Next fall, the football team at Georgetown Prep, the prestigious all-boys school in Rockville that has a nine-hole golf course wrapped around its campus, will not be allowed to play in the same six-team league as other exclusive Washington area private schools such as St. Albans, Episcopal and Landon. The headmasters of the Interstate Athletic Conference schools kicked Georgetown Prep's football team out of the league for the second time in 35 years, not because the Little Hoyas broke any rules, but because they were too good.
After Georgetown Prep won its fourth consecutive IAC title in football in 2003, the headmasters decided in a closed-door meeting last spring to allow the school to compete in all sports except football because it has significantly more boys (446) and was perceived to have loftier football aspirations than other league schools, said Tom Farquhar, the IAC's president and Bullis's head of school.
"When your guys are going both ways, and [the Little Hoyas] are rolling out fresh players later in the game, it's hard to compete against," says IAC President and Bullis Head of School Tom Farquhar.
(Jacqueline Malonson For The Washington Post)
"It appeared for a while that Prep's level of competitiveness transcended what the other schools could even dream about," Farquhar said.
The move has angered Georgetown Prep supporters, dismayed some of the football coaches at schools that pushed for the ouster and brought renewed attention to the issue of how private schools maintain a level playing field in their athletic leagues while the schools operate under independent rules and academic standards.
While the IAC was pondering its football future, two schools in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference were attempting to gather enough support to kick out athletically dominant schools DeMatha and Gonzaga. Both of those all-boys schools have enrollments of about 900, more than twice the number of boys found in some of the conference's six other football-playing schools. The attempt in 2003 to break up the league failed to garner enough support and ultimately fell apart.
The IAC had already kicked Georgetown Prep's football team out in 1970, even though it had been in the league since 1958. That ban lasted 11 years. The current ban comes at an ironic time. After the headmasters quietly decided to kick out Prep last spring, the Little Hoyas suffered their worst season since 1998 this past fall, going just 4-6 and failing to win the league.
"I certainly wasn't advocating this," said Rob Bordley, who coaches Landon's football and lacrosse teams and is a 1966 graduate of the Bethesda school. "For so long, my life has revolved around, 'When do we play Prep?' I can't stand the thought of a fall without Prep on the schedule. The IAC title won't be the same. . . . I think we look kind of silly after how this season turned out."
While Georgetown Prep struggled this fall, Landon (8-2) won the IAC, defeating the Little Hoyas, 42-0, on Oct. 8. Landon is better known for its dominance in boys' lacrosse, winning 23 of the past 24 league championships.
Farquhar said the reasons to exclude Georgetown Prep were compelling nonetheless -- noting that the Little Hoyas still won their other four IAC games. Georgetown Prep, which is one of the IAC's three all-boys schools, has 111 more boys than Landon, which is next largest, and 258 more boys than Bullis, which is co-ed. A bigger student body gives a school a bigger talent pool -- and a simple numerical advantage, Farquhar and other coaches and administrators said.
One IAC coach observed that Georgetown Prep's football team intimidated opponents with their numbers. When the Little Hoyas stood along the sideline, they stretched from one 30-yard line to the other, with more than 50 players in uniform. The smaller IAC schools -- St. Stephen's/St. Agnes, Bullis and Episcopal -- sported fewer than 40 players, and in Bullis's case, fewer than 30. Georgetown Prep is also one of only two IAC schools with a freshman team, in addition to a junior varsity and varsity team, and had 12 coaches at games, sometimes three times as many as other schools, adding to the perception that it was taking football more seriously, a coach said.
"You get worn down by sheer numbers," Farquhar said. "When your guys are going both ways, and [the Little Hoyas] are rolling out fresh players later in the game, it's hard to compete against."
Others dispute the idea that roster size makes a difference, calling it an excuse for schools to no longer have to play a team that often beats them.
"The excuse is that they are too big," said John Ricca, the football coach and athletic director at St. John's/Prospect Hall and a 1970 Georgetown Prep graduate. "They aren't that much bigger than Landon. What are we saying here, that everyone has to have the same number of boys? That's ludicrous. I question [the headmasters'] commitment [to winning]. It seems to me Prep is out because they were better than everyone else. And that's a shame."
Then there was the matter of Georgetown Prep's aspirations, which are difficult to measure. Farquhar contends that Georgetown Prep was more interested in beating WCAC schools like Gonzaga and Good Counsel than an IAC school like St. Stephen's/St. Agnes.