Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Case For Scholarship Football

In the midst of discussions about conference realignment, the issue of scholarships and football at Georgetown, a Big East school that does not play football within its conference, has led those inside and outside the Georgetown community to ask what the role football scholarships should play in its future. This is the second of a three part series on the subject asking this question across a spectrum of possibilities: the case for a scholarship funding model.

For 60 years, the concept of scholarships in football has been so foreign to Georgetown that it was hardly worth discussing--only 30 or so alumni that ever earned a football scholarship are still in the alumni records. Prevailing wisdom told us that scholarship football was dropped over cost and, therefore, could never be conceived again. A corollary to this argument suggested that scholarship athletes were somehow "less" academic minded and thus unfit in the first place.

The first argument is false. So is the second.

If you think the cost of scholarship tuition killed Georgetown football in 1950, think again. The total cost of 81 scholarship tuition bills in 1950 totaled $36,450, or about the cost of one such tuition in 2010. Even adding room and board, books and travel, the cost of the student-athletes covered less than half the annual loss that season, one complicated by low gate receipts (three home games) and considerable travel (at Penn State, at Tulsa, at Boston College, at Miami, at Fordham, at Holy Cross).   For the most part, football was doing its part on and off the field, but renting an NFL stadium for crowds of 6,000 a game and traveling across the country for games were a dead end.

And for the better part of 45 years, football at Georgetown has existed with a central premise that football was for students and not for scholarships; in general, because Georgetown could not afford them in the first place, and in specific that it could always cobble a schedule of like-minded schools to maintain competitive parity. But within six months, that framework could change; and with it, both a challenge and an opportunity for Georgetown to revisit scholarship football will be at hand.

By December, Patriot League presidents are expected to vote on a measure allowing athletic scholarships in football. Led by Fordham, it is said to have the support of at least two other PL schools, who could convert need-based aid to grant aid with little difficulty. At least two other schools could favor it if the impact to its budgets by the covnersion could be worked out. For Georgetown (and to a lesser extent, Bucknell) the competitive impact would be devastating. In three games against scholarship opponents last season, GU was outscored a combined 73-16 at halftime.

Of course, the University would not be forced to play such competition, but times have changed. When GU rejoined NCAA play in 1970, there were over 110 schools in the Northeast playing nonscholarship football in what is now Division III. By 1995, in Division I-AA, there were 35 simialrly situated programs in the region, not counting lower division schools. If the Patriot opts to go to scholarship after the 2010 season, just nine non-schoalrship I-AA opponents would remain (Ivy League + Marist) , the balance having either gone scholarship in the Northeast Conference, or in the case of most of the former MAAC, dropped the sport entirely.

For a long time, scholarship sports at Georgetown were considered the province of basketball and track, and not much else. Owing to recent Big East requirements, limited scholarships have been raised in baseball, golf, lacrosse, soccer, and volleyball. In fact, only one NCAA sport at Georgetown is not allowed to sponsor any athletic least for now.

The case for scholarship football is an example of taking the next step--not for abandoning the institutional and financial principles that have guided the sport over these last two generations, but to enhance it, bringing with it a segment of student-athlete who is frankly disappearing on the campus: the middle class student. Unable to qualify for need-based aid, unable to pay tuition, this is the lost generation of would-be Hoyas ending up at places like Villanova, Stony Brook and Duquesne for the simple fact that these schools could offer aid for their future and Georgetown couldn't.

What if it could? What would it mean for Georgetown competitively and institutionally if it did?

"To be a competitive team in scholarship I-AA football alone, from 57 to 63 scholarships are needed and that is not an insignificant expense in a program such as Georgetown’s," wrote the previous column, and that is true--but it's not an either/or proposal, e.g., zero or 57. What would two, four or even six scholarships a year allow the coaching staff  to reach a prospect who could have a transformative effect on Hoya football if only he could afford to attend? Is the next Colt Brennan (a player who was said to have been interested in Georgetown while attending Worcester Academy in 2002) out there, if only GU could have offered him (or any comparable recruit) something less than $35,000 in loans, or more, for the privilege of attending?

Let’s again take a look at the five factors which can be used to evaluate a football funding model, adapted from a 2004 study at Rice University.

