Is Marian College ready for some football?

Marian College, a small Catholic liberal arts college here in Indianapolis, has decided to add football to its repertoire:

Marian College is starting a football team and plans to upgrade its athletic center.

“Something this exciting hasn’t happened at Marian College since the campus went co-ed 50 years ago,” the school said in an announcement.
Details will be released today by President Daniel J. Elsener and Director of Athletics Joseph Haklin[…].

“A Marian football program will radically change life on campus in a number of ways,” the school said.

Indeed it will. In order to have a viable football program, you have to have (1) a place to play, which means building a stadium unless you’re going to rent space from a local high school; (2) a staff of at least half a dozen coaches; (3) at the very least, 22 players on the team, and preferable more like 50; (4) adequate support facilities for strength, conditioning, etc.; (5) adequate equipment (helmets, pads, etc.) that needs to be replaced with a high rate of frequency; (6) money for scholarships; (7) money for transportation to and from away games, in addition to home games if you don’t build a stadium; and so on.

I know only a little bit about Marian from my previous college (which is in the same NAIA conference with them), from having visited their campus a couple of times, and having had one student here who tranferred in from Marian. But as you can tell, I am rather skeptical about whether Marian has really counted the cost regarding starting up a football program. Consider the following stats about Marian from Yahoo! Education (whole thing here):

  • Endowment: $6.2 million
  • Comprehensive fee (including tuition, room, and board): $25,460
  • Of all full-time matriculated undergraduates who enrolled in 2003,: 904 applied for aid, 836 were judged to have need, 277 had their need fully met.
  • In 2003,: 57 non-need-based awards were made; Average percent of need met: 78%; Average financial aid package: $13,717

Can that figure of $6.2 million for the endowment really be right? It seems unbelievably low. I don’t have the stats on hand for the average size of a liberal arts college endowment in the US — the variation in that figure would be quite high due to the existence of hugely-endowed colleges like Wellesley College ($780.9 million) and others — but even by the standards of traditionally cash-poor small Christian/Catholic liberal arts college, $6.2M is below average. My former college, for instance, was 100 years younger than Marian (and a proportionately smaller base of donating alumni) and tied to a small, blue-collar Protestant denomination and still managed an endowment in the neighborhood of $30M.

Add to that the fact that with the amount of financial aid given out, tuition cannot be that great of a factor in your college’s cash flow. Not that it’s bad to give out financial aid generously to those who need it, but when you do so, you have that much less tuition dollars to work with for running the school. I personally think it’s good to get away from being so dependent on tuition, but in order to do that, you have to have a good-sized endowment, which is an issue I’ve already addressed.

I have nothing against football — we all love football in our family, particularly college football, and I’d be disingenuous if I didn’t say that the fact that my current college has a football team was a nontrivial deciding factor in my decision to come here. In fact, at my college, football is probably a bigger expense than at Marian, just because it’s a well-established program that’s been around for probably close to 100 years here, and hence it’s a long-standing tradition. There are literally over 100 guys on the football team and over a dozen coaches and trainers. (How they manage over 100 players with only double-digit jersey numbers is an ongoing debate here in the math department; I suggested once that they notate the jerseys in hexadecimal.) But what makes football work here is that we can afford it. We have a solid enough financial position, including our endowment, that we can simultaneously have a decent football program and grow our academic programs as well as other facets of campus life. I am frankly failing to see how Marian is going to be able to afford football given their current financial state, unless there is some massive donation specifically for football they’re going to announce, or (more likely) money is going to be taken away from something else currently on campus, which probably really needs the money.

This is all probably none of my business, and I want to reiterate that I do not speak on behalf of my employer. But the reason I care, is because I am concerned generally with what I perceive as an abdication on the part of Christian higher education of the pursuit of academic excellence. This pursuit takes a long time, costs a lot of money, does not make for exciting media announcements, and does not necessarily generate a lot of cash flow. It seems to me that when the idea of starting up a football team came on the table at Marian, given their financial realities, they had to make a choice: We can start the team up, and pull resources away from hiring full-time faculty (see the Yahoo! page for the ratio of full- to part-time faculty there), creating endowed scholarships, beefing up existing academic programs, etc.; or we can say “no” and pump the money back into our existing needs. Marian chose football; and I think their president is right that it will radically transform the campus. In what ways, we shall see.



Filed under Higher ed

5 responses to “Is Marian College ready for some football?

  1. Jami

    I have to say I am somewhat disappointed to hear this news. I spent my first year of school at Marian, and although at first I thought it was weird to not have a football team, I learned to like that. Looking back at my college experience, there are a lot of changes I would make. (I am not one for regrets, but I am trying to make up for it now by pretty much starting over.)
    Anyways, looking back, I liked the fact that Marion had no football and no greek life. We had other things to make up for it like an awesome cycling team, and basketball was just that much more fun. This may be due to other factors, but it seemed like everyone on campus was connected. Without huge sports teams and such, we didnt form many “cliques”. It seemed to me that Marian college was still more focused on education than making an impression with a good football team. I chose Marian in the first place because they offered me the best scholarship, hopefully that doesnt get diminished too much.
    This whole situation seems to me that Marian is finally giving in to the commercial side of the college campus. Before, students who wanted to play football probably just didnt look at Marian. Seems to me that they now have a need for football, which means they have a need for more students, which could mean they have a need for more money. So now they will put all this time, effort, and money into a football program, but does that really add to the value of Jane Smith’s college education? I ahve to go back to the examples you have given before about colleges just trying to make themselves more appealing by making everything new and exciting. It is the complete opposite of what our education system needs.

  2. Seems to me that they now have a need for football, which means they have a need for more students, which could mean they have a need for more money.

    Jami, I think a very good question would be: What exact problem is Marian trying to solve by adding a football team? Why do they “need” it?

    One stat that jumped off the screen at me on the Yahoo page was that 74% of the student body at Marian is female. It might be that what Marian is trying to do is “correct” that, and get the gender ratio closer to 1:1, and since obviously football is an all-male sport (at least for now) then this is a guaranteed fix of sorts.

    There’s something to be said for that, because there are some retention factors tied to gender balance. But surely adding a football team is just one way to do that, and not necessarily the best.

    For instance, another way to promote gender equity is to invest more heavily in traditionally male-dominated academic areas such as science, engineering and CS, either by starting up programs in those fields or putting more resources into existing programs. You actually do a few worthwhile things that way: first, you draw more men to your student body; second, you open the door for more involvement of women in traditionally male-dominated fields; third, since these fields tend to be populated by students on the higher end of the academic spectrum, you beef up the intellectual climate of your campus.

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