Saturday, December 20, 2008

By The Numbers

In the rough and tumble world of I-AA college football, is there a place for an academically-focused private school better known for basketball than football to compete for the title?

Ask Richmond.

Yes, the same Richmond that hosted Georgetown on October 25, ran the table en route to the I-AA (FCS) national championship. But there's more that distances the Spiders from the Hoyas than the final score of 48-0 that rainy day in October. Richmond is one of seven schools in the subdivision whose football expenses exceed $4 million in a season. And Georgetown, well, is not one of the seven.

There are a lot of fingers to point as to why this decade has been so fruitless for Georgetown in I-AA football, but it pays to check the source--in this case, the Department of Education's Equity in Athletics reports (EADA). The EADA reports aren't perfect (schools can allocate expenses in different ways), but it provides an reasonably objective look at expenses across schools. And despite having doubled its budget from 1998 to 2003, Georgetown is falling further behind not only its Patriot League brethren, but most of the schools in the East.

Let's look first at the Patriot League. The EADA reports for the seven schools show a growing gap between the top of the league (where Fordham and Colgate have passed $4 million in spending) and Georgetown, which translates into fewer financial aid awards and less depth in games...put another way, there's a reason why Georgetown is a combined 0-22 against Colgate, Lehigh, and Holy Cross, and a fair amount of it has to do with the inability to sign talent that chooses a Georgetown offer over a proportionately better one from these other three schools. That doesn't excuse the other thorns in the Hoyas' paws, but you can do a lot more with a bigger budget than a smaller one.

So how big is the disparity? Here are the EADA results for the fiscal year ending 6/30/08. Yes, Georgetown not only spends less on football, proportionately, than any other PL school, but its overall athletic budget is also larger than any of fact, it's the largest athletic budget in I-AA. It would be unrealistic to think Georgetown could spend 20-25% of its budget on football--if it did, we'd be talking about a Big East-level football budget, not a Patriot League one. Still, the numbers ought to be a wake up call for any Georgetown (or Patriot) fan. If Georgetown doubled its budget tomorrow, it would be roughly where Bucknell is now...and still be sixth in spending.

And where does this spending fit relative to other Eastern I-AA schools? Not enough.

It's no secret that Georgetown's budget doesn't stand up against the Colonial, or even the Patriot. And among the Ivy schools, Georgetown would also rank at the bottom along with Brown. But even among the Northeast Conference, once a sister league to the MAAC, has three of its eight schools spending more than Georgetown.

Thankfully for Georgetown, there is hope. While there seems a strong correlation in I-A between spending and success, the correlation in I-AA is not as strong. Yes, Delaware and Richmond are playoff contenders, but Fordham and Hofstra's respective $4 million investments haven't translated to long term success. Brown spends less than any of its Ivy brethren (at least according to this report) and has established itself as a legitimate Ivy contender.

Georgetown doesn't need to spend $4 million to be successful, but it needs to invest wisely and to incent donors to directed giving programs much more than it does right now. If Georgetown could focus on as little as $200,000 a year in additional donor revenue to commit to ten additional offers at $20,000 a year, how much of an impact would that be? What would this team be like with an additional ten recruits that are now going elsewhere?

Growing the budget won't come from the University--it must come from the constituents. Are they getting the message?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The "S" Word

Another year, another one and done for the Patriot League in the NCAA playoffs, which saw Colgate thumped 55-28 by Villanova. Five years removed from Colgate's 15-0 run to the finals, the Patriot League has slipped in regional and national perceptions as much for its philosophy as its practice.

It's a non-scholarship league.

Whether in club football or Division III, the MAAC or the Patriot, football at Georgetown has always been thus. In 1951, the Rev. Hunter Guthrie, S.J. famously boasted that the "clean, patrician features of Georgetown" would not be sullied by students that got into his school for carrying a pigskin (never mind those who bounced a ball, ran around a track, or swung a five-iron), and since then Georgetown hasn't seriously entertained anything else for its football team. But if Georgetown isn't talking much about it, writers and fans at other PL schools are.

Is the Patriot League ready for scholarship football?

A dozen years ago, Holy Cross gave the league an ultimatum--add basketball scholarships or they'd walk. The PL relented, and scholarships have slowly made their presence felt from American to Colgate as the league has become more competitive in that sport. As grant-based aid has grown, football has been a holdout within the league, in part due to the close ties with the Ivy League and in part a reflection of the competitive landscape in the Northeast that gave the PL an relative edge in recruiting kids that were good enough to play football, just not good enough to get a free ride out of it.

