Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Football's "Imperative"

The 2010 off-season is about a third complete, and when you're Georgetown, maybe there isn't that much to say.

Outside of a Patriot League release on the all-academic teams, there's been no word from GU on many football-related items. Spring practice dates have not been announced, the Gridiron Club banquet has not been announced, the Multi-Sport Facility remains on the tarmac, and there has been no announcement of the two vacant assistant coaching positions.

And in reality, none of those announcements, by and of themselves, change what lies ahead for Georgetown in the short term. You don't drive out of the ditch that is 0-11 with press releases, you do it with better resources and hard work. And to the former, there's something that you're not hearing about that needs to be discussed.

Georgetown is not 0-11 because of spring practice or the Multi-Sport Facility or assistant coaches--in large measure, it is 0-11 because it lacks the financial abilities of peer schools to recruit and admit football players that can elevate the program. The Department of Education public reports confirm that Georgetown's budget is half that of its closest competitor (Bucknell) and about a third of what Fordham and Colgate spend on football, in large part due to the lack of grant-based financial aid available to recruts. This was a gap the Hoyas faced when joining the PL in 2001 and it has been exacerbated in the intervening years. Whereas Colgate can offer the equivalent of full rides to 55 players on the team, Georgetown can't come close, and relies on loans and work study to fill the gap for recruits.

A flush always beats a pair in poker, and a grant always beats a loan in college recruiting.

This is not only an issue on the gridiron but for admissions as a whole--the "yield" for accepted students at Georgetown (the percentage of those that accept the offer) is on the decline. Is Georgetown somehow less attractive? On the cotrary, it remains a bellwether for top students, but these students are increasingly passing on the GU offer for one major reason: cost. Georgetown is now the third most expensive college in the U.S., and the need for a family to take out tens of thousands of dollars in loans versus getting a grant to attend almost any other college puts Georgetown's offer at risk.

"Starting two years ago … a lot of our major competitors launched major financial aid programs," director of admissions Charles Deacon told The HOYA last semester. "Georgetown didn’t have the financial base to [match] those kinds of programs. So the ramping up of programs among a lot of our key competitors, we believe, with evidence from surveys, did impact the yield.”

To illustrate the widening gap, particularly among those peers in the Ivy League, the admissions office posted these statistics about what it now takes to get into these schools:
  • "Brown University has eliminated the loan portion of students' financial aid packages and replaced it with scholarship funds for students whose family income is less than $30,000 per year.
  •  At Columbia University, all undergraduates from families with incomes of $50,000 or less will receive enough aid from Columbia to eliminate the need for borrowing.
  •  Dartmouth College waives all student loans during the first year of study for students whose family incomes are less than $45,000. (Note: this has since been amended.)
  • Harvard University waives the parent contribution for parent income level below $60,000.
  • The University of Pennsylvania offers no loans to students with parent incomes less than $50,000.
  • Princeton University has replaced all university-offered loans with grants.
  • Yale University waives the parent contribution for incomes below $60,000."
In September, 2009, Georgetown announced its response to these competitive changes.

Titled the "1789 Scholarship Imperative", its goal is as audacious as it is vital: $500 million in the next five years to support need-based scholarships. Based on the class-leadership model of the Georgetown Scholarship Program, the Imperative seeks to raise the awareness of annual giving as a vital partner in Georgetown's ability to reach and retain the best students each year with scholarships of $25,000, or half the cost of a year at Georgetown.

As it relates to athletics in general, and football in specific, the impact of such awards could be transformative, at least in the absence of full scholarships.

But if you haven't heard much about the 1789 Scholarship Imperative lately, you're not alone. Owing to an executive change in University Development in early 2010, the Imperative got off to a quieter start and, five months later, is still not well known among alumni.

But over the next six months, the opportunities to engage alumni with a call to action to support the 1789 Scholarship Imperative are out there, and none more so in football, where the class of 2011 recruiting is ramping up. The more coaches know what they'll have to work with on financial aid, the better they can build the bridges that Georgetown needs so much in recruiting. It's one thing to tell a recruit that Georgetown offers grants, loans, and work-study, another to have financial commitments on hand and ready for FY11.

This is the challenge--and opportunity-- for the Gridiron Club between now and June 30, the traditional end of the fiscal year. Since all gifts, be they $25 or $25,000, can count in this effort, the need is out there to properly communicate what gifts are part of this effort (versus those that are not), how their gift can go towards football financial aid and not into a general pool of aid support, and how directed gifts can pay dividends for recruiting next fall. The Imperative may still be a work in progress until next fall, but it is open for business right now and the opportunity for football constituents to be in the first generation of leadership for this effort would be a tremendous opportunity for institutional approval and support for its efforts.

If football is going to dig itself out of the ditch of the past few years, it needs talent, and a lot of talent needs competitive financial aid to keep Georgetown in the conversation--we know good recruits aren't coming to GU for the stadium or the training facilities but if it can be cost-competitive to choose Georgetown over Fordham, over Colgate, or some of the Ivies, the opportunity for competitive gains through recruiting become more realistic.

(Yes, I mentioned Fordham. As many readers know, Fordham gave the PL the Bronx cheer and announced they are awarding full merit-based scholarships beginning this year. A full ride to Fordham suddenly becomes more than competitive for a lot of families against a package of grants and loans from Georgetown.)

Bottom line, football needs to do better and soon. The way to get better is to get better players, and the way to get better players is to be competitive with your peer group in recruiting support. To date, Georgetown hasn't been close. If the 1789 Scholarship Imperative is offering a doorway to be competitive athletically as well as academically, the football community ought to take that ball and run with it.