Philosophy of Competition: Absent an offer it could not refuse from the Big East Conference, this argument is not about an 85 scholarship Division I-A program playing at FedEx Field. Nor is it to realign with the likes of Delaware and Georgia State in the Colonial Athletic Association. If the Patriot League adopts a scholarship model, how do scholarships affect its philosophy of competition? Surprisngly, not that much,a t least to those who upgrade. With the players still being held to the admissions tandards set by the school and the league, the scenario is that some students can receive an education based on need, while others are receiving that same education based on the gifts of alumni and constituents. The element of competition, to field a team representative of the student body doesn't change, but is otherwise enhanced, because absent the middle class that carries a median income from $50,000-$150,000, athletics at Georgetown becomes an exercise of the very rich and/or the working poor. 

Rev. O'Donovan's vision of football to “utilize the game of football to create an environment and atmosphere among our students, faculty, and community on an autumn Saturday afternoon and bring to our campus a school spirit on a fall day that is desperately needed” by playing peer institutions that shared similar academic philosophies is maintained, if only that Georgetown could better compete with Patriot  teams (6-43 since 2001) and even Ivy teams (1-10 since 2003), which it seems less capable of doing under its present funding formula, and practically infeasible as these other programs pursue better recruits through either athletic scholarships or enhanced aid policies in the Ivy.

Peer Institutions: Each Patriot League school has a budget twice that of Georgetown, most of it in financial aid. For a school like Fordham, that number is almost three times in scope. If Georgetown can only offers $10,000 in aid to a recruit but Fordham can ofer a free ride, where does that kid go? Now, extend that to five other PL schools, and if Georgetown can't compete on the field now, what will it look like in a few years? And while Georgetown is among the median of Ivy schools by football budget, these schools have begun to implement a new facet of financial aid which figures to give it an insurmountable advantage over Georgetown on a strict need for need basis.

Athletic competition in any sport is best suited with comparable opponents and comparable missions. Forget the Big East for a moment--if Georgetown can't compete with Holy Cross or Penn, what's left? Duquesne and St. Francis, old rivals in the Division III days? Both are now building towards 40 scholarships. Wagner? Sacred Heart? Stony Brook? On their way to 40, too. The schools of the Pioneer League do not offer scholarships but range in distance from Marist (Poughkeepsie, NY) to San Diego. A schedule with the likes of Campbell (NC), Jacksonville (FL), and Valparaiso (IN) would do nothing to promote Hoya Football among an increasingly apathetic student and alumni population.

Should Georetown find the gifts to add the equivalent of 57 scholarships, opportuntiies for games with Big East foes are not out of the question. Colgate, for example, plays at Syracuse this year, and Fordham will play Connecticut in 2012,  but that's not the destination, a competitive experience is. Because the cost of education demands greater support for the student athlete, not choosing to act is a decision in and of itself.

Talent: What can Georgetown University offer a recruit? A great education-- assuming, of course, he can get in and find a way to pay for it. Talented recruits, especially those at the upper end academically, have a lot of choices and fewer are willing to take on tens of thousands of dollars in loans just to play for Georgetown when peers can (and will) offer essentially an loan-free education for attending its school. Opening up the door to more talented student-athletes can only help Georgetown's cause, mindful that it still has the ability to accept and reject prospects on academics--a scholarship is not a blank check.

While a generalization, I've used this analogy to explain the corner Georgetown is with recruiting. (The assistant coaches may disagree on degree, but it's one man's opinion.) If there are 1,000 prospects for GU out there, Georgetown is basically restricted to the top 100 by grades. Of those 100, 40 are below $50,000 income, 40 below $100,000, and 20 above it.  Of the 40 below $50,000, 30 will get scholarships elsewhere, with the Georgetown fighting for 10 with the rest of the Ivies and PL. Of the 40 in the middle, 30 will get scholarships elsewhere, but Georgetown can't offer any competitive aid, and will be in the running for 2 or 3. Of the 20 at the top, half will get aid through the Ivies (details below) and Georgetown is fighting for the remaining 10 with the six other PL schools.  So for 1,000 recruits, Georgetown is fighting for maybe 2% of the pool (albeit with an 0-11 record and the MSF), and that's assuming the 2% are difference makers and not second teamers.
A football scholarship plan could expands the prospect pool from 200-400% without  necessitating a change in academic standards. If you can't afford Georgetown, and Georgetown can't make a competitive offer, you're out from the start.

