Make no mistake, when William & Mary decided to cut 7 sports programs this month, administration had to know it was in for a long battle.
Countless alums, student athletes, and supporters have come out in force against the changes.
Tribe Athletics’ social media accounts are ablaze, speculation regarding admin’s motives have reached an all-time high, and general feel around the athletics program is anything but positive.
In fact, several social media campaigns have launched, including an Instagram page titled @savethetribe7, which already has nearly 2,000 followers.
Since the school’s official announcement, there hasn’t been any official communication.
Many feel as though they simply haven’t been heard throughout this process, deciding to take matters into their own hands.
It’ll likely be a long, uphill battle as W&M’s official statement noted that all decisions were “final.”
Even still, that won’t stop many from taking a stand.
But that got us thinking: is what W&M is trying to accomplish with these moves even possible?
In an attempt to optimize its revenues, reallocate resources, and grow the profile of the school, W&M is looking to accomplish a task few, if any, have succeeded in doing: becoming the Stanford of the FCS.
Now, what do we mean by that?
Stanford is a relative anomaly in the world of collegiate athletics.
Although they too recently did away with 11 of their sports programs, the Stanford Cardinal stands at the apex of elite academics and world-class athletics. Something W&M covets.
Through following a similar model and having stated goals for success in both the classroom and on the playing field, W&M leadership has made it publicly known that they intend to become what we’re calling the Stanford of the FCS.
But is this actually a doable goal? Especially as it relates to the three sports that the school has chosen to prioritize: Football, Men’s Basketball, and Women’s Basketball.
Although rare, programs boasting both elite academics and “successful” athletics (defining “successful” here as sustained championship-caliber sports) do exist at the FBS level.
Case studies include the aforementioned Stanford and others such as Notre Dame, UVA, USC, UNC, and select others.
But has this type of success been replicated at the FCS/Mid-Major level, where W&M competes?
Let’s start with what we define as “elite academic” schools from the FCS/Mid-Major conferences.
To us, the two leagues that stand out most in this regard are the Ivy League and the Patriot League.
While each school in those leagues can make the legitimate case that they are indeed among the “elites” of academia, very few can say that they excel athletically — at least not on a sustainable level across Football and Men’s & Women’s Basketball (the three sports now emphasized by W&M).
Okay — so if we can’t find a “Stanford”-type FCS school that way, why don’t we start by looking at FCS/Mid-Major schools from the sports side, then consider their academics?
North Dakota State stands out for its recent prowess in FCS Football, and although their Men’s Basketball program has had success in recent years, its Women’s team has not.
And according to the infamous U.S. News (not a be-all-end-all measure by any means), NDSU ranks #284 in terms of National Universities — objectively speaking, they do not resemble the Stanford model (who, for reference, ranks #6 in U.S. News).
Okay — but how about a school just up the road from W&M, in James Madison? In recent years, JMU has boasted incredible success in both Football and Women’s Basketball (not so much in Men’s Basketball).
And although JMU is a great academic school (full disclosure: one of the wives of the W&M Sports Blog went there!), even the strongest Dukes supporters would have a hard time arguing that their academics should be ranked among the nation’s “elite.”
And trust me, that’s not a knock against JMU. I intend to stay married, y’all.
It’s a great school. And to be honest, JMU probably comes closest to the model: boasting great academics and great FCS/Mid-Major athletics.
Perhaps that’s why they excel in recruiting, and have experienced sustained, national success across several men’s and women’s sports in recent years — not just in Football, but again in Women’s Basketball, and other sports such as Softball.
But how many of the above FCS Football powers do you consider to be “elite” academic schools?
This is all to make the point…is W&M chasing an impossible dream?
We here at the W&M Sports Blog are eternal optimists. We like to think that this can be done. In fact, we believe it actually can be done.
However, we are also realists.
We know that it will be a difficult journey to the top. Sustained success in both academics and athletics is not an easy feat — regardless if you’re a D3 or a D1 school.
If it were easy, there would be far more colleges across the country possessing elite academics coupled with elite athletics programs.
Because who doesn’t want that? It’s the holy grail.
Instead, those schools are few and far between — and seemingly exist primarily at the FBS level.
Only time will tell if W&M is on a path for long-term, achievable success.
And while many are upset at the path that is charted, and understandably so, it’s too early to make that judgment right now.
But one thing is for certain: W&M is headed in a very different direction than it has ever headed in before.
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