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Why Have Football?

Earlier this week, I posted some of my thoughts about why I am still mad about Hofstra dropping football. Reaction was fairly positive - but some folks, in so many words, questioned what a CAA schools' problems with supporting football have to do with Lehigh, the Patriot League, or even private school football programs in general (gently reminding me that the name of this blog is "Lehigh Football Nation", not "Hofstra Football Nation", "Defiantly Dutch" or anything else).

The answer to this question is: Hofstra's decision means a whole heck of a lot to every football program in FCS. But it especially means a lot to the Patriot League's seven football schools.

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Hofstra is a private university, just like Fordham, Lehigh, Georgetown, and every other school in the Patriot League. And Hofstra's president - by many accounts, unilaterally - made the decision to drop football.

Hofstra's president, Stuart Rabinowitz, cited costs and lack of alumni and student interest in his decision. But it really appears to have come down to one question: why have football?

It's not about cost. Yes, Hofstra football was not cost-free, but when you subtract revenues, scholarship aid and other donations, it probably only cost about $1 million a year or so - paling in comparison to, say, the $100 million medical center that Hofstra will be financing. It wasn't about lack of alumni and student interest: within 48 hours of the decision to drop football, 7,000 fans joined the Facebook group "Save Hofstra Football", and football alumni came together in an effort to bring a team back.

Rabinowitz, rightly or wrongly, was answering a different question by pulling the plug on the program. Why have football? What's it's purpose? Is it a huge money sink? Does it have educational value?

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In answering this question, you have to talk about running cost/benefit analyses on any collegiate endeavor, athletic or otherwise.

It's become popular these days to treat athletics programs, especially the football program, as a business unit. There are revenues, and expenses. If revenues beat expenses, then it's a good athletics year. If expenses beat revenues, it's an unsuccessful year.

It's not just Mr. Rabinowitz that's talking in this way. Old Dominion's president mentioned the other day that his football program "broke even" last year, with seven home games, all 20,000 seat sellouts. It's a fad these days to talk about football as a business, not an educational mission.

Let's get serious, though - what other educational mission could survive this level of scrutiny? "Mrs. President, those philosophy professors - well, they've just been a source of high annual salaries and benefits, and the graduates they crank out don't donate back to the university, they're just going to end up at Phish concerts and ending up at Columbia for grad school. Shouldn't we cut them so we can save $1 million a year?"

I propose that every time a cost/benefit analysis is made of football, that the cost/benefit of, say, a school's orchestra is brought up. "What is that music department really bringing in, anyway?" It's a ridiculous argument that ought to be attacked at every opportunity.

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Putting aside cost-benefit analysis, though, is the bigger question. What's the educational value of football?

In the BCS conferences, it's clear that football is a different sort of game, with huge amounts of money at stake - so huge, in fact, that it prevents the BCS schools from playing a true national championship. Those schools have chosen to pursue the money - including some great academic schools, too, like Army, Navy, Duke, Stanford, Northwestern and the like.

Even so, the great majority of FBS programs lose money. Costs are large for not only stadia improvements and scholarships and the like, but also for academic compliance as well. In many ways, FBS schools are playing the lotto, hoping to hit the big one every once in a while (Boise State, TCU) while not going bust (Western Kentucky, UCF).

At the FCS level, athletics ought to be, in and of itself, an educational mission, not a for-profit mission. Very, very few FCS football teams "make money" - but then again, the softball teams, crew teams, soccer teams and the like don't make money either. Is the purpose of these teams to make money - or to give student-athletes a chance to have fun, maybe get a trip to a national championship game somewhere, and learn some lessons about discipline, sportsmanship and life along the way?

Athletics promote universities. ESPN is on 24 hours a day. Websites and newspapers run a constant commentary on collegiate athletics, including FCS teams. Do you think I'd have a blog writing about "Lehigh Science Nation"? Not that I'm telling folks that a blog like this shouldn't be written, but for me my passion is Lehigh athletics. Athletics made my time at Lehigh worthwhile - and I'm not alone in that assessment. Athletics invokes a passion in the ol' Alma Mater that Science will never achieve. Grouse all you want about this fact of life, but it is true.

Expanding on this a little, in the Patriot League athletics promote the universities in a very positive way. Appropriately, the Patriot League does not pursue just any student-athletes. They look for the best of the best academically and athletically. They're defined by academics first. You know those NCAA ads talking about "going pro in something other than sports?" That IS the Patriot League. Is it worth spending some money for that educational experience? You bet it is.

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You know I'm going to be passionate about this. I love Patriot League football. Unfortunately, it's not my opinion that counts. It's the opinion of the college presidents that matters more. Just ask any Hofstra graduate who is now without a football team for the forseeable future.

Think Patriot League presidents aren't like Rabinowitz? Think again. All private institutions are feeling some sort of crunch. The meme at this time is cutting costs - and even Patriot League presidents could be eyeing the football program as a potential cost savings. It doesn't matter if they're successful or unsuccessful - Hofstra's football program was much, much more successful than it's basketball program, yet it got the axe while men's basketball gets to take trips to Kansas. Could Patriot League schools be thinking about it? I hope not; but in this climate, it feels like no program is safe.

It's not so much that tuitions will continue to go up for the forseeable future, it's not so much that football programs cost money, it's not so much that scholarships cost money, and it's not so much that students and alums go to only one or two games a year at best. The core issue is that college presidents believe the argument that football needs to be a money generator and needs to adhere to a higher economic standard than any other educational endeavor in the school.

Until that myth is debunked - and I have confidence that it will, ultimately - my advice to football fans out there that want to keep their programs, I'd say:

1. Go to the games.
2. Get a rival - preferably one that's close by.
3. Donate back to the university - and give some portion of that to football, if you love the program.
4. Make it clear, whenever you give money, that you're a supporter of football.

That might - just might - convince some university presidents about the full ramifications of dropping football. The atmosphere at the games, the money it generates, the positive culture it brings (in the Patriot League) - it all needs to be priced accordingly.

Comments

Douglas said…
I think Hofstra and Northeastern are very different than Lehigh... College and high school football is more important to folks in the Lehigh Valley for instance than on Long Island or Boston.. One issue also is that both Northeastern and Hofstra have large commuter populations as a percentage of their student bodies... Northeastern is inside Boston.. Hofstra is on Long Island where high school football is king on Saturdays ( almost all games are on Saturday afternoon).. In PA, HS football is like it is in most areas of the country on Friday Night ( aka Friday Night Lights). The exception is some private schools who play on Saturday afternoons.. Thus the more residential schools like Lehigh can draw not only more students who are on campus but local residents who can support them..

Bottom line... it is a shame that those two CAA program shut down.. I'm watching 2 CAA teams battle it out in the cold tonight.. I guess ESPN pays some to cover these games but mostly these tournament loses money especially for a team like App State which has to go out to Montana to play a game.. that's why I don't think there will ever be a tournament for FBS... a tournament like some want will wreck the bowl business which big time colleges don't want to lose..
ngineer said…
Excellent points Chuck. The football, and other sports programs, keep Lehigh in the public eye in very positive ways. When a team gets real good, makes the playoffs, and gets some time, in the national media there is a distinct ripple effect from alumni through prospective students. We saw it with Bucknell's run in basketball and Lehigh's football run 10 years ago. It's not supposed to 'make money' but we would hope the alums and to some extent community would support it enough to make it manageable. Nationwide, sports is what brings communities together and without them, we loose interest. While there must always be a good balance between academics and athletics, we cannot lose sight of the overall impact athletics brings to a school such as Lehigh, that has a strong tradition. Hofstra and NU were never strong 'traditional' football schools. They had their short moments. The PL with some very hoary programs and close rivalries has a good thing going, that only needs to be tweaked in order to get the football competition up to the level of our academics.
Anonymous said…
More importantly.........

Did they fire Coen yet?????
Anonymous said…
Hofstra and Northeastern are pathetic. What a slap in the face! Alice Ghasthole is winding up for her shot at the football program. That could be her legacy because she has done nothing else.
Lehigh74 said…
At this point it is clear that Coen is going to be back for a 5th season. My hope is that he makes some changes to his coaching staff and also some philosophical changes particularly on the offensive side of the ball.
Lehigh74 said…
I don't get the criticism of Alice Gast. Lehigh publicly came out in favor of football scholarships. What else would you like her to do?
Anonymous said…
Football as a marketing tool. Problem is, Lehigh's football program is not doing a good job of selling the school. Among its many problems, the program is plagued by poor coaching, poor execution, and a boring style of play. That 2009 Yale game was perhaps the worst college football game I’ve ever seen.