In the previous column, it was written that "a non-scholarship athlete understands priorities off the field take precedence to those on it, and so do the coaches." Well, so do scholarship athletes, maybe more so. The record of Georgetown scholarship athlete community stands on its own across many sports, and football should be no different.

Institutional & Constituent Support: The word "scholarship", to some, reads "open admission"--it's a reeflection that top teams in football and basketball show little attention to the SAT and grade range of the overall applicant pool and recruit on NCAA minimums, and Georgetown Basketball is widely perceived to to recruit well below the competitive nature of the admissions pool as a whole.

Few make this claim about lacrosse athletes being open admits, or soccer, or any of the schoalrship athletes. Each sport has a range of admissions opportunities (the so-called "stretch" versus "reach") and what works in basketball may not work in soccer, for instance. Scholarship football does not require open admission--it is a reflection of talent and financial need in an era where the middle class cannot afford to attend the University, and can be consistent with the admissions policies already practiced in sports like lacrosse and soccer, neither of whom are painted with the broad brush of uninformed opinion that basketball has been portrayed with over the years.

Yes, but who's going to pay for it?

Economics: If there are insuficient University resources to support scholarship football, fine. It's got to come from constituents. The Univesity's focus is rightly on need-based aid over the next five years, which could also be of gain for need-based recruits. Leveraging the Gridiron Club to raise money for full and half-scholarships (yes, a half grant can be powerful gift of and by itself) is an attractive option. To the $250,000 annual goal discussed in the previous column, that's five scholarships a year in recruiting, or two full grants and six half grants, however they are divided. That doesn't sound like a lot, but a coach that had these options for the student-athlete where Georgetown is a contender would be a tremendous selling tool for a a special student athlete who, quite frankly, can't consider affording Georgetown otherwise.

But let's revisit the change agent that is spurring this document: If Patriot League schools  offer scholarships, Georgetown is all but non-competitive. Further complicating this dilemma is the effort from Ivy League schools to essentially eliminate loans as part of a financial aid formula.

For 50 years, tuition at nationally competitive universities has increased with no end in sight. It cost somewhere around $2,500 a year to attend Georetown in 1960, about $4,500 in 1970 and just under $8,000 in 1980--while expensive, each was less than half the median income of the United States household. Since 1980, median household income has increased by 139%, but the cost of education has increased 513%, and with fewer federal aid options available, the cost of one year at an Ivy or PL school eclipses the household income for over half the nation.
In past years, Ivy and PL schools followed similar aid forumulas that made it theoretically comparable to accept an offer from Brown versus, say, Colgate. That has changed. Examples are noted at

  • Brown: Eliminated parent contribution in financial aid formula. Eliminated any loans for household incomes (HHI) under $100K, caps total indebtedness to $20,000 for any student with a HHI over $150,000.
  • Columbia: Eliminated parent contribution,repalced all loans with grants. No debt for HHI under $60,000.
  • Cornell: Eliminated parent contribution for HHI under $75,000. Caps loans at $3,500 per year for HHI under $120,000, caps loans at $7,500 above $120,000.
  • Dartmouth: No loans for HHI under $75,000.
  • Harvard: No parent contribution needed, no loans offered. Families with HHI over $120,000 expected to pay no more than 10% of their income for tuition.
  • Pennslvania: No loans.
  • Princeton: All loans converted to grants.
  • Yale: No parent contribution under $60,000, sliding scale of 1%-10% of income expected to pay for tuition.
"There are some families that will pay less for their kid to go an Ivy League school than they would if their kid went to a state school," said financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz to

And they are not alone. In addition to schools like Duke, Stanford, North Carolina, Caltech, and more than two dozen no-loan programs among major colleges, Patriot League schools are getting into the fray: At Lafayette, no loans are offered to families with a HHI under $60,000, and cap loans above this at $2,500 a year. A similar program is found at Lehigh.

Where you won't find this--football or not, is Georgetown. The money's not there. And as Ivy and PL schools become more competitive aid-wise, scholarship or not, the means by which Georgetown can remain competitive for students and student-atheltes becomes ever less productive. Donor-initiated scholarships do not solve the issue, but it can help.

At the Georgetown web site, there is a brief interview with graduating lineman Jon Medina, who played three seasons before being sidelined by injury. "When I first began looking at Georgetown, all I saw was the sticker price,” he said. “The scholarships I received were essential to my attending Georgetown,” he says.

