Tradition • Character • Service

Tradition • Character • Service

Wednesday, September 30, 2009's Bob Eblen Talks Private Schools in National Column

September 30, 2009

I have a long held theory regarding private schools in Division II football that goes something like this:

It is an uphill battle for any private school to contend nationally in football at this level because of economics. Since it costs much more to go to a private school than it does to a public, the partial scholarship that is typical at this level leaves the prospective recruit paying more out of pocket to go to the private school.
Of course there are reasons that a student-athlete might still choose the private school, but generally speaking, the lower cost of going "public" is going to win out with recruits more often than not.

This theory has held up pretty well over the years. Just one private school (Lehigh in 1977) has ever won a D-II football national championship. It's been eight years since a private school has even won its region and advanced to the national semifinals. Outside of Carson-Newman and its three national championship game appearances in the late 90's, there really hasn't been a private school that has come close to becoming a national power.
In the past, the private schools that played in the "major" conferences seemed to be especially disadvantaged. Southwest Baptist left the MIAA because it couldn't compete. Neither Mercyhurst nor Gannon had ever had a winning record in the GLIAC before both left the league in 2008. I remember watching Augustana have some well-coached teams with a few talented front line players back in the days of the NCC. But the Vikings rarely had the depth to consistently compete with the big state schools.

I bring this issue up because I'm starting to get the sense that my theory may not be quite as solid as I once thought.

It all starts with second-ranked Abilene Christian. According to my theory, as the only private school in the LSC, ACU should not be a football powerhouse. But Chris Thomsen continues to out-recruit his counterparts in the conference when the other schools should have a built in advantage. With so much young talent in place, it doesn't seem like ACU is ready to go away any time soon.
Then you have the fact that Shaw has won two straight CIAA titles. Seton Hill reached the playoffs out of the WVIAC last season and another private school in that league-- Charleston-- appears to be the front-runner in the conference this season.

A quick peak at the GLIAC standings shows three private schools-- Findlay, Ashland, and Hillsdale-- just behind Grand Valley in the current standings.

And then there is the surprise team of 2009: Ouachita Baptist. Last year was the first time OBU has sported a winning record since moving into D-II in the mid-90's. Now the Tigers have blown out traditional GSC powers Valdosta State and Delta State in back to back weeks. It certainly appears as if OBU is at the very least a playoff team and just maybe [gulp] the front-runner in Super Region Two.

Maybe this is all just a blip on the radar and in a few years we will be back to complete dominance by the big public schools. But for now, it certainly appears that many private schools are gaining ground and figuring out ways to be highly competitive. Hopefully that trend will continue.

Full Column


James said...

As a Hillsdale alum, I am certainly proud of the fighting spirit of my team. However, on a year in year out cycle, it seems nearly impossible for Hillsdale to compete with Grand Valley and the other state schools in the conference. Aside from the financial aspect, a significant part of this is the higher academic standards at most private schools. My idea is that there be a separate division created for private schools who could then compete for a national championship.

Andy Losik said...

Thanks for your comments James. A few years ago when we were stuck in 4-7, 5-6 type years, I would have leaned more your way. In fact there was a movement toward creating an all private college conference within Division II.

However if you look at the direction the Hillsdale athletic department is headed, as a whole it has never been more competitive. This is the first time in school history that all 4 fall sports are nationally ranked.

As great as an all private school division would be, we get back to the idea of being "truly private". Sure, Division III has a lot of private schools but does not award athletic scholarships. So? Well, it is the 36 athletic scholarships in football that gives Hillsdale a chance against the state universities like GVSU. In D3 no athletic scholarships mean athletes attend on their own dime, but more like the federal government's dime. All of those Pell Grants and Perkins Loans end being nearly a full ride to a lot of kids. We also have to remember that Hillsdale was forced out of the MIAA, the league the school founded and gave much prestige, 50 years ago.

Right now, I love where people like Otter, Charney, Thorpe, Gravel, and Lundberg are taking Hillsdale College athletics.

As somewhat shady Oklahoma Basketball Coach Billy Tubbs told a young opposing coach who felt the Sooners had run it up on him, "Don't get mad son. Get better."

Hillsdale is getting better and the quiet leadership of AD Don Brubacher is going to take there for years to come.

Search The News and Comment

The Web News and Comment

Blog Archive

Google Analytics