Wednesday, August 8, 2007

St Scholastica (College, not the Saint) to Field Football Team

Who Wouldda Thunk It? Maybe I could have made their team if they had one back in the Pre-Vatican II days (but that would have been unthinkable then)? It was amazing enough when the nuns became hockey fans in the 70s.

The College of St. Scholastica will field a football team in Fall 2008 as a capstone to an established and largely successful sports program.

The Duluth college already offers male and female students 18 varsity sports, most of them affiliated with the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC).

The football program will be Scholastica’s most expensive with an estimated start up price tag of nearly $4 million.

During the announcement in October 2006, Beth Domholdt, vice president for academic affairs, said Scholastica has the capacity to serve more students in several programs popular with men, including business, computer information systems, secondary education and pre-professional majors. About 70 percent of Scholastica’s student body is female and just 30 percent male. [Now there's a good proportion for date night].

That male-female ratio reflects its founding in 1912 by Benedictine Sisters as a Catholic college that focused for seven decades upon healthcare, education and other programs with traditional appeal to young women. Scholastica remains Catholic in orientation but has widened its curriculum since the early 1980s when the sisters transferred ownership and substantial control and the college became an independent private institution.

Scholastica’s board of trustees also is banking upon a football program to boost overall student recruitment efforts. “Having football will open the door to hundreds of high school graduates who wouldn’t have considered us before,” said Brian Dalton, vice president of enrollment management.

The vast majority of Division III member schools, including UMAC affiliates, offer no athletic scholarships. “In Division III, no one is paid to play football,” says Anthony Barrett, Scholastica’s athletic director.

Observing a rash of sports scandals this summer at both major college and professional levels — where athletes receive substantial financial incentives and privileged status — Barrett says Division III programs don’t carry that baggage.

“When there’s a problem (in Division III), it’s about trouble involving 18 to 21 year- old men . . . no one ever says it was an 18-year-old band member.”

Though not on the skill level of Division I (Wisconsin and Minnesota) or Division II (UMD), Division III competition can be nearly as intense.

“Last year, (Scholastica) won nine conference championships out of 13,” Barrett crows. The 2007 men’s baseball team won its 11th consecutive UMAC championship and made its third NCAA Division III tournament appearance in a row.

“UMD won’t play us because they know we’d beat them,” Barrett says. “And our women’s tennis team is just as good.”

Even though the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference also is Division III level competition, the Scholastica football schedule will exclude WIAC member schools for at least five years, Barrett says. The reason is simple: He believes it’s the toughest Division III conference in the nation.

Despite the substantial start up costs associated with its newest varsity sport, Scholastica expects the additional tuition revenues it generates to offset program costs within three years. The college is basing its projections on the expectation that it will bring 90 new male students to the campus.

Tuition at Scholastica is substantial: $24,840 in the 2007-08 academic year. [Jeepers!] Add to that room and board costs (80 percent of students live on-campus) starting at $6,684. But financial aid available also is substantial, averaging more than $16,000 in the 2004-05 school year, the last figures available from the college. [That helps]!

In March, Barrett hired head coach Greg Carlson to develop the football program. Carlson then was defensive line and linebackers coach for the Los Angeles Avengers of the Arena Football League. He has been a college head coach twice before, at Whittier (CA) College from 2003-05 and at Wabash (IN) College from 1983-2000. At Wabash College, Carlson compiled a 112-57-2 record and won four conference championships. At Whittier College, he took over a team with just 13 players and built it to more than 80 when he left two seasons later.

In July, Carlson hired Tom Parkewich, defensive coordinator for the past 10 years at Earlham College, also in Indiana, as his full-time assistant.

Barrett said Scholastica’s decision to field a football team is part of a larger shift at the college to an “athletics-centered” admissions policy. It gives all coaches there an expanded off-the-field responsibility.

“Athletics has become a major tool in our admissions philosophy, and our coaches have become defacto admissions counselors,” he says. Business North

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