Skip to main content

Richmond Goes From A Near-Patriot "Downgrade" to National Championship

(Photo Credit: Alexa Welch Edlund, The Richmond Times-Dispatch)

This weekend, the Richmond Spiders came away with the 2008 Division I Football Championship. The Spiders, of the powerful Colonial Athletic Association used their powerful defense to stonewall four division champions. The first came against Eastern Kentucky of the OVC (38-10, at home), against Appalachian State of the SoCon (yes, that Appalachian State, on the road at Kidd Brewer Stadium) 33-13, and against Northern Iowa of the Missouri Valley Football Conference (21-20, on the road).

The Spiders then proceeded to beat the Big Sky conference champions into submission at the site of the Division I National Championship game in Chattanooga, Tennessee 24-7 in front of a near-sold-out Finley Stadium and in front of a national ESPN2 audience.

The broadcast was an effective three-hour commercial about the University of Richmond and their academics. First year head coach and Richmond football alumnus Mike London (who took over for former Lehigh assistant coach and Fordham head football coach Dave Clawson, who just recently was announced as the new head coach at Bowling Green) was emotional at the end of the game - at what he'd done for his school, for his players, for his team, for their first national title in the 176 year history of the school.

For good measure, Richmond senior DE Lawrence Sidbury put on a clinic for defensive linemen in the game against Montana's offensive linemen - who are, quite frankly, huge 300 pound behemoths - and probably saw his draft day value go from mid-second day pick to first round pick.

The CAA undoubtedly is ecstatic. Not only do they boast the Division I National champion, they have a very real possibility of having back-to-back first round picks in the NFL draft. I have a very good feeling that Sidbury is going to make the first round as draft folks look at the tape of this game, just as they did with Flacco last year.

But for Patriot League fans, seeing Richmond win the national championship is decidely more bittersweet.

That's because Richmond, as recently as 2005, was thinking about joining the Patriot League.

The history behind this move involved the change in direction in 2006 with the Atlantic 10 (of which Richmond is a member in all sports) deciding to no longer sponsor football, and the Colonial Athletic Association taking up the reins to sponsor one of the most powerful conferences in Division I Championship Subdivision.

Rather than join the CAA as a football affiliate (which Richmond left under acrimonious circumstances to join the Atlantic 10), the Spiders put out some feelers about joining the Patriot League instead.

The then-president of Richmond was mulling the possibility in meeting, and word leaked out to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. It appeared to outsiders that it would be the first step in cutting football costs and "de-emphasizing" the program. Just like at William & Mary nearly twenty years before, there was a mutiny among students and alumni who wanted no part of "downgrading" their program. Whether that was right or wrong, that was their justification for mutiny - they wanted championships, not stepping down to a league that wasn't as good as the A-10.

Three short years later, they have their championship. And the reason that happened was that they elected to join the CAA as an affiliate and devote time to getting the right head coaches, players, and emphasis on their football program. They may have gotten the same coaches and football emphasis while still going to the Patriot League, of course. But the ability to offer football scholarships instead of going through the financial aid office to determine need - that's something they wouldn't have gotten.

Academically, Richmond would be a perfect fit for the Patriot League. It's exactly the type of institution that presidents, fans, and even the executive director of the Patriot League, Carolyn Schlie Femovich, wants.

But Patriot League fans Richmond's national championship once again sets off more what if speculation - and frustration.

What if Richmond came and said that they wanted to join the league, but the Patriot League said they would have accepted - and switched to football scholarships to make it happen?

Might Villanova - a team that nearly beat James Madison in the playoffs and beat Richmond during the regular season - also have jumped aboard? (A Villanova team who, incidentally, walloped the Patriot League champion Colgate this year, 55-28, in the biggest mismatch of the playoffs this year.)

If that had happened, there's no telling what might have happened as a result of that.

But it's not too much of a stretch to think that Richmond have been the first-ever Patriot League national champion in Division I FCS football. Furthermore, the Patriot League could have had two schools making deep runs in the playoffs. Apperances on ESPN. National attention.

Instead, Patriot League fans are - once again - wondering if the league will ever decide to allow football scholarships instead of only need-based aid. But there's something else fans are wondering, too. Whether they would be celebrating their first FCS national championship had they made the decision to go to scholarships four years ago.

