Thursday, July 28, 2011

Investing In Football, Part 4: Progress

In the previous entries, investing in football was more than just numbers, it was about investing in visibility, and in people. So if there’s a third element that Georgetown must consider when setting a course for football spending, it’s the investment in progress. Or more specifically, unforeseen progress, the progress to invent the future, not merely to fix the present.

A word about progress. Like apple pie, good schools and lower taxes, no one is exactly “against” progress, it’s part of the American DNA. There isn’t a college president in America that is going to come out against progress, but few will stand up solely for progress at the expense of the stasis which given colleges an institutional sense of self-satisfaction. Universities like things old, dusty, and relatively unchanged, as if to say that their progress is measured in generations and centuries, not in years. The Las Vegas mantra of “ build, demolish and build a bigger one” finds few adherents in higher education, located in a mythical place where, as Garrison Keillor intoned, “the little town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve ... where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average” .

But any university that measures success in athletics over the generations or the centuries probably isn’t progressing at all, merely riding the tide of upward mobility and population growth. The sheer nature of competition, fueled by television, makes it difficult for standing on the sidelines. There are a handful of schools which stepped away from major college sports, but it’s hard to say that NYU or the University of Tampa or Centenary is better for the experience, only different.

There are three dates which are mileposts in Georgetown’s athletic progress, and that they are roughly three decades apart is probably not an accident.

In 1924, Georgetown made the decision to hire a full time football coach to run an athletic department that to date, had been a student-run operation. Lou Little brought a successful if somewhat undervalued Georgetown program to the national spotlight.

In 1951, Hunter Guthrie S.J., for reasons not fully understood to this day, decoupled Georgetown from major college football train and instituted a period of athletic deemphasis—concurrent with that move was a period of academic stasis where Georgetown considered itself a fine university among the Jesuit institutions of the country, but did not have true aspirations outside that circle.

In 1979, Frank Rienzo followed the old adage that if you want something done right, do it yourself, and joined three other athletic directors and forged a new model in college athletics, the Big East conference. It would be hard to imagine a major college coming to Georgetown in the 1970’s, even with basketball, and inviting them aboard, with an $850,000 budget, a smattering of sports across Divisions I, II, and III, and a student-led drive to defund all intercollegiate sports at Georgetown with the bulk of the budget redistributed to library expenses.

The move to the Big East was the third of three paradigm shifts for Georgetown in the 1970’s, beginning with the repositioning of GU as an international university (largely through the efforts of Peter Krogh and the School of Foreign Service) and the move to need blind, full need financial aid in 1978. If someone tells you that Patrick Ewing began the admissions climb at Georgetown, tell them it started years earlier.

Georgetown’s decision to place its financial aid commitment alongside the top universities in the world not only parted it from the regional schools like St. Joseph’s, Fordham, and Holy Cross to which Georgetown was associated with, but students increasingly began to associate Georgetown alongside the Ivies, Stanford, Northwestern, and Duke (another fast climber in this period).

These three great changes are all, to one form another, still in effect today, but show signs of wear. Georgetown might have been one of the first schools to the political/international realm, but it’s a crowded field now. Three U.N. ambassadors from 1979-1997 were Georgetown faculty, but it’s increasingly a wider talent pool outside Georgetown and none of the last seven ambassadors have taught on the Hilltop. Financial aid elevated Georgetown, but the University now treads water financially with a huge aid commitment that is engulfing the annual budget. The Big East model of a strong basketball program carrying the budgets of smaller sports has been challenged by the rise of I-A football into the Big East landscape.

The upcoming capital campaign for Georgetown suggests rapid change ahead: the redirection of Georgetown from an international university to a global leader in higher education, a commitment of $500 million in need based aid, and some undisclosed level of financial and facilities stability for intercollegiate athletics. It is no small challenge for Lee Reed to have joined the athletic department as he did in 2010 and have this waiting on his desk. It is difficult to theorize where Georgetown will be left in the world of modern intercollegiate athletics without an enhanced level of support in this upcoming campaign. the day John Thompson III takes another job should never be a death knell for the entire program, but without some planning, Georgetown continues to rely on salad days in men's basketball without a safety net.

And as for football, this campaign offers a outstanding and much needed opportunity to invest in the unforseen progress that time, on its own, cannot. The guarded expectations of football expressed in 1964 remains in force today, but as times change there must be a road map of progress and the financial muscle needed to accomplish this. There was no Patriot League in 1964, no cable TV, and little hope of ever playing Division I programs. But times change--of the opponents played in the club football era, all but two no longer play football.

Every sport at Georgetown, and that includes men’s basketball and football, can see this capital campaign as an opportunity to map a course for the future and to solicit the transformative gifts (financial and otherwise) to meet this course. If all Georgetown did for athletics over the next six years is build a practice facility, this campaign will, at least for athletics, be a failure.

In January, 2010, I wrote:
The case for better football continues at the donor level. A clear positioning statement provides the donor base with a mandate on how and to what degree it can provide both substantive and meaningful support. What would one scholarship "buy" Georgetown as to its competitive position? What would ten do? What would 50 do? This is not something the Gridiron Club has done a good job in communicating, but to be fair, it's not like Georgetown has been clear about it, either, athletic or otherwise.

Where is your $10 gift doing the most good? Your $100 gift? Your $1,000 gift? Your $1 million gift?

So, to that end, what is the priority list for Georgetown football? In any particular order, it could be:

  • Finishing the MSF
  • Securing better competition
  • Improved recruiting budget
  • Merit scholarships
  • Need based aid
  • Coaching salaries
  • Media (TV, radio contracts)
  • Travel
  • Program support
  • Game day activities
  • Ancillary support (cheerleaders, marching band)
  • Training and athletic support

The key, of course, is the order. If finishing the MSF is #4 on the list, don't treat it like it is the #1 priority. If it is #1, don't do the opposite.”
This is the time to invest in football, but football needs a plan and needs to get it not only to seven figure donors, but to the community at large. If Georgetown is going to consider scholarships, what is the plan and how do donors support it? If Georgetown wants to upgrade its coaching, what is the plan and how do donors support it? If Georgetown wants to be the proverbial Ninth Ivy, what is the plan and how do donors support it?

It’s not too soon to convene a football summit at Georgetown at the conclusion of this season, bring in the AD, the coaches, parents, and major donors, get the facts on the table and start hammering out a plan of attack to move forward, to be "quick, but not to hurry.". So what does Georgetown want out of the football program and how can the community support it? What does Lee Reed want out of the football program and how can the community support it? What does Kevin Kelly want out of the football program and how can the community support it? And, of course, what can the community do about it within the parameters of where Georgetown is headed?  If athletics in general and football in specific are not prepared for reaching out to its donor base at this time of the campaign, rest assured that these same donors will be cornered by every other group at Georgetown seeking to raise money.

Over generations, football at Georgetown can and will grow. But athletics no long grows by carbon-dating, and change can come suddenly and without mercy. It’s not enough to spend to elevate Georgetown football. Are we ready to invest in it?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

And Then There Were None

Note: The final installment of the "Investing In Football" series follows Thursday; this article speaks to the July 25 announcement of an All-Patriot League team in conjunction with the league's 25th anniversary.

As the Patriot League continues to march towards an uncomfortable obsolescence, the league took time this week to remember better days, saluting the schools and the players that have contributed to the league over the past quarter century. In the results of this “vote”, the League is saying a lot about where it is, and ultimately where it is going.

A vote of the seven member schools was held, at least according to the press release to the press corps of the PL, otherwise known as the Allentown Morning Call and the Easton Express-Times. The league announced that "a select group of players spanning four decades and seven different schools have been honored as the best of the best in Patriot League Football history." The link to the 25th Anniversary All-Patriot League Team is linked here.

Except it wasn’t the seven schools you thought. Or the players.

In it selections, which skew to players who were selected to a similar team ten years ago (17 of the 25 selections played prior to 2000) a number of omissions follow. The great Holy Cross teams of the late 1980’s, who ranked #1 in the Division I-AA polls and squashed most of their PL contemporaries in the transition away from scholarship play, received only three selections and no others since. Would (or should) a Colgate team that advanced to the 2003 I-AA national championship have zero representation on a All-PL team whatsoever, or were there just too many from Colgate already counted? Jamaal Branch won the Walter Payton Award but there’s no room for him on a list like this? Granted, every school has a claim to one or more of those selections, right?

Well, not every school.