As the price of higher education takes more people out of the ability to pay, Georgetown need to consider all options to get the best students to look beyond that price tag and to the enduring value of a Georgetown education. "When enrollment is open to the best, we not only fulfill our mission, we not only fulfill the ambition of our founder, we not only serve those who gain otherwise inconceivable access to a first-rate education, but we enhance the experience of all who come to Georgetown," said GU President Jack DeGioia in his introduction to the 1789 Scholarship Imperative. For football's sake, engaging donor-supported scholarships must also be part of the discussion.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Case For Non-Scholarship Football

In the midst of discussions about conference realignment, the issue of scholarships and football at Georgetown, a Big East school that does not play football within its conference, has led those inside and outside the Georgetown community to ask what the role football scholarships should play in its future. This is the first of a three part series on the subject asking this question across a spectrum of possibilities: first, the case for the existing non-scholarship funding model.

Sports teams are like houses. You can’t tell how tall you can build until you check the foundations.

When Hofstra and Northeastern dropped football last year, the sport literally disappeared from these campuses. The foundation was only as good as the 63 scholarships that they spent on them, and there arose no salient efforts to continue the sport outside this model.

When Georgetown dropped scholarships in 1951, football never really left. In his brief term as president of Georgetown (1949-52), Rev. Hunter Guthrie was no friend of athletics, and by cutting 81 scholarships, he thought that would be the end of it. Instead, football hung around through 13 years of full-contact class intramurals, with coaches and fans at weekly games. That effort helped provide the foundation for club football, which would not have survived if the talent and interest wasn’t there in the first place. Were it not for club, the move to Division III would have been roundly opposed by an administration which still viewed football as some sort of Trojan horse upon academia, but in reality wasn’t so afraid of a sport which it saw with the students it was teaching in the classrooms every day.

Similarly, the move to the MAAC and the Patriot League could not have taken place—or survived-- without the foundations set in place during the Scotty Glacken era. Glacken knew the value of scholarship football—after all, the Washington D.C. native he won a scholarship to Duke, which propelled him into the AFL and later to a prominent position in the DC investment community, but he also understood the role of a non-scholarship program, too. “I’d like consideration to be a given to a boy who is a good student and if it happens he also plays football, that’s all the better,” Glacken told The HOYA in 1973. “If we’d have financial support from the University, it would give us something to work with.”

The case for non-scholarship football is an example of what works—the foundation is in place, need not be torn up, and absent the capital investment to do so, remains a cost effective investment for the University for what remains an extracurricular activity and not a revenue source or auxiliary enterprise.

Georgetown offer scholarships in a number of sports, from fully funded teams (basketball), to scholarships divided across much of the team (track, lacrosse, soccer), to a handful across various sports (golf, volleyball, baseball, etc.). Football is non-scholarship as much by rule as by direction—the Patriot League does not allow for merit-based grants and the Hoyas have not competed within a division of conference where scholarships were permitted since reviving football in 1964. To be a competitive team in scholarship I-AA football alone, from 57 to 63 scholarships are needed and that is not an insignificant expense in a program such as Georgetown’s.

Let’s take a look at five factors which can be used to evaluate a football funding model, adapted from a 2004 study at Rice University. While the concept of scholarships offers promise, a need-based aid model remains within a framework Georgetown can better live with.

Philosophy of Competition: As one digs into the foundations of football at Georgetown, the building blocks for the sport have always relied foremost on the student experience, or, as it was once referred, “football for fun”. Viewed against the bright lights of the Big East and the NCAA Final Four, this may seem a bit anachronistic. But viewed against its own foundations, it’s not. As outlined by former President Leo O’Donovan S.J., the non-scholarship model allowed GU to, in the words of former coach Bob Benson, to “utilize the game of football to create an environment and atmosphere among our students, faculty, and community on an autumn Saturday afternoon and bring to our campus a school spirit on a fall day that is desperately needed” by playing peer institutions that shared similar academic philosophies (e.g., Patriot and Ivy teams). The value of national recognition is subordinated to competing for the institution and for the game.

