Should W&M Join the Patriot League?

Since 2007, William & Mary has remained loyal to its colonial roots. And by “colonial roots,” I’m naturally talking about the school’s loyalty to the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) since 2007.

And although the CAA has treated the Tribe well over the last 13 years, it’s always prudent to ponder alternate paths of success for W&M — especially given the athletic department’s recent AD-related turmoil.

Recently departed AD Samantha Huge‘s strategy was to increase the win-percentage of W&M’s “revenue generating” sports (football and basketball); a big part of her COVID response strategy was to cut certain other “non-revenue generating” sports programs to help focus on football and basketball in the long term.

Suffice to say, this strategy resulted in forceful backlash from both current students and alums. With that as the backdrop, it’s fair for W&M to now conduct a holistic landscape analysis to chart a better path forward for William & Mary Athletics. It’s what current Interim AD Jeremy Martin has done up to this point (and quite well, might we add), and it’s what the next AD must continue to do.

An important part of that landscape assessment must naturally include in-depth analysis of the very conference in which W&M currently finds itself: that’s right, the aforementioned CAA.

While CAA membership carries many benefits for William & Mary (think: regular, spirited bouts against in-state rivals Richmond & JMU, arguably the highest caliber of FCS football in all the land, and geographic proximity to member schools that simply makes sense), there exists another conference that one could argue fits the Green and Gold even better. What conference is that, you ask? Of course, it’s the Patriot League.

Now, while this article is meant to play devil’s advocate in exploring how the Patriot League might make sense for William & Mary, it in no way suggests that we know of anything that’s in the works. In fact, we’re quite sure this isn’t even being considered at the moment. Even if, say, the Patriot League made total sense for W&M and W&M Athletics leadership were on board with the idea, the Patriot League would still have to make the formal offer to W&M — something that is never guaranteed.

Regardless, we’ll make 5 arguments below for why W&M joining the Patriot may one day make sense for the Tribe.

1. The Patriot League includes high-caliber academic schools that compare much better with William & Mary than current schools in the CAA.

Here’s the list of current CAA schools, excluding William & Mary:

  • Albany
  • Delaware
  • Elon
  • James Madison
  • Maine
  • New Hampshire
  • Richmond
  • Rhode Island
  • Stony Brook
  • Towson
  • Villanova

Now, here’s the list of current Patriot League schools:

  • American
  • United States Military Academy (West Point)
  • Boston University
  • Bucknell
  • Colgate
  • Holy Cross
  • Lafayette
  • Lehigh
  • Loyola Maryland
  • United States Naval Academy (Navy)

Now it doesn’t take much knowledge of the U.S. News rankings to understand that, purely academically speaking, William & Mary fits far better among the institutions of the Patriot League than the CAA. And that’s not a knock against the CAA; there are undoubtedly many fine schools in the Colonial — but to say that the CAA includes better academic schools than the Patriot would be simply untrue.

With that being said, if W&M were to join the Patriot, it would find itself among like-minded schools with similar academic and athletic ambitions. Across the board, this could be a much better fit for W&M than the CAA, which includes a multitude of completely different schools with completely different priorities when it comes to both academics and athletics. More on this to follow.

2. Time and again, William & Mary finds itself recruiting against Patriot League schools for the exact same high school student athletes.

Speaking of William & Mary’s natural alignment to the Patriot League: time and again, we find William & Mary competing with Patriot League schools for the exact same student athletes. How do we find this information, you ask? Specifically for football and mens’ basketball, websites such as Rivals, 247 Sports, ESPN, and others make this information publicly accessible.

For example, Rivals shows that coming out of high school, W&M basketball’s Luke Loewe was also recruited by Lehigh (in the Patriot). 247 Sports shows that Nathan Knight was offered by American (in the Patriot). There are literally dozens of William & Mary players, across both men’s and women’s sports and across all sports in general at W&M, who were also recruited by Patriot League schools coming out of high school.

Indeed, if we had unlimited time and resources, we would bear this out further with the aforementioned publicly accessible data across as many sports as we could. But since we can’t feasibly do that, you’ll have to take our anecdotal word for it. In fact, if you ever get the chance, just ask W&M coaches that recruit our players — I’m sure they’d agree in large part that they often find themselves recruiting against Patriot League institutions for athletes.

Naturally, many of those athletes are also recruited by fellow CAA schools, but the point we’re making here is that the Patriot League is looking for a very specific type of high school student athlete; in fact, it’s just that: they’re looking for true student athletes — those who excel in both the classroom and on the field of play.

How many times have you heard that same exact sentiment expressed at W&M? Now, we’re not saying that there aren’t schools in the CAA with this same mission. We’re simply saying that the emphasis placed on recruiting true student athletes is far more entrenched and widespread across institutions in the Patriot League than it is in the CAA. And in the all-important world of college recruiting, W&M aligns much more with the Patriot League.

3. The Patriot’s League geographic vicinity (largely the Mid-Atlantic & Northeast) is feasible for W&M.

First, let’s take a look at the geographic map that outlines where schools in the CAA are located.

While it’s important to note that several schools in the CAA are football-only members (importantly, this includes the far-reaching schools of Maine and Albany/Stony Brook in New York), W&M still finds itself having to travel far north for those games.

Now, let’s look at a geographic map of the Patriot League.

As previously mentioned, the Patriot League finds itself largely situated across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States. From Williamsburg, W&M would find itself as the southern-most point of the Patriot League. And while, yes, this would require additional travel for the Tribe, it is not outside the realm of possibility. Many schools across the country have it far worse (we’re looking at you, Conference USA).