For, in its enduring wisdom, the Patriot League leadership opted to recognize every member school in this award except one, Georgetown, failing to place even one GU player of the last ten years on the list, and going so far as to add a selection from the expats at Towson.  And while it can be argued that the best 25 PL players of all time may not include anyone from Georgetown, are these really the best of the best, or a subjective award that blends accomplishment with the current politics of the member schools? 

Rarely do award votes go so clean as to offend no one, but such was (mostly) the outcome of this vote, with presumed league leaders Colgate and Lehigh having 13 selections between them, with Holy Cross, Fordham, Lafayette, and Bucknell all earning three each.

"Three shalt be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three.  Four shalt thou not count, nor either count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three.  Five is right out." Or something like that.

While Georgetown’s teams have admittedly not made their mark on 15 years of the PL's record books (as if Towson did, but that’s another story), ignoring the contributions of student-athletes like Luke McArdle, Michael Ononibaku, and Alex Buzbee, seems a lost opportunity. Not all three were going to be included because, hey, that’s politics. But not one?

Let’s remember some of the highlights of Ononibaku. Honorable mention All-America, scholar-athlete, two time all-PL, leading the league in sacks and ranked nationally in tackles for loss, arguably the best defender at Georgetown in a generation. Sized as a linebacker, he played defensive line because head coach Bob Benson needed him to, and Ononibaku's smarts and quickness changed the way opponents had to play the Hoyas as a result. Yet,because he played at Georgetown, hindsight means no big deal to the league's voters, few of which probably ever saw him play.

As to the snub, how should Georgetown respond? It would be s story to see Kevin Kelly and Ryan Sakamoto walk into the PL media day next week, sign their names to a blank slate of the pre-season poll, and turn it in, leaving the PL leadership to awkwardly explain why the numbers aren’t adding up this year. That wouldn’t be good sportsmanship, of course, and it also wouldn’t be Georgetown. Instead, there's not a single mention of the 25th anniversary team news release at this week, while it’s cited at every other PL football program's web site. Good for them.

Increasingly, the Patriot League is acting less a conference and more of a confederation, seeking not to offend anyone while stalling out as a result. Fordham is out the door next year, and no one wants to say otherwise. At least one other PL school wants full scholarships, but no one wants to come out and say so. A vote for full scholarships for everyone splits the league, a vote against scholarships might split the league, and a vote to do nothing (as it did in December) only extends the timeline, but doesn’t change the outcome. The PL needs a league that is working together for the future, not moving apart, and ignoring one member altogether in simple recognition events like this seems an unnecessary and petty oversight.

As for the members of the 25th anniversary team, congratulations. But without a hard look at where this league is headed in the next decade, there probably won’t be a 35th anniversary team in years to come. To that end, coming next week at this blog: ten ways to fix the Patriot League...none of which involve lists like this.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Investing In Football, Part 3: People

In this series, we’ve talked about the need to invest in key elements of Georgetown football, and, of course, there are many. But is there any element more important than investing in people?

Every school has something different it can “sell” to prospective recruits . To no surprise, Georgetown can’t sell the Golden Dome, the “Big House”, or running down a hill before 90,000 fans on a Saturday afternoon. That’s never been the driving force, anyway. What it does have, and what it can “sell”, is a student-athlete experience that allows young men to build the core foundation for a lifetime of leadership and service to one’s chosen field.

To do so, words only go so far. I’m of the opinion that while there are great assets for Georgetown, they can only be strengthened by putting more time and money into providing a better student-athlete experience. Many of the tools are already there, it’s a case of picking them up, putting them to use, and where appropriate, engaging the alumni and donor community to give it the financial and organizational support to make it happen.

One of these is the Leadership Academy. Introduced at Georgetown in 2009 (and recently added by the Patriot League as a whole), this program introduces students to workshops and mentoring opportunities to help them grow and mature as young leaders. Some take advantage of this, others not, but there is certainly room to grow the program at Georgetown to cover more student athletes and give them even more opportunities for personal and professional development. But how many alumni and donors know it exists? There’s a 2009 article archived on about the program, but who’s going to find that? Over and above the costs of running such a program, there are certainly opportunities to reach out to selected constituents in the alumni and donor community to help elevate the program to reach more students, tackle greater challenges, and make the program a standard by which other schools aspire to…and in doing so, give potential students another reason to look past the MSF and the losing records to realize that playing football at Georgetown is more than what is seems.

