Friday, February 17, 2012

The Decision: The Presidential View: Fordham's Vision


Earlier today, I took a look at the scholarship decision from the perspective of Georgetown and Dr. John DeGioia, who seems to see his school at a crossroads after the decision to offer scholarships was made.

But on the other side of the argument for need-based aid, it should come as no surprise that the school that is most enthusiastic about the decision was Fordham, who already offers scholarships and may now once again be eligible to compete for the Patriot League championship very soon.

Before this past week, Fordham, under former president Fr. Joseph A. O’Hare, might have gone down in history as the school that nearly broke the league apart.  But with the news this week, Fordham, under current president Fr. Joseph M. McShane, they might become known as the school that saved the league instead.


Fr. McShane's statement in regards to the decision was as follows:
We are very pleased that other Patriot League teams will be joining the Rams in moving toward a permissive stance regarding financial aid for football student athletes. We have found at Fordham that this approach has allowed our staff and coaches to recruit academically and athletically talented student athletes in a more efficient and effective manner. In time, we believe this policy will help make our team, and our individual student athletes, more competitive on and off the gridiron.

What's interesting in his comments is not so much his position, but some of his arguments for scholarships that seem to have carried the day.

"In a more efficient and effective manner" seems to imply, specifically, that recruiting will become easier for all the schools - and may end up costing less money for recruiting as well, as coaches will no longer have to pay to scour the country to target somve very specific recruits.

Interestingly, too, the league's decision to allow the Rams to still remain a part of the Patriot League but make them ineligible for the championship appears to have been crucial.

Since they were still, technically, a part of the league, it meant that in the eyes of the NCAA Patriot League football was still a seven-team conference, even if only six of its members would be eligible for the title.

That means, even if Georgetown leaves the Patriot League tomorrow, they would still consist on six teams, and thus eligible for the autobid to the FCS playoffs.

It's odd to think that you could have a six-team league with one ineligible team and still be eligible for an autobid in the NCAA's eyes, but that appears to be the case - and it also demonstrates how hugely critical it was for Fordham to remain a part of the league these last two years.

*****

What I find amazing is, looking back, all the pieces that seem to now fit together in regards to the whole discussion with Fordham.

Reaching back to Fr. McShane's original announcement in 2009,  it's an unsurprisingly positive endorsement of scholarships:

I am very pleased to announce this momentous news for the football Rams.  Momentous may be understating it, in fact. This is a sea change for Fordham athletics: these scholarships will allow more students to participate in Fordham football, and will make the team much more competitive both in Patriot League and non-league games.

More than just the announcement, though, it's clear that Fr. McShane did quite a lot of legwork, too, in order to remain in the Patriot League, give every president in the league two years to come to a decision - and, in the process, sacrifice two years of conference title eligibility.

That's one heck of a sacrifice when you look back on it - especially when you consider it was no guarantee that the Patriot League offer scholarships.  Fordham could have sacrificed all of that and received nothing in return.

I never talked to Fr. McShane about the issue personally, but I did talk to the executive director of the Patriot League, Carolyn Schlie Femovich, about it back in August of 2011, and she mentioned him by name.

Originally, the Patriot League presidents were going to make a decision in December 2010 on the scholarship issue once and for all. 

But when the much-publicized meeting did happen, they decided not to decide, making a lot of people, well, irate that they didn't do so.

In August, I broached the subject with Ms. Femovich, and she replied to me:

When we originally struck the agreement, it was predicated on two things.  One, that we would continue our relationship through the 2012 football season.  But it was also predicated on the premise that the presidents would make a decision in December of 2010.  They didn't do that.

But Father Joseph McShane was very much a part of those conversations.  And they have agreed to give us more time to work on this.  It's a strong indication that they really want to continue to be a part of the league.  They have indicated at the presidential and the athletic director level that the [Patriot League] is really where they want to be.

It's a little bit of a strange agreement, but I think it is working for us.  It is allowing Fordham to do what they think they need to do institutionally with their scholarships.  At the same point, we want to maintain a competitive balance that doesn't allow any unfair advantage when we compete against each other.

All signs - looking back - point to Fr. McShane with a vision for Patriot League football, announcing that they were going to offer football scholarships, and giving the league time to think about what to do.

It stands in contrast to Fordham's history on the Patriot League in terms of basketball, when, "under tremendous pressure from alumni", as John Feinstein would report in his book The Last Amateurs, the Rams would withdraw from the Patriot League in all sports except football after only five years as an all-sports member.

It was a different president and a different cast of characters running the schools - but what was consistent, it must be noted, is their consistent vision of scholarships with an academic index.  And in the end, it is the model that the Patriot League now carries forward in every single sport.

*****

With the rest of the league now allowing scholarships, it's now very probable that the Rams will now be eligible for the league championship and autobid to the FCS playoffs as well. 

While "a decision will be made on their status", according the the Patriot League's Q&A over the decision, it seems like a slam-dunk that the 1-10 Rams will be allowed to compete for the championship this year.  To me, there's no question that it should happen, given their sacrifice.

It sure looks like Patriot League fans who wanted football scholarships ought to sent Father McShane some really nice Christmas cards this year.

It's also worth mulling over what he has managed to end up doing to the Patriot League - transforming it.  It was something Fr. O'Hare was unable to do in a different time and place, but achieved now by Fr. McShane through persistence, engagement - and patience.

No comments: