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A Way to Save the Patriot League?


This offseason has been one of worry for Eastern football fans.

If you're a member of the CAA, you've been floored by the sudden disappearance of Northeastern and Hofstra football, causing a scheduling mess for 2010 and a sudden worry about the "Northeast Four"'s continued inclusion in the league.

If you're a member of the Patriot League, you have to be worried about the makeup of the teams that were terminated: private schools that both looked like prime candidates for Patriot League inclusion at one time or another.

If you're a member of the NEC, you're looking forward to your autobid in the FCS playoffs starting in 2010, but you're worried about the lack of forward momentum on scholarships - and the growing gap between the top (Albany, Central Connecticut State) and bottom (St. Francis).  (More)


And if you're a member of the Ivy League, you're worried that despite a new commissioner executive director, nothing seems to really change.  Despite the fact that Harvard's endowment allows them to out-recruit the rest of the Ivy League (with the most generous financial aid program on the planet), the Ivy League brought the hammer down on Cornell due to their experimental "merit aid" program, which resembled the merit aid program offered at Patriot League institutions.

For sure it's a challenging atmosphere out there.  But challenging atmospheres also lead to opportunities - ones that the Patriot League could, with a little creativity, use to become a better, more secure league.

It will require new vision, throwing out old ideas, and embracing new ones.  And they're worth considering.  (And you don't need to be Superman to implement them, either.)

*****

The core of the Patriot League consists of eight private schools: American, Army, Bucknell, Colgate, Holy Cross, Lehigh, Lafayette and Navy.  In football, we have two associate members: Georgetown and Fordham.  All are private, extremely selective institutions.  All agree to an academic index to ensure that all athletes are representative of the rest of the class.  And in football - for now, anyway - agree to have all athletes go through a needs test before getting financial aid.

In the CAA, there are four schools - UMass, Rhode Island, Maine, and New Hampshire - that are far away from the core of the rest of the league.  None are full members of the CAA: UMass and Rhode Island are part of the Atlantic 10, and Maine and New Hampshire are a part of America East.

They are all public schools.  They are worried about travel costs - on the record.  And they also offer the Patriot League an extraordinary opportunity.

What if the Patriot League extended an invitation to Maine and New Hampshire?

Granted, in order to get to that point, a lot would have to happen.  The Patriot League were to come to a decision on football scholarships and (likely) make an adjustment to the bands of the Academic Index.  They'd quite possibly lose Georgetown or Bucknell as a result (maybe to compete in the Pioneer Football League as non-scholarship programs).  And they'd have to overcome the perception that public universities and the Patriot League model are incompatible.

But don't laugh.  With scholarships, it may not be the huge adjustment for these two schools that you might think.

In terms of public schools, they graduate their athletes.  New Hampshire was publicly commended for their football teams' APR rate (979) for the second consecutive year, putting them in the same honor roll as the Ivy League and many Patriot League schools.  Maine (969) isn't far behind - so they both have a history of taking athletes that are representative of the rest of the class.  And when they get to Cowell and Orono, they graduate.


There would be more benefits for UNH and Maine in the form of a much more regional schedule.  No more flights or long bus trips to Virginia.  They'd gain bus trips to Holy Cross and Fordham every year - and would retain Pennsylvania as a valuable recruiting area.  Costs would be reduced - and, with scholarships, they could continue to play FBS schools for paydays as well.

As for the Patriot League, it would be a coup in terms of shoring up football.  Nine high-academic members in football, even with a large number of affiliates (four), would squash all doubts that they are are not serious about football.  Fordham, presumably, would enthusiastically sign up for a full-scholarship Patriot League with an Academic Index since that's in effect what they're doing now.

The fact that both new schools would be playoff participants the last two years would also speak volumes as well as to the "football seriousness" of the new Patriot League.  Even if Georgetown and Bucknell decided to pursue a different football option, the new league would be strengthened significantly.

The Maine/New Hampshire rivalry game - the "Battle for the Brice/Cowell Musket", mentioned prominently during ESPN's broadcast of the Oregon/Oregon State game this year -would also fit in perfectly with "Rivalry Week" in the Patriot League.  A new branding opportunity would present itself, with a rivalry that dates from 1903 and who will play each other in 2010 for the 100th time.  (As far as I'm concerned, the more century-long rivalries, the better.)

It could also make the Patriot League more of a magnet for schools that aren't currently attracted to the League - perhaps in the form of a Duquesne or a Villanova - down the road.  I'd bet that such a move would worry the the NEC and CAA, as a resurgent Patriot League would be seen as eying their best football teams.  And not just affiliates, either.

The Ivy League may not like the idea of adding Maine and New Hampshire to a full-scholarship Patriot League - though they may have to look at the geography and say, well, who will Harvard and Dartmouth play out-of-conference?  If Maine, UNH and Holy Cross all are Patriot League schools, Dartmouth's closest non-full-scholarship opponent would be Central Connecticut State (2 hours and 33 minutes from Hanover), and after Marist (3 1/2 hours away), things get really dicey. 

There's even a chance that New Hampshire and Maine might leave their all-sports conference, America East, to join the Patriot League - which could become a Northeast force that stretches (potentially) from Washington, DC to Orono, ME.

***

Admit it: after reading this, you just thought "Puh-leeze!  There is no way the Patriot League is doing that!  Why would they sully their Ivy-esque brand with them?"

And I fully expect the anonymous posts to flow in, claiming that UNH and Maine are unworthy to be a part of the Patriot League because of some level of "impurity" that no school - not least the existing members of the Patriot League - can claim in every sport.

But if Patriot League presidents aren't thinking about opportunities like this, they're crazy.

Maine and UNH are strong private institutions with solid academics - they'll never be confused with Alabama or Florida.  They have a need for a Northeast, scholarship league.  Why wouldn't the Patriot League office be trying to come up with ways for them to be a part of their League?  Why wouldn't the Patriot League be trying to find a way to share the Patriot League model with a new type of school - because the number of private, Northeast, Division I institutions sponsoring football are becoming fewer and farther between?

I'd sure as heck be sending out feelers.

A potential issue might be how UNH and Maine would fit in with the Patriot League's academic index.  Their total admissions profile not as selective as Patriot League schools (which makes sense, since they're both public universities) - but their football teams, like those in the Patriot League,recruit nationally.  New Hampshire's team last year only had 17 athletes from the state of New Hampshire, and Maine had only a slightly higher number, 21.


Considering this reality, could UNH's and Maine's be assigned an academic index based on the class average of their "out of state" admissions numbers?  I have to believe that their SAT/GPA numbers for out-of-state applicants would resembles Fordham's, though I'm not sure.

Would the league be able to look at their academic index and give a thumbs up to an idea like this?

It would require creativity, a desire to extend the model to public institutions, and an acknowledgment that the the status quo for the Patriot League simply won't work in the long term.  Is there the will to even consider such an arrangement?


In the business world, the most creative, dynamic businesses who take advantage of opportunities are the ones that usually stick around after recessions - and are great successes.  The Patriot League presidents, once again, have a golden opportunity to ensure that their league is surviving, not dying.  They'd be well advised to take it - or, at a bare minimum, be thinking about it.  Even just an indicator that high-academic public universities are under consideration for expansion would be a positive step towards protecting and improving the Patriot League brand.

Comments

Travis said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Travis said…
Army isn't private. The last time I checked, my federal tax dollars pay for the military academy, the free tuition for the students and their room/board.
LUHawker said…
LFN, I love the creativity and outside the box thinking that you've displayed here, but I think you may be a little too far outside the box. I think you are wildly underestimating the foundations upon which the PL was founded in suggesting Maine and UNH. The PL wants like-minded and like-patterned schools and I don't think these two do it. Moreover, you clearly approach this from an athletics POV, which in theory is exactly how you should, but the reality is that representation in the league is more than just athletics. Add to this that while these two schools might shore-up football, it might not help travel costs for anyone, but UNH and Maine, with the possible exception of Holy Cross. I like UNH on Lehigh's schedule as an OOC, but I don't know how jazzed I'd be about that lengthy trip.

