Patriot League Members Remain Silent on Future of Football Scholarships
Published: Friday, February 11, 2011
Updated: Friday, September 30, 2011 14:09
The Patriot League's mission statement reads as follows: "The Patriot League promotes opportunities for students to compete in Division I intercollegiate athletics programs within a context that holds paramount the high academic standards and integrity of member institutions, and the academic and personal growth of student-athletes."
Because of the league's steadfast devotion to the concept of the ideal scholar-athlete, its future may be in jeopardy. Several members of the league would like to award merit-based athletic scholarships to their football recruits, while other members want to stick with the status quo, which is giving need based scholarships to football recruits. On December 15, 2010, league members decided to delay the decision on whether or not to award merit-based football scholarships by two years. As of now, league members are extremely divided, with some schools like Fordham fervently supporting scholarships, while other institutions like Lafayette are adamantly against the idea of awarding merit-based scholarships.
Fordham University is the only institution thus far to speak openly on the issue. They have even decided to give merit-based scholarships to their football recruits. Athletic Director Frank McLaughlin, quoted in a New York Times article said, "We're committed as ever to fielding a competitive football team without sacrificing high academics." Although this decision may make Fordham's football program a higher caliber team in the eyes of their opponents, by awarding scholarships they are banned from competing for the Patriot League title, therefore forfeiting their chance at an automatic bid to the Division I Football Championship Subdivision Tournament. However, Fordham would be eligible for the tournament as an at-large team. By increasing their football budget by $4 million, they have been able to award 14 merit-based scholarships to football recruits. They eventually plan to award 60 scholarships.
Since offering scholarships, Fordham's football team has been able to schedule games against Division I Football Bowl Subdivision programs like Navy, Army, and UConn. Just to put it in perspective, Navy ranked sixth in the nation in rushing yards per game with just below 284, and played in the San Diego Credit Union Pointsettia Bowl against San Diego State. Army ranked eighth in the nation in rushing yards per game with almost 252 yards per game, and beat SMU in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. Finally, perhaps the most impressive opponent Fordham has been able to schedule is the Big East Champion UConn Huskies. Connecticut, a member or the automatic BCS bid Big East Conference, lost to #7 Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. On Fordham's standing in the Patriot League, Athletic Director Frank McLaughlin said, "It's a tremendous group of academic institutions, and we're tremendously proud to be associated with them, but we have a vision for where we want to go."
The debate on whether or not to give merit-based scholarships seems to be testing Patriot League football programs on how big they are willing to become and what they must sacrifice. In the New York Times article, Mr. McLaughlin specifically mentioned the Colonial Athletic Association as a possible home for Fordham football if the Patriot League does not permit scholarships in the near future. Members of the CAA include the 2009 FCS National Champion Villanova Wildcats and the University of Delaware, where Baltimore Ravens superstar Joe Flacco played in college.
The reason why Fordham's standing in the Patriot League is so important is because the future of the league, and all of its members may depend on where they decide to play. The minimum amount of schools in a league is six, and if Fordham left, that would leave the minimum. Also, Georgetown's football budget, according to the New York Times, is $1.4 million, which is a quarter of the amount Lafayette has spent on their team. When taking Georgetown's shaky commitment into consideration, Fordham's decision becomes pivotal.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have Lafayette College, who is strongly opposed to the idea of merit-based scholarships. The College's president, Daniel Weiss, argues that it is not economically feasible to give scholarships. However, according the New York Times article, Lafayette recently made $23 million renovations to its stadium and athletic facilities, while its football budget remained at $4.1 million. President Weiss, quoted in the New York Times, said that he believes it is not "appropriate at this time in the life of this college to be putting more money into football when there are other programs and needs that are more pressing."
Colgate's head coach, Dick Biddle, who has led the Raiders to 7 league titles, threw his two cents in too, saying in the New York Times, "If Colgate wants to play Syracuse, Army and Navy every year, we have to have scholarship players." Colgate lost 42-7 to Syracuse, who beat Kansas State in the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl, helping Coach Biddle's plea for scholarships.