Peer Institutions: Athletic competition in any sport is best suited with comparable opponents and comparable missions. A community college is not Georgetown’s peer, neither is a school in the Southeastern Conference. While GU has met schools across the academic and athletic spectrum over 122 years of varsity football play, the present cohort of schools to which Georgetown is most closely identified are schools which maintain competitive non-scholarship football programs: generally, Ivy and Patriot league programs, while excepting a handful of programs above its football weight class (Duke, Northwestern, Notre Dame) and a one or two below it (Johns Hopkins, Chicago). As long as this group continues to play football within this model, it’s a good home that Georgetown can live with institutionally, and compete reasonably with. Yes, Georgetown’s poor records in the Kelly era are a legitimate topic of concern, but the outcomes are not the result of its peers.

Peer competition is important to Georgetown. A low-scholarship conference (<20 scholarships) does not exist, while the closest mid-range league (21-50) would realign Georgetown which schools such as Wagner, Monmouth, and Stony Brook. At the highest levels of I-AA football (51-63 scholarships) is the Colonial Athletic Association, with teams such as Richmond, William & Mary, and Villanova. These are competitive peer schools, but at a significant price and at the loss of meaningful competition with the Patriot and Ivy League. As to major college peers (I-A), the tradeoffs of 85 scholarships, renting RFK Stadium or FedEx Field, and trading Brown and Yale for Pitt and Syracuse represents a quantum leap in admissions, budgets, and support, with the exposure of several million dollars in losses if game attendance or TV revenues do not match expectations.

Talent: Georgetown has always drawn students that are driven by academic success in the framework of a well-rounded education, and football should be no different. A non-scholarship athlete understands priorities off the field take precedence to those on it, and so do the coaches. This does not preclude greater success in the sport after college (the Ivies regularly send graduates to NFL training vamps, for example), but does not overwhelm it.

Georgetown does not play football as a mere avocation, of course. It recruits, trains, and expects players to be driven to be competitive on the field and, when successful in recruiting, can bring to the Hilltop great-student athletes in a sport. But it also expects a balance off the field to which a non-scholarship model is particularly accommodating. Since financial aid is awarded by the University on need and not on performance, the decision whether to play does not put one’s academic attendance into jeopardy. No one is “pulling” a scholarship for being a third string quarterback. If a football player is forced into a choice between the weight room and the classroom, that’s a choice no one at GU wants to put someone into.

Institutional & Constituent Support: The more competitive the college, the more scrutiny is placed upon admits. Georgetown has never been comfortable from an institutional point of view with special admits, sports or not. Even the concept of 3 or 4 men’s basketball players a year outside the traditional SAT ranges still causes an amount of institutional indigestion, unfair or not. By following an admissions policy that accepts students based on academic performance and admits based on the same financial aid formula available to any accepted student, football can seek to avoid the pushback that Georgetown is somehow weakened by a disproportionate share of special admits within a class.

A related factor is constituent support. A school like Villanova or even Fordham (which is moving to scholarship football) counts upon major donors to fund scholarship expenses. A major constituent base is, for now anyway, not developed at Georgetown. In 1976, the Gridiron Club proposed raising money for 50 need-based financial aid awards a year, or an annual commitment of $250,000, and fell far short. Thirty five years later, even $250,000 (now the equivalent of five scholarships per year) is a Gridiron Club goal and not an expectation. Absent a major giving drive, University-generated financial aid provides the only reliable means of support to student-athletes and can be expected to continue to do so.

Economics: If academic, peer, and institutional considerations don’t drive this conversation, economics do. For a broad-based athletic program such as Georgetown, there are simply insufficient revenues at hand to commit to athletic scholarships required between football and comparable women’s sports. Many schools that can offer full scholarships in football do so with a vastly abbreviated men’s sports program—Vanderbilt, for example, has just 29 male athletes in all remaining sports outside football, basketball, and baseball. Outside of these same three sports, Georgetown has over 300 male student athletes.

Yes, peer schools like Duke, BC and Notre Dame are able to run broader-based programs, but do so with significant television contract revenue Georgetown does not have, and overall budget roughly twice GU’s size. If a future TV contract wanted to pay Georgetown $20 million a year, perhaps then we can talk. Absent that kind of revenue, and amidst the rising cost of a full tuition grant at Georgetown, much (though not all) of the scholarship talk becomes moot.

Bear in mind that the cost of 81 full football scholarships (tuition, room, board, books and fees) in 1950 dollars totaled just over $100,000. In 2010 dollars, the cost of 81 grants is over $4.6 million. Double it, and that’s $9.2 million in men’s and women’s scholarships that would need to be supported every 12 months. The current scholarship budget for all 29 Georgetown sports combined is less than $6.5 million.

