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Marist, We Hardly Knew Ye

Every once in a while I like to talk about Patriot League expansion, especially in terms of football. With eight basketball members and seven football-playing members (including two, Fordham and Georgetown, who are in the league only in football), I think expansion of the league ought to be one of its top priorities.

To that end, I had proposed Marist as a very solid candidate in Patriot League expansion in all sports. Marist appeared to fit the bill as a Patriot League school as a small, high-academic private school; its non-scholarship football program had played a lot of football against Patriot League opponents; its conference, the MAAC, finally ceased to exist for football last year; and its men's and women's basketball programs promised to provide great respect for the Patriot League from years to come. (Last year, Marist's women's basketball team proceeded to make the Sweet 16, and have parked themselves in the Top 25 nationally this year.)

Last Friday, Marist made a decision on football that didn't involve the Patriot League.

They chose instead to join the Pioneer Football League, or PFL, to continue playing non-scholarship football at the Division I level while remaining in the MAAC in all other sports.

A link to the video of the full press conference can be found below:

Marist Athletic Director Tim Murray:

"I would say over the last 18 months or so, we have been studying - internally and externally - what the opportunities were, and we will continue to do that because [the landscape] is ever-changing. We analyzed, and we spent a lot of time looking at the program, and we felt at this time the Pioneer Football League is the most appropriate step at this time.


"We looked at all conferences [for affiliation]. The NEC and their scholarship model which they've embraced was not consistent with our institutional philosophy, so we felt that wasn't the right mix. We would love to be aligned with schools like the Patriot League and the Ivy League and schools of that academic and athletic reputation, but those opportunities at this point weren't necessarily available to us and maybe that changes down the road."

I don't blame Marist for choosing to join the PFL, a truly national conference which stretches from California (University of San Diego) to Florida (Jacksonville Universiy) to (now) Poughkeepsie, New York. Head football coach Jim Parady in particular was beaming, talking about national recruiting and a "real league schedule" - and after being in the MAAC, which had been dying for years, it must have been a huge breath of fresh air. (In a moment that summed up their MAAC experience to a T, as AD Tim Murray was talking about the MAAC, the microphone tailed off slowly and died.)

But it's hard not to watch the press conference and sense a tinge of disappointment in Tim Murray's voice about not going to the Patriot League. He even keeps his options open by saying "maybe that changes down the road".

But should Tim Murray hold his breath?

Personally I am baffled as to why Marist wasn't given more serious consideration in joining the Patriot League. If you look at Marist, it seems almost exactly like the type of institution that the league should be clamoring to sign up. Small private school: check. Selectivity that's the same as Holy Cross: check. Good master's program (14th in the nation): check. Willing to play ball with the academic index: check. Gives a possible place for other MAAC teams to jump, and maybe restart football: check. Upgraded football facilities: check.

But - yet again - Marist just didn't seem to be good enough for inclusion by the Patriot League presidents.

What was the problem?
Was it the fact that the Patriot League is planning to make a move towards athletic scholarships in football - something that Murray said was "not consistent with their institutional philosophy"?

Was it about television markets? That Marist's position in Poughkeepsie, NY was in a broadcast TV "dead zone"?

Or was it that it wasn't enough that they were marksmen, biathletes and part of the Norwegian underground - they had to be nuclear scientists, too? Was it simply that the League and the presidents felt it was simply better to wait around to get somebody "better", even though on paper Marist has exactly the criteria that has been publicly shared for inclusion in the Patriot League?

We may never know the real reason for sure. But the one thing that is for sure is that if the League is waiting around for "someone better", it's not at all clear that it's going to happen in our lifetimes.

Who's Left?
Some folks may hope that a breakup of the Atlantic 10 may cause a team or two to fall in our laps.

Unfortunately for us, the best match of all - Fordham - is already in the league as an associate member in football, and the league's late embrace of basketball scholarships came too late to see the Rams' basketball program jump ship to the A-10. If they were to state they were going back to the Patriot League in all sports, there might be a mutiny (even though the fans shouldn't - they would be coming back the vision of Patriot League they wanted all along, with scholarships in basketball).