To your credit, it appears you are at least thinking about creative solutions, whereas the PL leadership gives no indication that it is also doing so.

Lastly, I don't think the Towson experiment is looked upon that well by the league, despite the need to hold its nose and affiliate with them.
Anonymous said…
Strange....no Eagles commentary. Typical when his "teams" lose.
Robert said…
Kudos for continuing to push this issue and thinking outside the box. However, I assume you slipped up in stating "Maine and UNH are strong private institutions with solid academics - they'll never be confused with Alabama or USC." As stated in your blog, the primary concern with adding Maine and UNH is that are both PUBLIC institutions, and while The University of Alabama is public, the University of Southern California is a highly competitive PRIVATE institution. I believe readers got your point, but I just felt a need to set the record straight.
Anonymous said…
Actually I felt the need to come to Chuck's defense after reading the last post. It was fairly snobbish as one might expect from the host of idiots that are allowed to post on this public blog. New Hampshire and Maine are exceptional academic institutions that are very much on a par with the patriot league schools, regardless of their being public institutions. Neither would want to join the patriot league athletically, as both have vastly superior programs at this time. It was not true some time ago, but New Hampshire could conceivably beat us by 70 points. The fact remains that the administrations have turned their backs on the football programs within the patriot league. Alice gaspains will never commit to making the football team compettitive again. She has no desire nor clue as to what it is doing to the tradition of excellence, the alumni, the student body or the players and quite frankly has shown she doesn't care. The spiral downward is a constant and unfortunately I don't have much faith in the future of patriot league football, let alone Lehigh football. But to suggest that UNH and Maine are not of the highest caliber academically is ludicrous.
ngineer said…
Last I heard, Lehigh and Colgate were supportive of going with merit athletic scholarships. So it aint Alice or anyone else on South Mountain. The naysayers are at Laughyette (primarily their snooty faculty, that wants to become Swarthmore North), and to some extent fence-sitters at Bucknell and Holy Cross.
The PL is a great league with quality schools. The only fly in the ointment is how football, the most expensive of sports, is to be treated. It provides good competition with like-minded institutions and allows for schools to stretch themselves against D-I competition to the extent they want.
Robert said…
Anonymous #2 missed my point and need not have come to Chuck's defense. My sole technical point was to correct Chuck's implied reference to the University of Southern California as a PUBLIC INSTITUTION (by comparing ME & UNH to AL and USC).

No offense taken to Anon #2's "idiot" reference (I have been called worse), my comment was not intended to address the issue of admission of PUBLIC to compete in the Patriot League. However, since raised by Anon #2, it should be noted that the admission of public institutions is a legitimate issue of concern, not one of mere snobishness. Diluting the overall academic competitiveness of the Patriot League institutions would also tend over time to dilute Lehigh's regional and national academic reputation. This dilution might also overtime jeopardize our longstanding arrangement of scheduling three Ivy League schools per season.

I love football as much as the next guy, whether it be Patriot League, BCS or NFL. Consequently, I am not weighing in one way or the other on which way Alice and Lehigh's Trustees should address these types of issues, but they are real and do impact every Lehigh graduate and student. The academic reputation of our university is not merely a "snobbish" concern. A legitimate examination of the deviation of the academic entrance requirements of any instiution (public or private) seeking to join the Patriot League from the high academic admission standards maintained by Patriot League schools cannot be dismissed.
ngineer said…
I fail to see how associating with some high quality public universities would affect Lehigh's 'academic standing'. Duke, Northwestern, Stanford, Rice and Vanderbilt all have academic reps equal or greater than Lehigh's and have not appeared 'sullied' by their association with other schools in their respective conferences. Not that I think UNH and UMe would even want to join the PL or whether it makes sense after study, but to dismiss the idea out of hand because they are 'public' smacks of elitism. The key is whether the PL wants to remain relevant in the college football world on any kind of national stage. If it does, then merit scholarships are necessary. If not, then can the pretense and become Ivy-Lite.
Anonymous said…
ngineer said...
"I fail to see how associating with some high quality public universities would affect Lehigh's 'academic standing'."