Is Georgetown talking about the Leadership Academy as a support opportunity for donors? It should.

Another activity that ought to be supported and funded is the mentorship program administered through the Gridiron Club. Introduced by former GC president Jim Lenihan in 2009, the program is designed for a one on one relationship between athletes and alumni in related business fields to help students get a better idea of the planning and execution required to enter the job market in that industry.

More than ever, one cannot walk into an investment bank or a tech firm or even a management training program without doing some real homework and effectively building a network of contacts to be a competitive candidate. It boggles the mind to hear stories from my parents generation (that’s the grandparents’ generation to you current students) about the days when someone could get a C average at a good school, have someone make a couple of calls at graduation, and get that person a spot in law school or a job that set him up for life. For everyone else, a good alumni mentorship program is an absolutely valuable asset in a career (one that never existed in my days on the Hilltop) and one which, properly funded and positioned, could give Georgetown students an position of competitive leadership when evaluating a four year offer to attend the University.

Let’s not forget the coaches, either.

The life of a football coach is a nomadic one and unless you’re a head coach or an SEC assistant, it’s not likely to be a lucrative one. Start with Kevin Kelly’s resume—before Georgetown, he saw stops at Southern Connecticut, Bowdoin, Northeastern, Dartmouth, Syracuse, Tulane, and Marshall, all before the age of 40. He wasn't doing it dor the money, either. What’s an average salary for an assistant coach? Probably, between $30,000-50,000, much less for graduate assistants. Add in the cost of raising a family and/or living in a palce like Washington DC and that doesn’t get you very far. Further, add the percevied lack of amenities waiting for coaches at Georgetown, and it begs the question—how does Lee Reed and Kevin Kelly attract the best coaches to attract the best players to produce the best team possible?

Even with better salaries, there’s no one answer, but a powerful weapon in that regard lies just up the hill.

Unbeknownst to most Georgetown alumni, the University has a master’s degree program in sports management, featuring faculty from many of the area’s leading pro and institutional sports firms.

“Georgetown's graduate degree program in Sports Industry Management embraces real-world learning,“ reads its web site. “Learn about the latest practices in sports management from industry leaders. Work in a hands-on internship with one of the program's strategic organizational partners (including major league teams and leading sports-industry businesses and nonprofit entities). Complete a Capstone Project that lets you demonstrate real experience addressing key challenges and opportunities in the industry… Connect with the program's industry partners through mentoring opportunities and internships. Engage on key issues and discuss sports industry careers with program faculty, visiting speakers and members of the program's distinguished Advisory Board of industry leaders. Find the right place for you in one of the fastest-growing industries in the world.”

Courses include Sales Promotion, Licensing and Sponsorship Development , Social Responsibility and Diversity in Sports, Sports Business and Finance, Communications and Public Relations, Digital Media and Consumer Engagement, Global Brand Management, Sports Event Planning and Facility Management, Sports Law, Contracts, and Negotiation, Sports Leadership and Management and Sports Marketing Strategy, among others.

This would seem a tailor-made opportunity for up and coming coaches to gain practical experience in the business of sports while serving as an assistant coach at a academically prestigious university. Any assistant or GA can come to a school, get a degree and move on, but a master’s degree that can prepare them for a sports management career (in or out of the college environment) would seem, at least on the outside, as an extraordinary personal and professional opportunity for a young coach.

Is there an opportunity to fund a scholarship for an assistant coach each year to enroll in the program, to take classes in the spring and summer, and commit to the program during his studies? I suspect that there are those who avail themselves of the opportunity, but the cost of attendance is not solely covered by an employee discount for tuition. If a GA or assistant’s position was funded in conjunction with a degree program like this, could the next Urban Meyer or Gary Patterson or Chris Petersen get his start at a place like Georgetown? Each of these coaches, by the way, got a master’s degree before moving up the head coaching ranks, at places such as Ohio State, Tennessee Tech, and UC-Davis, respectively.

It also goes without saying that such an academic program on the campus could introduce students, undergraduate or graduate, to an amazing world of networking opportunities, from attending speeches by leading industry officials to inviting these faculty to speak to the team during the year. As is the case with so many things at Georgetown, a good idea usually sits dormant until someone picks up the ball and starts to run with it. But if we want to provide a better environment for learning for all of Georgetown football, why not start with the resources Georgetown already has?