The next best match - Richmond - saw a mutiny in 2005 concerning the mere sniff of joining the Patriot League in football only. It's hard to see what has changed since then to think that another one might happen (even though, like Fordham, they would most likely be going to a Patriot League with scholarships in basketball and possibly football).

The final Atlantic 10 school that could go to the Patriot League - St. Bonaventure - doesn't currently play football, and doesn't have as impressive an academic profile as Marist (on paper, anyway).

After that - who's left in terms of football schools? VMI isn't only located very deep in the South -- making them quite far-flung from the rest of the league -- they haven't proven to be competitive for years in football in the SoCon or Big South - and now in the Big South conference where Winthrop appears to be a real threat to make some good runs in the NCAA basketball tournament for years to come, what's their incentive to leave that conference?

As for folks who think Villanova and Georgetown are ever going to give up their affiliation to the cash cow that is the Big East to join the Patriot League in all sports, that's just crazy talk. Nobody would give up that money. No. Bod. Y.

Could a team who's not currently playing Division I football join the Patriot League break ranks and join the Patriot League? There are only two semi-plausible candidates.

One is Boston University, who controversially buried football in 1997. In theory, they could restart football - but frankly, there simply doesn't seem to be a huge groundswell of support. And would it be realistically plausible for the Terriers to leave America East for the Patriot League?

Independent NJIT seems to also be shopping for conference affiliation and appears to have some groundswell for football too - but again, their academic profile pales in comparison to Marist's, and that was before their disastrous 0-29 season in men's basketball this year. (Think Marist's basketball teams would be an improvement over that?)

Division I Promotion?
That takes care of the realistic Division I targets. But what about sub-division I schools? Well, one nice candidate in Rhode Island-based Bryant jumped right to the NEC and didn't even wait to finish their first year of transition to Division I. If the Patriot League was thinking about it, the NEC just went ahead and did it.

Other similarly-situated schools - Bentley out of Waltham, or the Coast Guard in Connecticut - don't seem like ideal candidates either. Waltham's awfully close to Worcester, where Holy Cross is located, and if Poughkeepsie, NY isn't a broadcast TV hotbed, I doubt New London, CT is going to rake in the bucks, either.

Johns Hopkins? Another perfect school... that doesn't seem to want to go anywhere as long as their lacrosse program can compete for national titles in Division I. Gettysburg? They don't seem willing or able to jump to Division I.

So what's the strategy of the Patriot League presidents? Wait for the Ivy League to break up? Because it's looking more and more that the only "acceptable" schools that could join the Patriot League are playing in the Ancient Eight.

That's not a strategy. That's a recipe for waiting, waiting, and more waiting, while the league hisses away, until you can't hear it anymore in the press conference.

Sound familiar?


Adam said…
What about Davidson College? Given greater financial support, we fit the academic criteria of the Patriot League and we sure as hell don't fit in with the rest of the Pioneer League. Could the Patriot League commish please give our AD a call?
Adam said…
and I would think that our #25 ranked men's basketball team might be attractive to the Patriot as well
ngineer said…
Davidson was in the 'original' Patriot nee Colonial League in the mid-1980's, but backed out. Distance, expense and competitiveness seemed to be the issue then. Have times changed? I think until the PL decides what it's going to do about scholarships, no other decisions will be made.
LUHawker said…
I concur with what ngineer stated. Until the PL decides its future regarding scholarships, no other decisions will be made. Frankly, as a PLer, I'm fine with that. Unlike LFN, who seems to want to add a school more for the sake of numbers than quality and fit, I would rather the PL improve the league internally via adjustments to the AI and scholarships in football than try to fit a square peg into a round hole. Let's see what happens if the PL adds schollies in football and then make a decision.
Lehigh74 said…
How about Division III New York University? NYU is an excellent academic school. The only question is do they have any interest in upgrading their athletic programs?
Adam said…
I played at Davidson from '97-01 and we were 2-0 against a mediocre at best Georgetown program during that time (we also won 18 games in a row, but strength of schedule and lack of an automatic bid kept us far from playoff consideration). It was a time of transition from a D1AA independent to a full member of the Pioneer League. Our Coach my first three years was Tim Landis, the current head coach at Bucknell. He hasn't exactly lit the world on fire with the Bison thus far. In the last few years we expanded our stadium slightly, built a new press box, and built an impressive football-only weight room. We also moved to a no loan policy that will eliminate student debt

