Saturday, August 1, 2009

Stepping Up

As I write this, August awaits, a month where football is just around the corner and every team, in theory at least, is ready to make a run for the title.

Theory, however, is not reality.

So it is with a little indigestion that I pass along this story from the
Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, where eager fans await the revival of football at Old Dominion University on September 5, with a home date against Georgetown in a little under three months. The school has already sold over 14,000 season tickets, turned another 1,000 away, renovated a 1930's era stadium, and is installing a new scoreboard and sound system.

"When Old Dominion kicks off its football season Sept. 5 against Chowan, the renovated Foreman Field will be as wired as the 20,000 people on hand" writes the paper. "The old lady - the stadium was built in 1936 - has 56 miles of new fiber optic cable running through and beneath her, part of a grand plan to give fans a video and audio show to remember. ODU has invested $1.5 million into the stadium's audio and video production systems - not counting the approximately $1 million for the 30-foot-wide jumbo video board."

$1.5 million. Ugh. Old Dominion is spending as much on A/V equipment as Georgetown is spending on its football program.

And that's been the rub across the worst decade in the 120+ years of Georgetown football--a day late and a fistful of lot of dollars short. When the Hoyas rode across the MAAC's landscape, they did so with the largest budget in the conference--no great statement there, but Georgetown was never in a game where they couldn't compete. Nine seasons later, Georgetown is over $1.6 million behind that of the sixth largest budget, Bucknell, and nearly $3 million behind that of Fordham. Football is the great unfinished legacy of Bernard Muir's tenure as athletic director: he sought to fix the win loss record (4-7 in Bob Benson's last season, 2005), and the Hoyas won only five games since. He sought to fix the funding, but football spending is about where it was in 2005. He looked forward to getting the MSF project out of the bureaucratic swamp and it's still there. The oft-derided Georgetown scoreboard, good for at least one or two malfunctions every season, is still there.

You can't raise money without a plan: Muir knew that, and so do we all. And I don't doubt there are plans, veritable boxes of plans, floating around McDonough Gym for football, for basketball, and for 27 other sports. But if no one (or very few) knows the plan, is it a plan, or just an clever idea? In an earlier post, I spoke of a paradox in Georgetown's strategic planning that sees the status quo go on for far too long, and it's not just athletics. He who hesitates is lost. Q.E.D.

For Georgetown to complete, it must be on a level playing field. Funding provides a foundation from which to compete, however, and in Georgetown's next capital campaign there must be a means from which Georgetown can call upon resources to build that foundation. I'm not arguing for 63 scholarships (which, for a school carrying
less than $375,000 in endowed scholarship revenue, would be untenable), but five steps towards providing the coaching staff a means to attract and retain the best and brightest. Maybe these are in the plan; if not, well, here's some food for thought.

1. Work to endow 12 men's basketball scholarships. What does this mean for football? Well, aside from the uncomfortable idea that a nationally prominent program like Georgetown has secured all of one endowed scholarship in men's basketball, provides an opportunity for football which I'll explain below.

Twelve full scholarships amounts to over $600,000 in athletic department costs. Endowing the scholarships ($1 million each) would open up the equivalent spend of 12 scholarships which the new athletic director could use across all men's sports (with the understanding that a similar campaign for endowing women's basketball scholarships could do the same for these programs.) With 12 scholarships (e.g., three full grants a year), the AD could use these as wild cards, where the various men's coaches could recommend recruits whereby a full scholarship offer would be a page-turner for that sport. For example, football might get one in a year, one for baseball, one for soccer--no guarantees that any sport would get one, but the idea that there are additional resources available to lock in a legitimate "star", the results on the field could be noticeable. Imagine if someone had been able to offer a
Mike McLeod (Yale) or a Chris Marinelli (Stanford) a full ride to Georgetown, much less local kids like a Brian Westbrook (DeMatha, Villanova) or a Arman Shields (Gonzaga, Richmond). So imagine if there were more...

2. Work to endow 10 football scholarships. This ought to be up-front in the campaign: identify ten individuals willing to make a game-changing commitment and endow a fully funded scholarship for football. Scholarships at Georgetown aren't cheap and the cost of fully funding a year at Georgetown into perpetuity is $1 million. This task won't be easy, but the tallest hills rarely are. Imagine the opportunities that would open up where a full ride to Georgetown University is available to the top scholar-athletes in the nation.

3. Work to raise annual funds for 15 annual use half-scholarships. Endowed scholarships take time, and we could all be sitting here in ten years waiting for those gifts to come in. The Gridiron Club, which is tasked with annual use giving, should be on the front lines identifying a need (should the Patriot League approve scholarship support) to raise the $25,000 per student each year for a "half scholarship" when combined with available financial aid, would draw a larger pool of recruits into committing to Georgetown. These awards could be named in honor of former coaches (Jack Hagerty, Lou Little), former All-Americans (Al Blozis, John Dwyer, Bob Morris), or the donors themselves. The average gift of a Georgetown endowed scholarship at this time is less than $8,000 per athlete. A $25,000 gift would open up doors...and yardage.

4. Work to raise annual funds for 20 additional buyouts. Absent an athletic scholarship, the Patriot League provides preferential aid in what is called a buyout package--it can convert the loan and work-study components of financial aid to grant for those with need. It cannot offer this to those without need (pending the league's scholarship vote, of course), but for middle and lower income recruits the amount could be valuable in making a decision to attend a school. Georgetown is able to offer many, but not all, recruits such buyouts, which is otherwise standard course at PL schools, and annual buyouts should be a public and visible fundraising priority for the Gridiron Club.

If a recruit has an offer from Lehigh which reads: $30,000 grant, $20,000 parent contribution, or Georgetown ($20,000 grant, $5,000 loan, $5,000 work study, $20,000 parent contribution), where do you think he goes? Where would you go?

These are ambitious goals, every one of them. Let's review the costs:

Work to endow 10 football scholarships ($10 million)
Work to raise annual funds for 15 annual use half-scholarships ($400,000 a year)
Work to raise annual funds for 20 additional buyouts ($200,000 a year)

The last three would add the equivalent of 22.5 scholarships to Georgetown's program, which is estimated in the blogosphere to provide the equivalent of less than 20 in its current model, compared to Fordham (over 60), Colgate (over 55) Lehigh, Lafayette, and Holy Cross (over 50) and Bucknell (over 45). And that's before these schools turn the financial aid mortar into scholarship bricks, which they will presumably use to clobber schools like Georgetown over the head if GU maintains (by absence or design) the financial aid formulas it has used since joining the league.

These goals won't get Georgetown to become Boston College. Or Villanova. Or Holy Cross. It won't put one dollar into the unnamed and unfinished Multi-Sport Facility and won't solve the riddle of the Academic Index. But for the long term stability of the program, it is a visible step forward, a step towards balancing competitive stability and financial security.

$1.5 million buys a great video presentation. But it doesn't always buy a great program.