It came at a time when FCS powers were meeting in Chicago, IL to discuss the future on non-scholarship football in Division I. I'm guessing that the demise of a non-scholarship conference wasn't on the original list of talking points.
Forget for a moment that clever MAAC puns (like the not-so-funny one titling this post) are history. Forget that you won't be seeing any matchups like Iona/St. Peter's in 2007. Forget that St Peter's scheduled out-of-conference foes for 2007 in the form of Monmouth, Wagner, and St. Francis (and a bunch of non Division I teams) are now left in the wilderness with extremely slim chances to reschedule games in the next couple of months. (Although this blogger feels confident about Monmouth's chances of rescheduling.)
Forget the St. Peter's football alumni. Forget the returning players of the 2006 team, who attended spring practice yet ended up playing their last down without any sort of fanfare or congratulation. Even forget a moment about the incoming freshmen, who accepted an education at St. Peter's with the thought that they would be able to play football - who now have seen the plug pulled on them, giving them no opportunity to transfer to a place where they perhaps could play. It's all a terrible situation for all of them, and I feel badly for all these people, but at least they might have seen it coming.
Instead, think a minute instead about the seniors on Iona, Duquesne, LaSalle, and Marist. Due to no fault of their own, their conference is now a memory, despite the confusion you're hearing about that the MAAC is left with only four members. They've gone from competing for a MAAC championship to competing for... what? I see no other alternative for those schools except for competing as independents, with essentially zero shot at the postseason. Their existence, tied tightly to the fate of St. Peter's, is now in serious question - and remember the 2007 season is now only two and a half short months away. Some of these schools may not even know if they're going to be suiting up for 2007, much less 2008.
How much ill will must this make for St Peter's with the two existing MAAC members in all other sports, Iona and Marist? I have no inside knowledge, but they cannot be happy about this. Are these two schools going to want to stay in the MAAC for all other sports when it's clear their football programs weren't protected at all? What's the benefit if they can't protect their programs? Might they look to a tighter-knit conference - say, the Patriot League - as a better source of NCAA autobids and protection of its members in all sports, not just football?
A former Peacock head coach talks to the Newark Star-Ledger about it:
"I know we could have kept it going," said Stern, now the athletic director and football coach at Hudson Catholic High in Jersey City. "We brought 129 players to camp and had 105 on the roster when I left. There is no reason we couldn't do what Monmouth was doing. It didn't take a brain surgeon to see the administration's lack of vision. The timing of it stinks. I feel bad for Coach (Chris) Taylor."
Stern had put together back-to-back winning seasons for St. Peter's, 10-1 in 2001 and 6-5 in 2002, but decided to resign when he didn't see the commitment from the administration.
"It's like having a plant: If you don't keep watering it, it dies," Stern said. "They left the plant out in the sun and ignored it. I shouldn't say I was shocked because I knew this day was coming. I saw one of their spring football practices and they had about 35 kids out there. I knew right then they were in for a rough situation."
So what does this mean for FCS and the Patriot League, with four new independent non-scholarship programs? What are their options? Who might want them as a part of their league, and what might need to happen?
Although many forecast that this day would come, not only did it come so suddenly in a way to throw the entire 2007 non-scholarship football season into turmoil, it's far from clear what three of the four other schools will do as a result. The only thing that can be said with certainty is that all three schools will need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and see who they are now, and what they want to be next year.
Of the four schools, Duquesne's move to the NEC in 2007 either was the domino that set things off, or a prescient move by Duquesne's athletic director Greg Amodio. Their future is secure; they looked at the landscape and decided that limited-scholarship football was for them. They are set for this season and beyond. That leaves Marist, LaSalle, and Iona looking for a home.
Do they see what happens in this non-scholarship conference? Perhaps all the schools that wish to remain non-scholarship get together and form their own alliance/league and play their own postseason bowl game? Let's say Marist, Iona, LaSalle, Wagner, St. Francis, Sacred Heart, Davidson, Campbell, and Jacksonville form their own non-scholarship conference (call it the East Coast Football Conference, or ECFC). Then the Pioneer Football League continues on with Dayton, Butler, Drake, Morehead State, Harding, Lipscomb, Valparaiso, San Diego, and Detroit.
The winner of both conferences then plays in the "Gridiron Classic" for Division I non-scholarship supremacy.
Is that an attractive option for Marist, Iona, or LaSalle? Scheduling would be easier, it gives kids a postseason to shoot for, and it allows these schools to continue to pursue cost-containment football. For Marist, Iona and LaSalle, however, it could mean that they need to schedule trips to Jacksonville or Davidson once a year, never mind a "Gridiron Classic". Is it a part of their football vision?
Furthermore, how likely is this to happen? This also would mean that the NEC would have to jettison its three members (Wagner, Sacred Heart, and St. Francis) that seem to have a less-than-enthusiastic embrace of limited-scholarship football. Where does that leave the NEC? It seems unlikely they'd be happy with a five-member conference consisting of Monmouth, Duquesne, Central Connecticut State, Albany, and Robert Morris.
But do any of these MAAC schools perhaps have a desire or the economic ability to "move up", or disassociate themselves completely with their former football conference? LaSalle is an associate anyway, so they have a lot of freedom to go anywhere they wish as a football team. But are Marist and Iona happy with their association with the MAAC in other sports? Might the temptation of an all-sports membership be a good one for some schools?
Marist in the past has talked about being interested in the Patriot League as a possible future option for expansion, and I think the league office would have to be crazy not to consider Marist as a potential all-sports member. But do the Red Foxes really want to remain in the MAAC in basketball, while going somewhere else only as an affiliate in football? The current climate forces Marist into a decision point. Is it better for them to push for Patriot League membership in all sports, or continue in deep cost-containment football as an associate member somewhere in uncertain waters? And would the Patriot League accept them?
An even bigger wild card in this is Iona. They don't have the same academic profile or football facilities as Marist, but have shown an interest in continuing their football program, filling in often for full-scholarship FCS teams that need an emergency opponent. But they've shown no interest that I can see in increasing spending for extra grants-in-aid or scholarships. Do they stay non-scholarship and hope for the Chicago meeting to go well? Do they decide to try to join the Patriot League in all sports along with Marist? Would the Patriot League be interested in accepting them as well?
And does LaSalle fit in as well? They have decent facilities, but seem to be committed to cost-containment football. Are they willing to play ball in the Patriot League as well? And is the Patriot League interested in having them join as an associate?
This drop of football by Saint Peter's raises a great deal more questions than answers. Hopefully, some light will be shed on this soon by somebody. But it really nets out to: Do they want to live in an FCS-economic world, or a MAACro-economic world?