Well stated in my opinion.

The "future" of the league is pretty simple. Stay the course and risk losing relevence because even the Ivies have recruiting advantages (athletes), or boldly move toward the recruitment of better athletes, even if the ultimate risk is to lose Ivy affiliation.

Right now, the Ivies, head to head appear to have recovered against PL squads. I can recall the sour grapes from the elitists when the PL (especially Lehigh) was regularly pounding them head to head in football.

The affiliation with the Ivy League benefits PL because we seem closer to them as a result. That's what Likins and others wanted in 1985. The Ivy League likes the marriage in football because as they suspected, in the long run, they will dominate because of their incredible advantages as far as recruiting goes. They see guaranteed wins; we are affected because as playoff participants, we are judged as weak because we play the Ivy League instead of "quality" opponents out of conference. Since the Ivy League is too pure for playoffs, all they care about is looking good and guaranteeing wins.

Scrap the pretense, permit fifty scholarships (25 financial, 25 merit based athletic) and drop the Ivies if that's the way it must be. Keep Lehigh, Lafayette, Bucknell and Colgate together and assume that the assiciates never really wanted to strongly commit to begin with. Explore new additions whether they be public ot private.

Move on.

Big Fan
Anonymous said…
Between 1998 and 2006, the Higgins/Lembo years, Lehigh was 19 and 1 versus the Ivy League! At one point, LU had to fill in other temas like LIberty to offset the lack of competition from the Ivy League. They noted that Lehigh had their number and realized they were being pasted, even the Harvard, Penn, Yale big boys. They just love the way things are now...things are right in their world. Meanwhile, I can't wait until we get back to the way if was and should be. My point is that PL teams can compete when we recruit well and coach well. Neither seems to be happening since 2006. Is it Andy? Is it the president? The decline seems to coincide with the arrival of the president and the latest HC since 2006. 6 wins, 5 wins, 5 wins, 4 wins....


Big Fan
Anonymous said…
From yesterday's Pocono Record (Stroudsburg):

By Mike Kuhns
Record Sports Writer
January 14, 2010
Dan Cason scored 20 touchdowns last fall for East Stroudsburg South.

The senior wide receiver might be one of the biggest catches among area players for a college football program.

"It's a big honor to be recognized as one of the top receivers in the state," said Cason, who was named to the Pennsylvania Football News All-State team last week. "We worked hard, me, Robbie and everyone else."

Quarterback Robbie Moyer delivered the passes to Cason and the receiver didn't disappoint. At 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, Cason's ability to beat receivers with his speed and size was obvious.

Cason had nine games in which he caught two or more touchdowns.

"The young man was very disciplined in his route running and he was an excellent blocker," said ES South coach Ed Christian. "A lot of times on pass plays he would fake a block and take off and put himself in good position."

Cason caught 57 passes for 1,084 yards as a senior. He plans on playing college football at either Holy Cross or Colgate in the fall. Christian also said that if either school falls through, Penn State would love to have him as a non-scholarship player.


Why isn't Lehigh in the running for a player in their own backyard? And at a position they need help with.
ngineer said…
Re: Dan Cason..Good question if that is true..Why not contact Coen and see if they are pursuing him or whether they have and he's indicated he's interested in going elsewhere. There could be a host of reasons as to why. So send Andy an email and see what's up. Alums who want to see the program improve send in names of players all the time. Most of the time, the coaches have already contacted in some way the student. But never hurts to ask.
Anonymous said…
good suggestion but they dont follow up on players suggested to them, because they know alot more than those recommending exremely talented players. They truly can't be bothered so dont waste your time. Andy just got a brand new shredder for emails that come in from alumni, former players and interested fans suggesting ultra talented players. Don't waste Andy's time!!!
Gluhwein said…
What elose does Andy have to do right now? All the pressure is off. He won't lose his job. Now he knows all he has to do is win that last game of the year and he'll be here forever.

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