And a word on investing. There are donors and alumni out there who have a capacity to support the program but have grown tired and/or disillusioned over sending in a check for “program needs” without knowing where it goes. The late philanthropist Percy Ross, who used to send checks to people that wrote to an newspaper advice column he wrote, was asked why he only gave to those requests that he approved. “He who gives while he lives,” said Ross, “gets to know where it goes.”

More to the point, another Ross quote: “You've got to ask! Asking is, in my opinion, the world's most powerful - and neglected - secret to success and happiness.”

Is Georgetown asking the right people the right questions? An amorphous “Give to the football program” for an underfunded program may not sell to an equity trader or a tech exec, but introducing a mentorship program or a master’s degree scholarship or even accepting an invite to talk to the team might pay bigger dividends down the road. I would argue that if the Gridiron Club, Annual Fund, Advancement, et al. offered a variety of options to middle and major donors to support (and participate in) efforts like this, the response would be much more impactful and allow the existing budget to cover existing needs, while these ancillary programs can continue to build up the intellectual capital that sets Georgetown apart and add to the total value of playing football and studying at Georgetown.

Or as Ben Franklin put it, “an investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Investing In Football, Part 2: Visibility

Before you can invest in an asset, you’ve got to know about it. Before you build a culture, you’ve got to develop one.

Kevin Kelly is a bright individual-he knows football in and out, and he can make a strong case to recruits and their parents on the value of a Georgetown education. That can build a team, but it does not build visibility. For six years (and to be fair, much longer than that), Georgetown’s visibility in football outside McDonough Gymnasium has declined to the point where many fans either don’t know Georgetown has a program, or are ashamed to say that it does. Georgetown gets one article a year in the football preview of the Post, and that’s about it. No radio. No TV. No social media.

A skeptic might think it’s on purpose, as if it’s some modern twist on a Monty Python sketch. "In this film we hope to show how not to be seen," it begins. "[First], this is Mr. E.R. Bradshaw of Napier Court, Black Lion Road, London SE5. He cannot be seen. Now I am going to ask him to stand up. Mr. Bradshaw, will you stand up, please?"

The man stands up, and is promptly shot.

"This," intones John Cleese, "demonstrates the value of not being seen."

Thankfully, Georgetown does not hold such grudges, and should not be holding back any of its coaches from standing up for their program, literally or figuratively. More to the point, programs grow on talent, coaching, and success. None come without some basic visibility among recruits and the community at large, something Georgetown Football does not have and does not seem on the verge of embarking upon.

Well, what can Georgetown do to fix this? First and foremost (and I’ll say this without much further comment), it needs a public plan on the Multi-Sport Field. Ten years of hand-wringing and equivocation engender diminishing confidence in anything Georgetown says unless there is a firm commitment to move forward.

Second, football seeks visibility within its own community. The coaches and players have a story to tell, but first, it must tell it better—get the word out about mentoring, community service, leadership on campus. Coaches need to extend a hand at University events, be it orientation, parents weekends, reunion. A little extra effort? Sure, and it’s an hour coaches aren’t spending on the phone with recruits or studying film, but positive public relations pays off across the board. That alumnus in conversation could be the next  football parent, the next donor or benefactor. (On disclosure: this is how my modern interest in Georgetown football took off--in 1994, while at Chadwicks, I bumped into former coach Bob Benson and heard the sales talk, the "gold mine" speech. I bought it then, and continue to buy it now. I sent in a check for $50, got a Georgetown Football sweatshirt, and got connected with the program.)

They don’t give out sweatshirts anymore, but I digress.

Third, visibility in the community is essential. Georgetown’s long-held inability to sign local recruits is troublesome, but how do these kids hear of GU in the first place? How many local players see a Georgetown ad in a Metrorail station and say, "Yeah, I’d like to play football there." The University doesn’t have to erect a television tower or buy a radio station to get the word out, because modern communications makes it so much more simpler and cost effective.

Facebook? Yes, but just one post since Oct. 9, 2010.

Twitter? No.

YouTube? No.

Email? Even this could use a second look. Not too many years ago, Georgetown would send a fax out every Monday to fans with scores and stats of Saturday’s game. Sure, the fax machine is about as relevant as a telephone extension cord today, but how do you keep people informed that aren’t plugged into social media or who don’t scour (or What the cost of a blast e-mail or text message to alumni, to prospects (within the rules), or to high school coaches by 9:00 am for 11 Mondays in a row? What’s the cost of not doing so?