And in a dark, bottom-line way, that’s another reason why Georgetown is playing football in 2010 and Hofstra and Northeastern is not. The operating expenses of GU football totaled just over $256,000, net of financial aid and coaches salaries. It’s a much easier answer for Jack DeGioia to answer when an angry alumnus asks why we’re spending $250,000 on a losing football team as opposed to, say, spending seven or eight million on a losing team in a time of fiscal austerity. Leveraging the financial aid resources of Georgetown University makes football not just an expense but an investment that pays dividends—in students, in alumni, in giving, and in providing the kind of well-rounded college experience that a Hofstra or Northeastern doesn’t have anymore.

No one denies that the cost of attending Georgetown weighs heavily upon recruiting and, ultimately, with on-field success. Fortunately, the University’s top campaign initiative, the 1789 Scholarship Imperative, fits the program to a tee. The campaign aims to raise $500 million in need based aid over five years, the same need-based aid that could be raised by football consituents directly for the program. As written earlier this year,
  • “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 recruits. 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... 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.”

A non-scholarship foundation, too modest for some and perhaps not for others, nonetheless allows for the two most precious resources of a college sports program: a present it can afford, and most importantly, the promise of a future to build upon.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Calm Before The Storm

In a week of NBA finals, Stanley Cup Finals, and the hopes of Washington Nationals fans that Steven Strasburg is the next Nolan Ryan and not the next David Clyde (yeah, look it up), the hot topic in the chattering class is college football and whether the University of Nebraska chooses safety and security (staying in the Big XII) or money and prestige (as a candidate for what we could now call "Big Ten+ "). How did it come to this?

Before we point to Penn State moving to the Big Ten and Arkansas deep-sixing the Southwest Conference 20 years ago, remember that these kind of moves are somewhat common across sports, just not among entrenched Division I-A schools. A school like Louisville, for example, has variously belonged to the Southern Intercolelgiate Conference, the Ohio Valley, the Missouri Valley, the Metro Seven, and Conference USA before joining the Big East. Even Nebraska played in two conferences before the Big 8.

Nebraska, an outlier when Big Ten expansion talks began, has moved to the front of the line in recent weeks as Notre Dame has reminded the conference that no means no, and the Big East has taken proactive steps to develop the kind of TV network that gives strength to its members to stay and casts doubts about how effective the Big Ten Network can be in places like, say, New Jersey. Nebraska hasn't said yes but hasn't exactly said no to the Big Ten's open offer either, and has been given an ultimatum of sorts: either commit to the Big XII or the Texas Longhorns are prone to move west to the Pac-10 and take the entire Big XII Southern Division with them.

Nebraska will have a home no matter what they do. But the collateral damage to Kansas, Kansas State, Colorado, and Iowa State could be severe. Nebraska's decision, whatever it is (and if you're reading this in September, whatever the decision was) will drive decision making among a host of schools nationwide, if only to escape the game of Division I-A musical chairs with one less chair in the circle. In the 1990's, former national powers SMU and Houston found themselves left standing when the music stopped. This time around, who knows.

And in a strange way, Nebraska's dilemma patterns the inconvenient truth that has been hanging like a cloud over the Patriot League for a year--someone's got to make a decision on football scholarships. For those at Georgetown who have not been keeping up with this (and owing to message board discussions, almost no one has), Fordham spends a considerable portion of its budget on football, almsot three times that of Georgetown and more than any I-AA private school in the nation. They soon realized with the money they are spending on financial aid (close to $3 million a year), converting that to scholarships elevates Fordham to be a legitimate candidate for games with Division I-A schools, who must play schools with 57 or more scholarships to qualify the game for bowl contention. Fordham decided this year to basically ignore the PL's ban on football scholarships beginnign with this recruiting class. The league placed them as ineligible for the PL title but let Fordham maintain scheduling with the other schools, until such time that schoalrships are accepted and Fordham is back in, or scholarships are rejected and Fordham resigns from the league, leaving the PL at the minimum number of schools needed for an NCAA playoff bid.

A meeting of the Patriot League presidents in December 2009 failed to produce consensus on what to do, but the league announced it would come to a decision within a year. This week's summer meeting of the presidents has not to date announced any further resolution and the PL continues towards a self-imposed December deadline to address Fordham's wanderlust.

