Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Truck Or A Prius

It's been a quiet summer at Georgetown, but for the rest of the Patriot League, it's a calm before the storm.

The upcoming debate on athletic scholarships for Patriot League football was the big story across six PL campuses this summer. Fordham knows what they plan to do, so what does Lehigh do? Does Lafayette automatically follow suit? What about Colgate? Does Bucknell have the financing to match other PL schools? Will Holy Cross stand resolute in opposing the plan, and what will happen if they do?

And some fans of these schools look southward at Georgetown and are only a little nonplussed--sadly, they've come to expect the general yawn from Georgetown to matters with the Patriot League. Where's the debate, they ask. What will Georgetown do? Don't they know what this means?

They know, but there's so much on the plate (from an athletic director search to lagging facilities issues to building pressures on fundraising) that a scholarship vote for the class of 2012 is somewhere farther down the list. Besides, when you're spending a third of what some teams spend on football, what does converting to scholarships mean if you're still 40 players short?

In part one of this series, we discussed that Georgetown is not a I-A program like Holy Cross and, institutionally, shows no sign that it chooses to be. If the Big East commissioner walked up to Georgetown and said, "either get a I-A program or leave the league next year", there's no guarantee it would jump to comply.

Ok, then, does Georgetown want to spend $4 million a year like Villanova (and Fordham, and presumably, two or three more PL schools if a scholarship vote takes place) so it can play Army or Temple once a year? This too, seems to ring hollow in administrative circles.

But herein lies the three questions awaiting the new athletic director come 2010, who should be in place when the PL presidents will presumably vote on this (though, given the league's glacial moves, a quick vote is no guarantee). How much is it obligated to spend in the Patriot League? What will Georgetown actually spend on football? What is the source of funding that will allow it to sustain the first two questions?

The first question, at the least, is favorable for Georgetown, albeit to the chagrin of the other six. The PL has never set a minimum spend for the league and while the Hoyas' three year PL record of 1-16 reflects that the gap may be widening, the league is not looking to pursue an "up or opt" policy. In a recent discussion on the ramifications of a scholarship vote, PL executive director Carolyn Femovich provided a window into how the league - and Georgetown - might react:

"I think if we went that direction, some might work to get up to 58 or 60 equivalencies, and others might say we’ll do scholarships for key athletes and other individuals that might not have the need, but we’ll do a combination, a hybrid model."

And maybe that's the strategy. With a 1-16 league record in Kevin Kelly's three years, Georgetown's high-index, low-dollar funding model just isn't working against the rest of the league. It needs a model which provides good mileage for the dollar but a little more horsepower on the field.

It bears repeating to display these numbers, what I call the Competitive Funding Index (CFI) for Patriot schools. It's the net of the overall expenses less operating or game-day expenses, with the league average indexed to 100 (and that's not even including coaching salaries, which may or may not be within an individual school's football budget). Take a look at these numbers and see what kind of hill Georgetown is climbing:

Of course, there's also Title IX. Chuck Burton writes at the
Lehigh Football Nation blog on the quandary:

"But if the rest of the Patriot League offers scholarships, this math changes for some schools that haven't already offered full scholarships in other sports. First of all, the amount needed in both male and female athletic pots grows immensely right off the bat - student-athletes who used to have a only part of a their scholarship "count" (work-study and need-based aid don't count in their accounting) are now having the entire amount count towards scholarship spending. Overall expenses for both sexes could skyrocket, especially at schools where nearly all the athletes are need-based aid in one form or another.

"At a bare minimum it will increase their amount of athletics spending immensely. It could also mean that Patriot League schools may need to abandon this type of accounting for Title IX - meaning that schools will now have to actually spend millions more on top of everything in order just to get in compliance. It could literally mean that spending one million dollars more on football could mean the school has to spend (in addition) two million dollars or more for women's sports."

So how much will Georgetown spend on football? Pragmatically speaking, only what it has to, but with Big East requirements exerting a greater pull in financial commitments that it ever has before, football supporters not only have to stand up for the team, but against those who whisper that football is no longer relevant, a waste of money. Instead of football, they whisper, that budget could fund a more competitive (select one: field hockey, swimming, golf, softball, tennis, volleyball, et al.) program."

Heed well the words from Frank Rienzo nearly two decades ago: "the sports which will survive at Georgetown are those with a constituency of support." The Gridiron Club must be more visible, more involved, and frankly, work the membership lists to a much greater extent than they have ever done before.

And what is the, sources of funding to make this work? This is the hybrid approach discussed above. It will take a mix of endowed funds, of full grants, of partial grants, of annual use buyouts, and lots of need-based aid to make it work. But in 2009, there is far too little of the former and far too much of the latter to keep Georgetown competitive, even in a league that has been on the decline since 2003--much less to compare it to other conferences.

Ask yourself: if an underfudned Georgetown team is a combined 5-38 since 2001 to PL opponents when these schools cannot offer athletic scholarships, what is the record likely to be when they can?

Thankfully, some tools are around the corner. (In part three, the tools for the rebuilding effort.)