Visibility doesn’t bring wins, but it’s a prelude to taking advantage of them. People ask me if Georgetown is somehow anti-football as it puts seemingly so little effort into it. I tell them it’s not anti-football, it just lacks the knowledge of what winning football can mean to a community. Eleven straight football seasons will wear out the best of fans, not to mention those who are saturated with the bright lights of men’s basketball nine months of the year. Tell me what Georgetown would be like with eleven straight 20-loss seasons in hoops.

What does visibility bring? It can bring hope. Any coach will tell you that without hope, you start from nothing. I saw it 20 years ago when a former USFL quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner was hired at Duke and told a group of fans there he was going to build a winning football team there--a huge leap of faith for a school that routinely turned down recruits that got in at other schools, had the poorest facilities in its conference, had posted losing seasons in eight of the last 10 seasons and did not won more than six games in a season since 1962.

Year one, he won five.
Year two, seven.
Year three: eight wins, a win over Clemson to share the ACC title, and a bowl bid.

Yes, Steve Spurrier was then hired away by Florida and in the 21 years since Spurrier left, the Blue Devils have posted 20 losing seasons; yet, the program keeps fighting not because Ted Roof or Carl Franks or Fred Goldsmith or Barry Wilson couldn’t win, but that Steve Spurrier showed them they could.

So it is with Vanderbilt. One winning season since 1982, a combined 13-67 (.162) in SEC action in the last decade, and a stadium that you could place at LSU or Alabama and still be 50,000 seats short of what they have. Oh, and the academics too. What kind of football player would want to go there? Ask James Franklin.

Franklin, a long time coordinator at Maryland who was given the "coach in waiting" title under Ralph Friedgen left for Vanderbilt when officials in College Park looked to Randy Edsall instead. As coaching jobs go, a move from Maryland to Vanderbilt  was akin to an ESPN reporter packing up to join the Tennis Channel--a move towards anonymity. Can you name the last Vanderbilt head coach? Or any former Vanderbilt coach?

It’s early, and Franklin hasn’t coached a single game for the Commodores, but the visibility he has added to the Vanderbilt program in just six months should be a case study on how to jump-start a sleeping program.
He’s faced the academics issue first hand.  This excerpt from "Is it too hard? That's what people use against us," Franklin said. "Don't go to Vanderbilt. It's too hard academically. Well, what are they telling you? What are they saying to you when they say don't go to Vanderbilt because it's too hard academically?" The answer is obvious; in not so many words, Franklin has just convinced a recruit that a competing coach thinks the player is too stupid to succeed at Vandy."

"If you feel that you are the best and the brightest, come prove it with me week in and week out," Franklin said. "If you're afraid of competition, then you'd better not be playing [here]."

He’s already signed the top running back in the state of Tennessee as a junior. "Football is something that's not always promised to you. In the long run, being at a school with good academics is like a win-win situation," said RB Brian Kimbrow.

And he’s getting the visibility message out to donors and recruits. Take a look at this Vanderbilt-produced video and ask what kind of message this sends about getting motivated to play football at this school:

In the end, visibility takes investment. Videos and appearances and promotional materials aren’t free, but their cost is marginal in establishing interest and demand for a product that has atrophied over the last decade. As Georgetown’s budget for football has declined against the economic realities of the sport, it seems a stretch to expect Georgetown to plow large sums of money into a sport which has not moved forward in the public arena to make the case for it. The message and potential of the program has been under wraps for too long.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Investing In Football

The headline below has nothing to do with Georgetown football, but the story does. posted a story this week titled “ESPN’s Wimbledon Bid Is The Future Of Televised Sports,” a review of the circumstances in which NBC, after having broadcast the world’s preeminent tennis tournament since the dawn of the open era, lost its rights to ESPN, a network which has over the past two decades picked up Major League Baseball, the NBA, most of NCAA college sports, and the entire sports remnants of the ABC television network. But what makes this story interesting is not that ESPN took it away inasmuch as NBC gave it up."