This decision won't come down to Fordham. It will come down to Lehigh.

There are probably two schools in the camp for football scholarships (Fordham, Colgate) and a mix of schools which range from those who could afford it (Lehigh, Holy Cross), to those that could probably be talked into it (Lafayette, Bucknell). The PL may determine that its Ivy alliances and non-scholarship philosophy are more important than games against UConn or Temple, and Fordham will be politely shown the door. But here is where Lehigh holds a trump card--it is arguably the strongest program in the conference and one whose recruiting and revenue base can justify scholarships. If Lehigh gave its presidential approval to scholarships, it's not like the PL is going to throw them out, and its support puts enormous pressure on Lafayette (and less so to Colgate and Holy Cross) to follow suit, pressure that Fordham cannot and does not possess. If the Engineers add 60 scholarships, rest assured the Leopards, Red Raiders and Crusaders won't settle for less. Conversely, if Lehigh stands up for the PL philosophy, it would keep the foundations in place for the entire league and prevent other schools from venturing out on its own.

OK, so no one is going to confuse a Saturday afternoon at Nebraska with Lehigh, but the Huskers' choice of stability and security versus revenue and prestige does mirror what the Patriot League presidents must evaluate. The PL was built on Derek Bok and John Brooks' shared vision of amateur competition among elite colleges, without the pressure and presumed professionalism of "big time" football. The model has been somewhat marginalized in recent years by the erosion of interest in non-scholarship football in the East, the move by the Ivy League to offer more grant money than what is offered in the PL, and the perception that non-scholarship schools are being left behind in recruiting and on-field performance. The days of multiple playoff bids and a PL team in the I-AA championship game seem more distant than ever.

Such temptations come at a price, however, and not only philosophically--the cost of maintaining 57-63 athletic scholarships in football in the Title IX era is not inconsequential. Fordham is able to do it because its football financial aid money was accounted for in the athletic budget, not as general aid received by any eligible student. The transition might be far less palatable to schools which have built its program from general aid and not athletic aid.

Left unsaid for now is where Georgetown fits into all this--frankly, it doesn't. The Hoyas are such an outlier in this discussion, but the results of whatever the league decides will likely have a transformative effect on where we see Georegetown foottball going forward. I'll save the arguments pro and con for another column, but consider this sobering fact of the Kelly era: Georgetown is 1-23 against PL schools, and these are schools without football scholarships. If four, five or six of these PL schools quickly ramped up to 55-60 scholarships, how would the Hoyas fare?

Assuming the PL hasn't reached a resolution this week, and notthing suggests they have, a decision is promised by the end of this year. There are two doors awaiting the league, and these school presidents know that the decision made affect the long term structure and stability of the entire league itself, not just football. Much like the Big XII, it must stand together, lest it hang separately. Fordham has made its choice, but a number of other schools will look to Lehigh to choose which door to collectively pass through.

So will it be the lady, or the tiger?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Past And Prologue

As quotes go, there are all sorts of expressions about what history has meant through the ages. Here are a brief assortment:
  • "History is the sum total of the things that could have been avoided." - Konrad Adenauer
  • "History is the record of what one age finds worthy of note in another." -Jacob Burckhardt
  • "The past actually happened but history is only what someone wrote down." -A. Whitney Brown
  • "History: gossip well told." - Elbert Hubbard
But perhaps a more appropriate view came from author David Thelen who observed that "The challenge of history is to recover the past and introduce it to the present."

On June 1, we announced at an effort to, in Thelen's words, to recover the past of Georgetown University football and introduce it to the present. Following in the footsteps of the Georgetown Basketball History Project, a new web site will be created to house the "Georgetown Football History Project", which debuts in September.

The Basketball Project was born in 2004 with a simple, if ever-incomplete premise: build a web site to serve as a one-stop archive of the various and sundry facts and figures that had grown up over the years with Hoya Basketball and, where appropriate, correct and update factual information surrounding the program. By building a database of players and schedule information, putting together things like verifiable rosters by year, cleaning up long-incorrect data, and providing a forum for readers to learn a little more about alumni from the past (in general, those before 1972 and certainly those prior to World War II) the site helped to broaden the rich history of basketball at the Hilltop and served a role in the preparation of the school's basketball centennial activities during the 2006-07 season.

Six years later, it's time to take a similar step forward with a sport and a history that makes basketball looks tame by comparison.