I'm aware of the mid-1980's era where we were in the "original patriot" league. That was an embarasing and dark time for Davidson's football program, we dropped scholarships, dropped out of the SOCON for football, and almost got rid of the sport entirely. Things have changed since then and IF (and only IF) the Patriot remains non-scholarship,we might be a future fit. If you guys move that way, do you sense the Georgetown/Bucknell/Holy Cross will drop out and potentially join the Pioneer? I believe we are going to resume our series with Georgetown soon and would love to see us play against our old coach at Bucknell.
Anonymous said…
Good for Marist, bad for PL. There's always Iona who remain uncommitted to a conference, but don't match up to Marist academically on paper. Marist would have been a suitable addition in all sports. Maybe there's still hope.
Anonymous said…
How will the typical Pat League college afford football scholarships???? I've always wondered the same about the small private schools in the Southern Conference as well but they must have some alumni funding it all in the football crazy south... Is there enough Alumni support for football to fund a scholarship program at Lehigh???? What is the real difference I wonder??? Most of the football players probably get plenty of aid but it's a source of pride as an alumnus that Lehigh has been able to compete.... First in wrestling, they wanted to be able to compete for the best recruits and are a more level playing field with public school programs since scholarships for wrestling are limited... same with basketball.. but a scholarship football program at Lehigh would be too expensive Thus the league shouldn't be trying to expand beyond its means..
ericatbucknell said…
it IS about academics.

1) marist would be, by far, the least selective institution in the patriot league. midrange sat scores of 1070-1240? 26% of students graduating in the top decile of their high school classes? those kinds of numbers put marist almost exactly half way between the school with the leagues lowest ai (fordham) and... towson.

2) marist is also incredibly poor relative to the rest of the patriot league. its $21 million endowment (as of 2006; american is currently the leagues poorest member with an endowment of $400 million) means that the school simply cant afford to provide the type of education the leagues other schools can. among a long list of less significant outcomes, this results in a smaller, less-qualified faculty. case in point: approximately two thirds of marist professors are adjuncts.


so what we have is a school with would would have (by far) the leagues weakest faculty AND weakest students. sounds like a perfect fit for an academics-first league that has no pressing need to expand.
Anonymous said…
In regards to the last post regarding Marist, I beg to differ. My son just begun his freshman year at Marist and I know that the median SAT score is higher than what you mentioned. Actually, several of his friends with scores in the 1200 to 1300 range did not get in. These children also had GPA's of 3.4 or higher and were well rounded with many extra curriculur things to add to their high school resumes.

If your information was obtained from the College Board website, they are wrong. They seem to post figures from several years back. I also know that the acceptance rate was only 49% which seems to be quite selective to me.

Lastly, after discussions with many individuals in the business world, I feel Marist is definetly an up and coming school. Within the next 15 years or so, having a Marist degree will hold the same recognition as many of the "high label" schools such as Lehigh and Bucknell. I am glad to see that Marist did what they needed to do to have a thriving football program. I just hope that all is not lost in regards to a possible inclusion in the Patriot league.
Anonymous said…
Also a quick point. Davidson is trying to get back in the spotlight in football. They are playing Elon the first game of the season next year (FCS #14). Also, Davidson is playing Georgetown in 2010 season.

Finally, if Davidson were to join the Patriot League they would be the best academically ranked institution among every current PL member. Therefore, they would have to lower their standards in recruiting. Whether admissions is ready to do that remains unseen.

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