A Modest Proposal
Published: Friday, February 15, 2013
Updated: Sunday, February 17, 2013 17:02
Dear Father Boroughs and Mr. Dick Regan,
One hundred and seventy years ago Benedict Joseph Fenwick, the second Bishop of Boston, founded the College of the Holy Cross. Having originally intended to establish the college in Boston, Fenwick was spurned in his efforts to do so because he intended to establish an institution grounded in the traditions of Catholicism, a faith which was held in contempt by an Anglo-Protestant dominated society. Forced to purchase land high above Worcester on Mount Saint James, as the inhabitants of Worcester, much like their Boston counterparts, wanted nothing to do with a Catholic College, the odds were stacked against Bishop Fenwick and all who chose to collaborate with him during the college’s formative years. During these early years, the school saw itself struggle, its existence threatened by both flame and politics. In 1852, Fenwick Hall went up in flames, forcing the school to both rebuild and reopen, while the Massachusetts state legislature refused to grant the college an official charter. Despite such numerous and seemingly insurmountable obstacles, the college was able to flourish and continues to do so to this very day. Bishop Fenwick took a leap of faith.
Often, it is only by taking such a leap of faith that progress can be realized. Crawling, we find, can only achieve so much, if anything at all. Like Bishop Fenwick did so many years ago, we too, as an institution, must take a leap of faith.
Within recent years, the college has been crawling with regards to its athletic program. While the Holy Cross has enjoyed a modicum of athletic success, success has sadly become increasingly difficult to sustain. We, therefore, inevitably find ourselves at a crossroads. Holy Cross boasts 23 Division 1 athletic teams yet harbors an identity closer to that of a Division III institution, as academics take precedence over athletic success, and rightfully so. Despite holding such institutional values the college continues to compete at the Division I level, resulting in a number of programs with minimal success and equally minimal fan support. Not only hindered by institutional values, the Holy Cross athletic program is hindered by both its location and participation within the Patriot League. As surprisingly as it may be, the sunny confines of Worcester and membership in a conference composed of mid-majors does not exactly attract top-tier athletic talent to the college. While we can change neither our institutional mentality nor our location, recent developments have made it clear that we can we can change our conference alignment, a move which if done right would allow us to continue to adhere to our institutional values while simultaneously enjoying an athletic renaissance. This is the leap of faith we must now make, a leap which will pay great dividends, much like the initial leap of Bishop Fenwick. We will not leap blindly however, but will leap with our eyes open, by joining the ranks of the “Catholic Seven.”
The so-called “Catholic Seven” were the seven Catholic colleges and universities which split from the Big East athletic conference in mid-December. Located primarily in the northeast, these institutions opted to depart from the Big East following a joint decision to form a conference which would primarily focus upon basketball, as opposed to football. The seven schools, DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s, and Villanova are currently in the process of finalizing their departure from the Big East, seeking out other schools to join their ranks, hoping to eventually expand to a conference of twelve schools, and working on a television contract with Fox. Although Holy Cross was not listed as one of the five schools the Catholic Seven has publicly pursued in order to expand its fledging conference, the Catholic Seven will have difficulty convincing all five of their target schools to join their ranks. Butler, Xavier, Creighton, Dayton, and potentially VCU will all entertain the notion to bolt from their respective conferences, but it is unlikely that all five will join the Catholic Seven. This then, leaves Holy Cross, the oldest Catholic college in New England, a school which places academics above athletics, and one which is historically a basketball school, and a school which needs a shot in the arm for its athletics department, as a prime candidate to join the Catholic Seven.
The decision to realign Holy Cross athletics with the Catholic Seven makes perfect sense. The seven schools which currently compose the Catholic Seven, much like our Patriot League brethren, are on par with Holy Cross from an academic perspective and subscribe to our institutional mentality of academics first, athletics second. Basketball is king at each of these seven schools, much like it is at Holy Cross, and given the current alignment of each of the Catholic Seven’s other athletic teams, we would not have to move our non-Patriot League teams, from their respective conferences. The fact that the majority of these teams are located in the northeast, asides from Marquette, would keep travel expenses low. While Holy Cross would initially struggle to compete against the likes of Georgetown and Marquette, the cache of competing in a top flight conference would no doubt lure top flight talent. By competing with some of the best programs in the country, the Crusaders would once again enjoy the support of a rabid fan base. No longer would the gym be empty for a Saturday night matchup against a key conference rival, as it was this past Saturday against
The cache associated with competing in a top flight conference would, most importantly, pay big-time dividends, the dividends the Patriot League simply cannot compete with. Assuming the Catholic Seven are able to split from the Big East and rally new members, the conference will complete a television deal with Fox Sports which would be worth an estimated 500 million dollars over twelve years for twelve schools, with each school making just north of three million dollars a year. In the words of Dick Vitale, “yeah baby!” Taking in more than three million dollars annually for the duration of the contract would be quite the shot in the arm for an institution which finds itself, like many others, cash strapped in a poor economy. The money made through the television deal could be used to rehabilitate aging athletic facilities, augment the endowment through increased capital investment, increase the number of tenured professors at the college, as well as to finance a number of other projects, such as football scholarships. Perhaps most importantly, with greater television exposure on a national network, would allow the college to further increase its national footprint, leading to an increasingly diverse and well-rounded student body.