It's safe to say that football at Georgetown has endured more twists and turns than some mystery novels. Its first game wasn't even played, as its opponent in 1881 simply failed to show up for the game. Its early years were replete with boisterous crowds and hard-hitting play, with two deaths in the first 20 years of varsity competition. Yet a sport started by students in 1874 would survive the sport stopping three times, the last being a fateful decision to walk away from major college athletics in 1950 because, in the words of then college president Hunter Guthrie, S.J.: "We did not want the clean, patrician features of Georgetown disfigured by a broken nose and a cauliflower ear."

Thirteen years later, students brought back football and, four years from now, their successors will mark the 50th anniversary of modern GU football, the longest uninterrupted run in the 120 years of competition at the school.

Having worked on the football site for over 14 years now, the various stories of this (and previous eras) convinced me that there are many stories to tell about the sport and its impact upon Georgetown. The Football Project will be an attempt to do so.

Like its basketball sibling, there will be plenty of stats on the site, an expanded player roster, and information about Georgetown's various All-Americans and Hall of Fame awardees. I expect there will also be the opportunity to share some of the interesting stories gathered on Georgetown's early era players, all but forgotten in the passing of time but interesting nonetheless. For example, three of Georgetown's early era coaches enjoyed an interesting life outside of coaching:
  • After Georgetown dropped the sport for three seasons following the death of George Bahen, its new coach was Bill Donovan. Donovan was not a football coach per se, but followed in the tradition of three of Georgetown's four previous coaches: he was a professional baseball player moonlighting in the fall once the season was over. And yes, Bill Donovan, (nee "Wild Bill Donovan") was a pitcher for the Washington Senators in 1898 before moving on to Brooklyn in 1899 and pitching for 14 years in the majors and a stint as manager for the New York Yankees. Wikipedia notes that "On May 7, 1906, Donovan accomplished a rare feat even for the best base stealers. He stole second base, third base, and on the front end of a double steal took home in the 5th inning of an 8-3 victory over Cleveland. He also hit a triple in the same game."
  • Four years following Donovan was a coach listed for many years in the media guides as "Herman Sutter". The typo belied the fame enjoyed by one Herman (Billy) Suter as football coach, writer, and publisher. Suter graduated from Princeton in 1896 and returned to Nashville to coach the team at Sewanee, also known by the formal name of "University of the South." His 1899 team gave up only one touchdown all season, and in a famous five day road trip, the little college shut out the likes of Texas, Texas A&M, Tulane, LSU, and Old Miss by a combined score of 101-0. Georgetown won seven of ten games that Suter coached in 1902, but Suter had bigger plans outside coaching. Suter retired from coaching to open a publishing company in Washington. He would later serve as an editor-at-large and publisher for the Nashville Tennessean, hiring a young writer named Grantland Rice to cover sports for the paper.
  • By 1910, Georgetown welcomed a local coach by the name of Fred Nielsen, who coached two seasons. From 1910 through 1911, Georgetown outscored its opponents 438-57 and suffered only two defeats: a 17-0 loss to Pitt, the undefeated and unscored-upon national champions, and a 28-5 loss to Carlisle, led by All-American Jim Thorpe. (These two losses accounted for all but 12 points surrendered over two seasons.) Nielsen left coaching to pursue a distinguished career in law and diplomacy, serving as an international trade representative and Solicitor for the Department of State before joining the Georgetown law faculty in 1924.

Yes, there are a lot of stories and accomplishments out there, from the better known to the obscure. Shown against the bright light of basketball, it seems to many that football at Georgetown has no tradition, but in fact it's a story that needs to be told.

And as Georgetown embarks on some big decisions regarding how it wants to approach football in the 2010's, a firm understanding of its past can be a window to its prologue, by realizing that those who have competed honorably have contributed to society as men for others learned many of the tools of leadership and dedication on those very playing fields seeming lost in obscurity.

Just this week, the Lindy's college football annual posed this question to its pick for Georgetown at the bottom of the PL race for the title: "Is university committed to football? Hoyas are 6-37 in last four years".

Well, it's 5-38, but this question has already been answered. Understanding the past can serve to bring together the generations for which intercollegiate athletics was, is, and can be something more.

And sooner rather than later, for as former Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell aptly put it: "History balances the frustration of "how far we have to go" with the satisfaction of "how far we have come."

Coming in September.