But the times they are a changin'.

In 1996, 28 Northeastern schools played at a non-scholarship level versus just 13 with scholarships . A decade later, the tables have turned. Next season, just 16 will play on the non-scholarship team while 23 will be offering scholarships. Outside of its Ivy League intersectional games, Patriot League schools will have just one non-conference, non-scholarship opponent available within its footprint: Marist.

The league is feeling the competitive heat from both sides of the argument. Schools of the Northeast Conference (Albany, Monmouth, Wagner, etc.) are offering 30 scholarships and are moving to offer 40 overall, picking off PL-caliber players. And while the Ivies don't offer scholarships per se, recent changes in financial aid guidelines allow Harvard, Yale, and other Ivy schools to offer a free ride to students with parents making as much as $60,000 a year, and a 90% tuition discount for families with an income of less than $120,000.

Meanwhile, the PL stands in the middle, able to buy out financial aid packages but little else for those in the middle class or higher. A $120,000 loan package for four years at Lafayette might still be preferable to a free ride at Duquesne, but in tough economic times, it's no longer a sure thing. And if a promising quarterback or lineman chooses between a virtually free education at Princeton or loans from Holy Cross, we know who will lose that battle.

"That translates into an awful lot of free education out there for Division I football players," wrote columnist Chuck Burton in a recent essay. "It's hard to compete with free."

Scholarship talk also plays prominence in discussions to expand the league--it's been hinted that schools have steered clear from the PL over its non-scholarship status. It's speculative to imagine Villanova, Richmond, or William & Mary playing in the PL, but it plays to a growing perception that if the PL wants to stay as a viable playoff conference, it needs more than good intentions and financial aid to do so.

The recent one-and-done run of Patriot teams in the I-AA/FCS playoffs and the erosion of recruits to other conferences have led some to lobby for the PL to offer scholarship aid under its academic index umbrella: recruits would still qualify for admission based on grades, but aid would be awarded regardless of financial need. Speculation suggests three schools for the plan (Fordham, Colgate, and Lehigh, each of which could convert to a 50+ scholarship program), two on the fence (Lafayette, Bucknell), and one publicly opposed (Holy Cross). Georgetown has not taken any position to date.

But what would this concept mean for Georgetown?

A future decision by the PL to add scholarships would be a tectonic shift for a school like Georgetown who, along with Fordham and NYU, practically invented the concept of non-scholarship Division I football outside the Ivy League, and which still operates with a low-cost, low-expectations philosophy. Playing one or two scholarship schools doesn't challenge the "football for fun" premise, outcomes notwithstanding. But playing eight or nine opponents every year would. And how would football scholarships be welcomed on a campus which hasn't had any since the Truman administration?

Clearly, the name "Georgetown" opens doors in recruiting that a Bucknell or a Fordham can't do. The offer of a scholarship to attend Georgetown as opposed to buying out work study could open the door a little wider towards building up the talent level of the team and offer better opportunities to secure future opponents outside of Marist and Davidson, but at a price. Literally. GU currently offers about half the total financial aid of any other PL school, and we have seen what that imbalance has done in the win-loss record. If the PL moves in the scholarship direction, Georgetown will feel the effect regardless of how much aid it offers and in what form.

With the demise of the MAAC and the transformation of the Northeast Conference, scholarship football now has a foothold in the East, and regardless of where Georgetown ultimately sides in this debate, it's going to have an effect on who it recruits, who it plays, and ultimately how the success of the program is judged.

It's an issue worth watching.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Opening Thoughts

After 12 years on the loyal newsbeat of Georgetown Football, we welcome a new and perhaps different take on the news of the Hoyas.

The Third Rail is, as was noted earlier on the site, not just a directional title but one which resonates among Hoyas of a different kind. In politics, as in sports, there are issues that aren't touched, and this site attempts to be a place to discuss some issues that, for whatever reason, doesn't get a lot of discussion elsewhere. After eight years of inertia, people have got to stop talking and start committing to the means by which Georgetown University can field a football program representative of its strength and its potential.

It's time to put aside the soft bigotry of low expectations that has hung over Hoya football in recent years. To do so, we may have to touch that rail and explore some tough questions out there.

"The future", wrote Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, "belongs to those who give the next generation reason for hope." As we enter the 45th year since a generation of young men gave new life to the football futures of the next generation, it's not only time to reconnect football to Georgetown, but recommit itself to it.

That of course, and a winning record.