Extending Andy Coen’s contract is a clear indication that Lehigh will deemphasize football as a marketing tool. The next logical step is to deemphasize the football budget. Georgetown can produce roughly the same product for about $2 million less per year. Lehigh should cut $2 million from the football budget and use it to promote other teams that put Lehigh in a better light. If Coen ever gets his act together, or if a competent HC is eventually hired, consider giving money back to the football program.
Anonymous said…
Well said Doug.
Alice could promote Lehigh Athletics. She does not. Ever see her encourage students and faculty to attend games? Did you ever see her at a basketball game, stay for an entire wrestling match? Ask Sterrett about the lack of support. Ask why out coaches are the lowest paid and our players forced to play with any little extras?
We would be a lot more recognized if we promoted our teams. We would also have a rise in alumni support which would more than balance the expense.
Personally I don't give a damn about Islamic Studies or grass on roof tops and will confine my support to Athletics. However even that is counterproductive as Alice will just cut funds to match.
Anonymous said…
What the hell sport do you think will get attention? Wrestling is a niche sport. We will not recruit seven foot non students as does Georgetown for BB. I can tell you they are not on a par with the rest of their student body.
Get off the anti Coen bit and show some support. You cannot win without the players or University support. I believe Coen's main problem is his OC, Make Trey video coordinator and take over as HC and OC and we will then see what is what.
If Yale is so boring maybe they should drop FB.
Stop sulking and write the BOT and Gast to support Athletics.
Anonymous said…
Coen is a loser!

If he doesn't know that he needs to surround himself with quality coaches, without being told, how can he possibly be the right leader to turn this thng around?

This seems to be the mode of operation for this administration. They do not put the right head coahes in place, so why should the head coach build a strong staff?

Unless....... he is his own man and knows what it takes to be a winner.

This guy has so many excuses, it's embarrasing.

Do you really think we are going to get the top recruits with this record? another telling tale of Coens lack of leadership is the amount of coaches (0) that he has mentored to move on to take a promotion with a different program, or even within his own program for that matter.

The lack of support for Coen only comes from the people who are use to seeing a winning football program and have been more then dissapointed over the past 4seasons.

If you want to sit back and support the less then mediocre record of this staff and see the proud tradition of Lehigh football continue to slide, do us all a favor and do so quitely!
Anonymous said…
Mrs. Gast is not a supporter of football. Last year, 2008 she presented a plaque at half time and walked up the home stands side and then walked around to the away side and left by the visiting teams locker room as the second half started. Of course she may have been going to get an early start on tail gating. $, I've seen better programs at a division three basketball game.
Anonymous said…
I only care about Lehigh and here once again is the recipe for disaster:

Ridiculous high costs for a LU education. Refusal to consider more financial aid. Continuous losing.

You add it up; how does it look?

I don't know if the first two can be controlled, but I know the solution to # 3.

Coaching at this level is critical. When we have agreat coach/recruiter, we win. Whitehead, Higgins, Lembo, Dunlap. When we have a guy who doesn't get it, we lose. Cooley, Small, Coen.

Think I'm wrong? Check the records. Coen was handed a winning program in 2006.
Anonymous said…
Coen record: 6 wins...5 wins...5 wins,,,4 wins...

Prediction for 2010 - 3 wins.

Let's just wait two more years after that. At this progression, we will then have justification to change coaches.
ngineer said…
I am also curious about the Gast bashing. She has been more present and supportive of athletics than her predecessor, who didn't know a football from the ball of a foot. She was in collegiate athletics, herself, at USC, so she certainly has an appreciation for what is required for athletic excellence in an academic environment. And yes, I have seen her attend entire wrestling matches. The University has publically stated it supports going to merit-based scholarships for football. It appears Laughyette may be the fly in the ointment on that score for the PL.
As for the HC, certainly, Coen knows full well the angst building up. With what is returning next year, he will have to produce a PL championship.
Anonymous said…
ngineer said...

"As for the HC, certainly, Coen knows full well the angst building up. With what is returning next year, he will have to produce a PL championship."

You're assuming that the reason the team has averaged 5 wins a year under Andy id because of talent, or a lack thereof. What I am saying is that it is my opinion that a good coaching staff would have kept Lehigh's hard earned success from 1998 - 2005 going. Andy is (in my opinion) not a very good head coach. A good HC would figure out a way to win all the close games Andy loses. The fact that the team under Coen is always in the game indicates to me that the talent is there....

Waiting for someone to prove that I'm wrong.

VOR
Anonymous said…
>>With what is returning next year, he will have to produce a PL championship.

What is returning next year? Lehigh's two defensive stalwarts will have graduated. An anemic offense returns. To the contrary, another 4 win season will be a challenge.
Anonymous said…
7 & 4, or 6 & 5 for Lehigh next year. Drake stinks, Princeton new coach, other then colgate league weak.

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