Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Later Menlo. It was real while it lasted.
Menlo and D3football.com made it official last week that our Football-Only members from Atherton, California has parted ways with the Northwest Conference and Division III to join the NAIA as an independent. This is really no surprise to those that follow the Advantage as we’ve discussed Menlo rolling out of the NWC many times. We actually first mentioned the possibility of Menlo leaving back in 2007. It was just a matter of time.
In fact, I can remember the VERY first time hearing that Menlo would only be a temporary member in the conference. I was at a hoops game at another NWC school where Linfield was playing and I had the chance to talk to the Athletic Director of this school (NOT Linfield). This was back in 2006 after Menlo recently joined the conference as a football-only member. We were discussing football in the world of division III and I brought up Menlo and how great it would be to get the autobid starting in 2008. The A.D. smiled at me and said he wouldn’t expect Menlo to be in the conference “for very long”. I was a bit stunned by this because the conference and our ‘Cats have struggled so hard in finding other DIII schools to play. Now remember this revelation was back in 2006 so I had to put some thought into the “why”. After thinking about it and asking around to those that run in NWC circles it started to become clear. The NWC Presidents didn’t want Menlo and I’m sure Menlo didn’t want the NWC but it was a marriage out of necessity for both.
The NWC AD’s and coaches absolutely wanted that auto-bid and after the screw job the NCAA DIII committee (*cough* a certain SCIAC coach on the committee *cough*) put on Whitworth in 2007 you couldn’t blame the NWC for having the vision to pursue Menlo as their 7th member for the autobid.
For Menlo, it was also a good situation in terms of having 6 other teams on their schedule, competing in a top DIII football conference, and allowing players a shot at post-season awards. It allowed some stability for a program that was on an island in the bay area.
It seemed like a pretty decent marriage until Pacific made it official that the Boxers would be back playing football in 2010. Once the Boxers made the announcement, I knew what that AD told me back in 2006 would eventually come to be.
For the NWC, Pacific coming back means that even without Menlo the conference retains the auto-bid and really that’s all the Northwest Conference schools wanted to begin with. The relationship with Menlo was no longer a necessity and now just a bonus with having another DIII team on the schedule. Don’t get me wrong, I truly believe that most of the head coaches and some of the AD’s in the NWC would rather keep Menlo in the NWC. Why not? It’s a small private college, another DIII game on the schedule year-in and year-out, and good people are running their program, but this isn’t a football issue. This is institutional issue.
In my opinion, the presidents of the NWC did not want Menlo from the jump. They just don’t fit the “profile” of the other NWC schools when it came to admissions and academic standards of the other NWC schools and when your average GPA of incoming freshmen is a 2.9 and 960 SAT score you can understand why some in the NWC had a problem with allowing Menlo in. I’m speculating here, but you could understand why some in the conference might see the Oaks admission standards as a major recruiting advantage for Menlo while others in the conference probably felt the rep of the NWC schools would be brought down by Menlo’s “profile”.
But all of this is now moot because Menlo saw this coming down Main Street and dumped the NWC before the conference had an opportunity to pull the plug. But the NAIA? Really?
However, if you’re Menlo I guess it makes sense. You have to know your shot at a Division III playoff berth as an at-large member is probably slim to none, you have this incredible untapped talent base that is limited by not being to offer scholarships, no redshirting, and other rules of Division III that limits who you can bring in. All of that goes out the window and Menlo can pretty bring in who they want without the restraints. Granted, there are only 2 other NAIA independents on the ENTRIE west coast (Azusa and Southern Oregon), you’re not in a conference anymore, and you’ll probably have to replace a number of the NWC schools off your schedule, but Menlo can now do what they want without having the NCAA or the NWC putting pressure on them to fall in line.
In the end, it was good while it lasted. I suspect Linfield and Menlo will continue the series after 2010 but as soon as George Fox starts football up again I would expect the series to end. It’s been a rather interesting ride and I think there are no hard feelings. Both Menlo and the NWC gained and benefited form the relationship and I think both are fine in headed their separate ways.
(WC11 notes: the above opinion article is solely WC11’s opinion. In fact, WC11 has never talked to anyone within Linfield about Menlo situation or status (too busy asking them how recruiting is going and trying to secure free swag) WC11 formed his take by talking to others around the NWC and west coast who know “stuff” over the past couple of years.)