In fact, we’d venture to guess that the Patriot League would more than welcome W&M’s alumni base into the fold; the school’s inclusion would help deepen the Patriot’s geographic reach downward, specifically into W&M’s alumni-rich Washington, D.C. hotbed.

Indeed, added travel costs would need to be taken into account, and W&M would have to do its due diligence on how the added travel would affect the overall student athlete experience. But financially speaking, we have good reason to believe that any additional travel costs a move to the Patriot League would bring would, in fact, be negated by drastic savings from a reduction in the total number of athletic scholarships.

4. When it comes to athletics, and to Football specifically, the Patriot League allows far fewer scholarships than the CAA.

Now, to many alums this would be a bad thing. Using that logic: lower scholarships would lead to a lower overall quality of player, which would lead to poorer on-field performance, and to less overall success at the national level. But let’s re-frame that state of mind. A move to the Patriot would force a monumental rethinking of W&M’s overall sports strategy. In the Patriot, W&M would find itself competing against like-minded schools, allowing for a far more even playing field than W&M currently experiences in the CAA.

Let’s take football, for example. If you’re a highly recruited FCS-caliber/border FBS-type player, and the following schools offer you: William & Mary, Richmond, Towson, JMU, ECU — which one are you going to take? Let’s say you’re a slightly above average student, but your primary motive is to play for a high-caliber team that you think has a good shot at a national championship, and perhaps will give you a shot to go pro if you’re highly successful. In this instance, it would not be outside the realm of reason for this hypothetical player to commit to JMU.

But this is not just a hypothetical scenario; it’s a very real scenario that W&M finds itself in every offseason, and across all sports. Competing against CAA schools, all holding different motives, academic backgrounds, and athletic priorities, W&M is time and again put at a severe disadvantage in recruiting, and ultimately, in experiencing success in the CAA.

Now, that isn’t meant to sound like an excuse. W&M can absolutely experience success in the CAA — and of course, it has. With multiple CAA Championships across several major men’s and women’s sports (minus basketball), and with football making the National Semifinals under Jimmye Laycock in 2004, it absolutely can be done. But is it likely? Is it “easy” to sustain success at W&M once it’s achieved? Absolutely not. A major reason for that is that fellow CAA schools operate on completely different playing fields.

That’s where the Patriot League comes in. With schools that, across the board, largely align on academic pursuits and overall athletic priorities, W&M would find itself on far more even ground to sustainably compete for championships. And don’t let the lack of scholarships fool you, the Patriot League does quite well on the national stage in many sports — one could even argue that the Patriot League men’s basketball champions have experienced more success than the CAA has in recent years’ NCAA Tournaments…

5. The Patriot League has arguably produced more noteworthy NCAA Tournament teams than the CAA has in recent years.

When was the last time a CAA Champion won a game in the NCAA Tournament?…when was the last time they even came close? I know, it’s near impossible for a mid-major conference winner to pull off an upset in the NCAA Tournament as a 15 or 16 seed, but our argument is that the Patriot League is no worse than the CAA in this department; in fact, it might even be better.

Over the last three seasons, the winner of the Patriot League (and automatic qualifier for the NCAA Tournament) only lost by 6 points (WVU over Bucknell), 4 points (Michigan State over Bucknell), and 7 points (Tennessee over Colgate this year) in the Big Dance.

In 2012, many here will remember when Patriot League champion and #15-seeded Lehigh defeated #2-seeded Duke in the first round of the Tourney. Suffice to say, we think the Patriot provides W&M an even better chance to actually make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. I mean really, could the odds be any worse? Our beloved William & Mary is still one of four original Division I teams in history to have never participated in the NCAA Tournament. Case in point.

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8 thoughts on “Should W&M Join the Patriot League?

  1. Minor quibble: the CAA was formally founded in 1984-85, not 2007, and W&M was a charter member. (I can attest to this: I was a senior at W&M at the time.)
    I think that over the years, the CAA has lost some of its more academically-minded schools (Navy and American, both to the Patriot) but for the most part W&M knew exactly what it was getting into and what the academic caliber of schools in the league was going to be. Consider the other schools that have left since the late 90s: ECU, VCU, Mason, ODU, and UR.
    Also, remember — as I most vividly do — that W&M was a charter member of the Patriot League’s original incarnation, called the Colonial League, a football-only league. But W&M pulled out because the other CL schools at the time (Lehigh, Lafayette, Bucknell, Colgate, and Holy Cross) voted against allowing league members to compete in postseason football… and part of W&M’s intent of joining a league was to be able to compete for an automatic bid. W&M withdrew from the league before the first season because the administration had no interest in competing on that basis.

    While your arguments for being in the PL make sense for football and *especially* for basketball, I’m not so sure they work so well for the non-revenue sports. If the goal is to be more competitive across the board on a national level, the CAA is a better home for *those* sports than the PL would be. (Sports not sponsored by the CAA or the PL are obviously not being considered in this comparison.)

    1. Interesting insight Dave! Our response would be for you to consider this line you wrote: “If the goal is to be more competitive across the board on a national level, the CAA is a better home for *those* sports than the PL would be.” — is that the goal? This past year saw W&M and its current students/alumni partake in deep discussion on this topic. I’m not sure we can say with absolute certainty that the goal is to compete at the national level at the expense of the school’s other, more academic pursuits.

      1. Oh, we cannot say it with any certainty.
        I do wonder, though, if there be no goal to be competitive at the national level in at least several sports, what is the point in remaining in Division I?

  2. The comment “When it comes to athletics, and to Football specifically, the Patriot League allows far fewer scholarships than the CAA.”

    The CAA allows 63. The Patriot allows 60.

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