"NBC's not stupid, and GE didn't become the third-largest public company because it passes on chances to make the most money,” wrote author Barry Petchesky. “The decision comes down to opportunity cost. On one hand, there's the viewership lost by airing a match we already know the outcome of. On the other hand, there's the viewership lost by preempting The Today Show for live tennis. Guess which brings in more ad sales?”

"NBC, or any network that commits to a long-term TV deal, has to be concerned not only with recouping its money from commercial sales, but also the lost money from whatever's being preempted. For NBC, that's a fortnight of The Today Show, with around 5 million viewers daily; for ESPN, it's the 7am SportsCenter.”

Hold that thought as we begin with a review of the costs associated with intercollegiate football at Georgetown University.

First, this question: what is the opportunity cost for Georgetown to be a competitive football program? Or, more appropriately, how much investment will it take? For this column, a lot less opinion and a few more numbers will be in play. Few fans pay attention to a team's budget--perhaps it's assumed that schools send an equivalent amount on equivalent sports.

A closer look at U.S. Department of Education budgets for football suggests a changing landscape. Five seasons ago, the 2005-06 academic year, Georgetown ranked as follows among those Eastern schools playing Division I-AA football:

1James Madison University$4,208,133
2Fordham University$3,898,156
3University of Delaware$3,890,595
4Villanova University$3,791,955
5University of Richmond$3,658,117
6Colgate University$3,628,807
7Hofstra University$3,602,055
8University of Massachusetts$3,318,205
9Lehigh University$3,261,340
10Northeastern University$3,166,474
11Lafayette College$3,109,946
12University of Rhode Island$3,040,230
13University of New Hampshire$3,022,471
14College of William and Mary$3,006,528
15College of the Holy Cross$2,716,725
16University of Maine$2,621,578
17Bucknell University$2,488,592
18Yale University$2,155,095
19Harvard University$2,090,271
20Columbia University$1,971,707
21Towson University$1,962,285
22Princeton University$1,801,579
23Georgetown University$1,666,297
24Dartmouth College$1,624,336
25University of Pennsylvania$1,497,051
26Cornell University$1,441,074
27Brown University$1,256,085
28Stony Brook University$1,225,656
29Wagner College$1,198,243
30Sacred Heart University$994,970
31Central Connecticut State Univ$972,558
32Monmouth University$880,823
33SUNY at Albany$877,574
34Bryant University$876,671
35Saint Francis University$867,629
36Robert Morris University$843,158
37Duquesne University$465,936
38Marist College$456,575
39Iona College$355,172

Twenty-third? Not great, but look at the comparable budgets: Princeton, Dartmouth, Penn. Say what you will, but those are names Georgetown could be comfortable with.  In 2009-10, look how that ranking had changed:

1University of Delaware$5,744,858
2Villanova University$5,228,231
3Fordham University$4,809,131
4University of Richmond$4,783,891
5College of William and Mary$4,535,570
6Colgate University$4,514,524
7Old Dominion University$4,415,209
8University of Massachusetts$4,332,838
9Lafayette College$4,198,351
10James Madison University$4,197,097
11Towson University$4,050,261
12College of the Holy Cross$3,920,294
13University of New Hampshire$3,824,532
14University of Rhode Island$3,730,269
15Lehigh University$3,671,791
16University of Maine$3,593,951
17Stony Brook University$3,452,189
18Bucknell University$3,008,262
19Princeton University$2,929,356
20Columbia University$2,745,817
21Yale University$2,507,069
22Monmouth University$2,265,998
23Harvard University$2,142,235
24University of Pennsylvania$2,079,036
25Cornell University$2,015,525
26Dartmouth College$1,920,170
27SUNY at Albany$1,903,667
28Wagner College$1,866,061
29Bryant University$1,847,498
30Central Connecticut State Univ$1,779,801
31Robert Morris University$1,639,539
32Brown University$1,538,414
33Duquesne University$1,529,237
34Georgetown University$1,430,512
35Saint Francis University$1,415,266
36Sacred Heart University$1,384,786
37Marist College$760,699

Goodbye, Princeton, Dartmouth, Penn. Say hello to Duquesne, St. Francis, and Sacred Heart.

