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Demographic Trends, Parochial Schools And The Future Of Boston College Football

In their latest ESPNU College Football podcast, Ivan Maisel and Beano Cook discuss the various college football playoff proposals and the merits of each proposal. When they got around to discussing the four conference championship playoff format, Cook brought up the fact that this isn't fair to football independents -- namely Notre Dame, but also Army, BYU and Navy (which plans to join the Big East by 2015).

The discussion turned toward Notre Dame football and the program's increasing irrelevance, for which Maisel offered up a pretty compelling reason.

"I also believe that the diminishing manufacturing economy and the loss of population in the Upper Midwest. Especially the loss of parochial schools in the Upper Midwest have all contributed to Notre Dame having a tougher time getting players because that feeder system that they've used so well for so many decades is not there anymore. The number of parochial schools is smaller and I just think they're picking from ... there are fewer fish in the pond."

The loss of parochial schools is an interesting point to consider when not only explaining Notre Dame's recent football past, but also the future of the only other Catholic school playing Division I-A college football.

According to numbers from the National Catholic Education Association, the number of elementary and secondary schools in the Great Lakes states has decreased 18.5 percent from 2001-02 to 2011-12. That's a significant drop-off in the number of Catholic schools in just 10 years, bested only by the percentage decrease in New England and the Mideast -- two areas of the country where BC recruits heavily.

Over that same period, the number of elementary and secondary Catholic schools in New England has gone from 541 to 420, a 22.4 percent decrease. In the Mideast, the decline has been even more dramatic, from 2,160 to 1,594 (26.2 percent). For a benchmark, the number of Catholic schools has decreased by nearly 16 percent over the last 10 years nationally.

It's not all bad news for BC though. The school has fortunately moved into an athletics conference geographically centered in a growing portion of the country (the Southeast); one that is experiencing one of the lowest percentage decreases in the number of Catholic schools across the country over the last decade. So there's room for growth, but the shrinking of the feeder system in New England and the Mideast is concerning.

To Maisel's point, for Notre Dame the number of parochial schools in the Upper Midwest is trending downward, but the impact of the same trend is even more pronounced for BC when it comes to Catholics schools in New England and the Mideast. And while much of BC's recent football malaise is the result of self-inflicted wounds, one can't help but think that this trend -- coupled with increased regional competition (UMass, UConn) and the ACC's place among the sports power conferences -- paints a rather dark and gloomy long-term picture for Boston College football.