In other words, it's just a typical Patriot League offseason once again. But not for Richmond.


ngineer said…
Just goes to prove that it can be done: Excellent academics and athletics.
Anonymous said…
It will never happen as long as the liberal, PC policed, east coast snobs run PL schools. In there world view, football is barbaric and belongs tucked away in a cave somewhere...their emphasis is on UN approved, blue beret wearing club sports that make for fun discussion around the country club cocktail bar lounge. The rest of you blue collar louts need not apply.
Doug H said…
I don't agree that the AD's don't want to succeed.... I still want to know where the money is going to come from for all the scholarships???? At Lehigh, the Partners don't raise the kind of sums needed to support a football scholarship program...
ngineer said…
Many proponents of scholarships are not talking about more money, we just want the program to be allowed to use their current funding without the restrictions based upon the grant-in-aid/need formula. Lehigh and similar schools have about 53 'equivalencies' when compared to scholarships. Allowing our coaches to recruit the best without regard to the need formulas would allow us to go after a lot of students the Ivies, CAA, SoCon and NEC go after.
Anonymous said…
Well done by ngineer and very accurate as well. The shame is that the lowly NEC is now a better football conference than the Patriot leagu as a result of scholly's. Who woulda thunk?
Anonymous said…
Patriot: will our new rivals be the Pioneer league?
Anonymous said…
new a-10 leagure for football
charlotte (starts program 2011)

fordham doesnt want to leave the PL. but no scholly's are were as good as gone. plus the caa is meeting this wknd to propose changing the 14 team league..

Popular posts from this blog

Remembering Lehigh's Battles With The Late Tubby Raymond

(Photo Credits: Delaware Online)

When I heard the news Tubby Raymond, legendary Delaware head football coach, died last week at the age of 92, two immediate memories came rushing back to me.

One occurred on October 16th, 1999, when Tubby had made a complaint to the local paper or radio in the run-up to Kevin Higgins' Mountain Hawks beating his Blue Hens on Delaware's homecoming, 42-35.

I have no idea if the quote even actually happened, but my recollection is that Tubby said that Lehigh had "St. Bartholomew's" on their schedule, and hadn't played anybody.  It was a verbal jab that many Delaware fans took with them to the stands to heckle the Mountain Hawk fans that made the short trip to Newark.

Up until that point, I had watched a bunch of Lehigh football games over the years.  I experienced their rise in the 1990s.  I enjoyed wins, and championships, and playoff victories.

But never had I felt a win so viscerally vindicating than the one over Tubby Raymond&…

Lehigh Wrestling Gets Superstar Treatment at PPL Center. Lehigh Football Needs The Same At Murray Goodman.

"We knew it would be nice," Lehigh wrestling head coach Pat Santoro said. "But it was even better than we expected."

Pat was talking about the reception his Lehigh wrestling squad experienced at Allentown's PPL Center this weekend, when a sellout crowd over nearly 10,000 people came to watch No. 1 Penn State grapple with No. 5 Lehigh in a collegiate wrestling event.

It was, by all accounts, something special to behold. 

"I thought it was really cool and an exciting place to wrestle," said Penn State wrestler Nick Nevills. "These fans were really into it, a rowdy bunch. It's a lot more fun as an athlete to wrestle in an environment like this. I'd say it was one of the most exciting times I have had in my career."

The sense of spectacle at the PPL center, though, puts a spotlight on what more can be done at Lehigh itself to make their athletic contests into spectacles.  It requires money to be spent and energy to be expended.  But the…

What To Look For On Sunday For the FCS Playoff Pairings

Lehigh are the Patriot League Football Champs, and will be playing in the 1st round of the FCS playoffs.

The FCS Playoff Bracket is going to be revealed on ESPNU at 11:00AM on Sunday on a selection show.  The team will be watching the selections live at the Goosey Gander to find out who they will play, and where.

The chance that Lehigh will host a home playoff game appears to be very slim.  Though record is technically not in consideration for whether a team will host a first-round game, other considerations (the lack of lights, no Noon playoff starts) make it difficult if not impossible to host a playoff game at Murray Goodman unless temporary lights are brought in.

Being that's the case, it seems very likely that Lehigh will be playing somewhere on the road in the 1st round.  Below the flip, I will give the bracket predictions of the experts and three things I think you should watch for during the selection show.