So what changed? For Georgetown, very little. Its four year net change in football spending was a slight decrease from $1.6 to $1.4 million. Trouble was (and is), it was the only school in the region to actually decrease spending. When viewed on percentage change, Georgetown's place in the Eastern landscape is even more disturbing

1Duquesne University228%
2Stony Brook University182%
3Monmouth University157%
4SUNY at Albany117%
5Bryant University111%
6Towson University106%
7Robert Morris University94%
8Central Connecticut State Univ83%
9Marist College67%
10Saint Francis University63%
11Princeton University63%
12Wagner College56%
13College of William and Mary51%
14University of Delaware48%
15College of the Holy Cross44%
16Cornell University40%
17Columbia University39%
18Sacred Heart University39%
19University of Pennsylvania39%
20Villanova University38%
21University of Maine37%
22Lafayette College35%
23University of Richmond31%
24University of New Hampshire27%
25Colgate University24%
26Fordham University23%
27University of Rhode Island23%
28Brown University22%
29Bucknell University21%
30Dartmouth College18%
31Yale University16%
32Lehigh University13%
33Harvard University2%
34James Madison University0%
35Georgetown University-14%
(new programs since 2006 not included)

It’s no secret that Georgetown spends a lot less on football, than, say, men’s basketball. There is historical as well as economic precedent for this. The dropping of major college football remains a tear in the Georgetown athletic fabric sixty years later, because it cemented an institutional distrust in sports becoming bigger than the school could manage. Football wasn’t dropped for scandal, nor for any shame brought upon the school, but for the sin that it was an expensive proposition for the University. That football returned at all was based upon the premise—a compact, perhaps-- that football at Georgetown, expensive football, would not return as it did before.

“Any form of highly subsidized football is an economic impossibility here at Georgetown,” wrote The HOYA in 1964. “There is big-time football and non-scholarship football. There is no in between.”

For most of Georgetown’s 28 other sports, then as now, its programs are underfunded. It’s not a slight, but it’s reflective of a school which decided long ago not to invest in the land and the tools that major college programs do to be in that select company. Few expected Georgetown ever to be in the select company of major college athletics again, but it happened.

What happened was, of course, men’s basketball, which also existed on a shoestring when John Thompson arrived in 1972. The perfect storm of Thompson, the arrival of the Big East Conference, and the explosion of TV sports elevated Georgetown from a local team to a national one within three years, even if McDonough Gym was better suited to a Division II program than one that was moving through the NCAA Tournament.

It was during the early 1980’s (and revisited in 2004) that Georgetown took a hard look at the opportunity costs of men’s basketball and decided that the costs of investing in basketball had a return that Georgetown could live with, and be successful with. Georgetown’s basketball spending went from “spending to compete” to “spending to excel”.

Georgetown football does not spend to excel. It has not demonstrated the capacity or the financial commitment to compete for the I-AA national championship.

It is arguable that Georgetown football does not spend to be regularly competitive. With a budget that trails fellow Patriot league schools by such a degree that the Hoyas could double its spending and still rank last in the conference by budget, one unfamiliar with GU could assume that Georgetown’s financial backing does not put it in a position to compete for the Patriot League title; not spending to compete, merely spending to play.

"How will better the school?” asked The HOYA 47 years ago. “Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it’s advantageous.”

The secret to Georgetown’s future success isn’t to look to Delaware or Villanova for budgetary guidance. First, look up the hill.

As operating budgets go, Georgetown University is half that of Duke, a quarter that of Stanford. Yale produces enough endowment proceeds to fund the entire Georgetown operating budget, yet Georgetown’s annual endowment proceeds would fund two weeks of expenses at Yale. Yet, against considerable odds, Georgetown nonetheless competes with Duke, Yale, and other peers—not because it outspends these schools, but because, in part, it leverages its message and its spending that play to Georgetown’s strengths.

And what are these strengths? From "Established in 1789, Georgetown is the nation’s oldest Catholic and Jesuit university. Drawing upon this legacy, we provide students with a world-class learning experience focused on educating the whole person through exposure to different faiths, cultures and beliefs. With our Jesuit values and location in Washington, D.C., Georgetown offers students a distinct opportunity to learn, experience and understand more about the world."

Put another way:

1. The preeminent Roman Catholic university in the nation.
2. Exposure to a world-class education.
3. Location, location, location.

Over the next four installments, let’s talk about the targeted investment that could allow Georgetown to compete at the top of its football peer set, focusing to its strengths and opening the doors of a Georgetown education to a new generation of student-athlete that may have never considered it in the first place.

(That, and finishing the field.)