to a limited scholarship model. Now Albany, Central Connecticut State, Sacred Heart, Monmouth, St. Francis (PA), Wagner, and Robert Morris now can compete head-to-head for us for some recruits. They'll be offering some full and a lot of partial scholarships, even though the NEC champion doesn't get an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. In addition, Albany, Monmouth and Central Connecticut State can shop the fact that they beat well-established FCS programs on the road last year (Lehigh, Delaware, Colgate, and Georgia Southern).

But CAA and NEC schools are only part of the picture. What is emerging as the biggest sucking sound of donut holes isn't in FCS at all, but FBS. That sucking sound is coming from Storrs, CT and Rutgers, NJ - that's right, the Big East is finally starting to fulfill its promise as a football league.

On Thursday, November 9th, 2006, a lot of area fans ecstatically watched Rutgers beat nationally-ranked Louisville at home 28-25 at a sold-out Rutgers stadium. No better recruiting video for Rutgers football could have been concocted. Long a laughingstock of I-A football, Rutgers exploded on the national scene. Lee Corso spent weeks talking about Rutgers' chances for a national title. Were it not for a heartbreaking double-overtime loss to West Virginia, Rutgers would have been playing in a BCS bowl for mega-money and a top ranking. Rutgers' recruiting pitch used to be "Play against the best". Now, it's "Play for a BCS championship."

UConn's move from the A-10 (now the CAA) to the Big East has also had a major impact. After playing in their first bowl in 2005, UConn's profile on the national scene is rising as well as the Big East as a conference continues to regain the respect it lost when losing Virginia Tech, Boston College and Miami (FL). The Husky recruiting video probably also includes Rutgers' improbable win. Their recruiting pitch could be, "It was them last year. Why not us this year?"

The impact in recruiting in the northeast of these two emerging FBS programs has been immediate for the three Patriot League schools who have announced their recruiting classes. In 2006, Lehigh nabbed eight recruits from New Jersey. This year, we only nabbed three. In 2006, Lafayette nabbed six Garden State recruits; this year, only two. I don't have Fordham's incoming class numbers from 2006, but I'd be willing to bet they had more athletes from their tri-state area last year than this year - five from NY, three from NJ, and one from CT, or nine athletes from their incoming class of twenty-five. And remember, Fordham is rated as "more selective", not "most selective" in US News & World Report.

So, Boo to the AI?
Talk about doomsday. So, why don't we simply get rid of the AI and start offering football scholarships? Problem solved, right? Of course, it's not that easy - nor would it be desirable.

I think it's safe to say that most Lehigh alumni, students and fans are quite happy with Lehigh's stature as a superb academic school. Although there are a few voices who thick we should jump to FBS, they're mostly voices in the wilderness. Lehigh epitomizes the Patriot League/FCS school perfectly, and all the while it exists academically as a school no less great or selective as Dartmouth, Cornell, Brown or Columbia. (I think we resemble these schools a lot more than most people care to think.)

There are a lot of voices (that aren't necessarily football fans) within the Patriot League and Ivy League which would be up in arms about jettisoning the AI. Theoretically, the Ivy League could refuse to play us since we would be a "scholarship league" rather than an AI (read: similar to the Ivy) league. There are also many folks who developed the Patriot League that would be up in arms at the league finally ditching one of the principles upon which it was founded. Whether you agree or disagree with this principle, there ARE folks who will guard this principle to their bones.

Furthermore, I wouldn't be very happy about it either. Say what you want about the AI in terms of competitiveness, but it delivers student/athletes that for the most part can handle the academic workload of a premier academic school. And at a school like Lehigh, it's premier academics and the chance to compete for championships that makes Lehigh special and important, but ultimately, it's the degree which matters the most.

The AI also gives us identity as a league. It does show that we care about creating academic champions - that we're not going to compromise principles to get kids who do not fit academically in our school. Getting rid of the AI completely will give the opposite message - that we ARE ready to compromise to have good sports teams.

I happen to think that ditching the AI and going full scholarship is not the ultimate solution. I think there is a better, middle way - one I'll talk about next week.


LU in NJ said…
>>>>>>Are you saying that NJ kids are now going to Rutgers or UConn that would have gone to lehigh in the past ?

If so, I think your mistaken. Rutgers class this yr has about the same number of NJ kids (approx half) as past years under Schiano.

Rutgers is competing with schools like PennSt for the very cream of the crop and I'd say their new found fame has more of an impact on programs like Syr in the fight for top talent from NJ.

The only fall off may be if NJ kids walk-on at Rutgers vs attend Lehigh.

Then again, recruiting has always been highly competitive and maybe lehigh and other PL teams just didn't have a good year recruiting in NJ.
Anonymous said…
As a Lehigh grad with children who went to Harvard and Lehigh, there's a little more to it.

Harvard's endowment is so large that they don't really need to charge tuition to anyone at all, but do so to avoid get 200,000 applicants a year.

They then are very generous with financial aid after someone is admitted. Any family making less than $140,000 a year gets finanical aid and any family making less than $40,000 goes for free.

When my two children overlapped in college, obviously the financial status of their parents was equal, but Harvard's financial aid to my son was twice as large as Lehigh's was to my daughter. GPA's and activities at both institutions were similar, although my son was a runner on their track and cross-country teams.

So the endowment of the universities, which affects the pool of financial aid available is also a major factor in the equation.

Gary, Lehigh '72
Anonymous said…
I just found this blog through Google and am reading with interest. My husband and I are both Lehigh grads, as was my father. My son, who will be a high school senior next year, is currrently going through the recruiting process--as i write this he's camping at Duke, SMU, BC and a flock of others in the next 6 weeks. He visited Lehigh and has spoken to the coaches there and will camp there this month. He is being told he is a top prospect. The flat out truth is that he's convinced he can't get in to Lehigh (first ACT result puts him at about at 1090 SAT equivalent; a 3.0 GPA at a top prep school; great extracurriculars, etc., a 3-star rating--and a triple legacy) So, he's more hyped for schools that have told him he's admissible. The realities of college admission and sports recruiting make it actually more possible for my kid to go to a place like Duke (if he cuts the mustard football wise) than to a patriot League school.Even the Ivies seem like a better shot right now for him. And then there's the money factor. For families making about $140,000, it sounds like there's no hope of a scholarship or merit aid package that could equal full rides or even partial athletic scholarships at other DIAA schools.

Another comment about all of this is that if my spouse and I were to apply to lehigh today, with its 1370 SAT benchmark--I doubt that either of us would have been accepted.

We'd be proud for our son to attend Lehigh and play football there but we shall see...oh, and wait for SAT scores!!

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