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Fordham Throws Down the Gauntlet

You won't find the news in any major newspaper or any official source of Patriot League information. But news coming out of Fordham head coach Tom Masella's "Meet the Recruits" event on March 3rd has exploded onto the Patriot League message board community.

While the reality of coach Masella's comments has not been verified, what is certain is that Fordham football supporters were told in no uncertain terms that Fordham laid down the gauntlet to the Patriot League leadership concerning scholarship football.

Two different message board postings have been the source of these revelations. First came the following from Fordham's message board:

Fordham has told the PL we want scholarships instituted leaguewide by June 09 .. If the PL balks we are prepared and going independent for 2010 season. then find a new home for 2011 and beyond. this is not hearsay, the FU Head Coach and the administration has sat down with PL commissioner Carol Femovich... Masella (HC)and Fordham grid alumni like the schools in the PL.. but 1aa(sic) football is passing the league by.. so we laid down the ultimatium(sic).. and the alumni are in full support of scholly's or out!!

UCONN is on the schedule 2011. Army is on schedule 2014,2015. we are looking for a 1A opponent 2010,12,13.

...

1aa scholly's and a 1A game every year.. finally we are moving in the right direction.!!!! FU has indeed gave an ultimatum.. personally i hope PL goes scholly.. if not were gone Smiley

That kicked off an avalanche of comments, and also prompted this posting on the Any Given Saturday board just to show that it wasn't just one person's imagination:

I attended last nights "Meet the Recruits" at MJ Armstrong's in NYC last night and 'wow, what a meeting!'

...

Then he dropped the bombshell. Fordham has told the PL that we're going full scholarship next season. Preferably within the PL but we'll go independent if they don't move. We currently fund 58 equivalencies - plan is to stick with that and the argument is 'no more money but much more bang for our buck'.

So, so glad that we have Masella running our program and kudos to our administration for their leadership on behalf of the school and sport.

I'll leave it to you, the reader, to read through the volumes of comments on the boards themselves from folks hailing Fordham's "gutsy" stand on scholarships. But the ramifications of Fordham's ultimatum, and what was actually said and done, still need to be sorted out.

*****

Coach Masella reportedly said that Fordham is going "full scholarship" for next season. That means that in 2009, Fordham will be offering up to 63 scholarships for football players. But what does that really mean?

There currently is no restriction in the numbers of scholarship equivalencies and Patriot League football team can offer. So that means going "full scholarship" can't just mean going from the 58 equivalencies to the NCAA-mandated upper limit of 63 scholarships to be divvied out to the football team. Fordham could, if they chose, do that already.

If they did choose to go to 63 equivalencies under the current rules, however, those players would need to go through the need-based aid formula when determining how much athletic aid they will receive. An assessment about the parents' ability to pay for a Fordham education would be taken into account, the numbers would be forwarded to the academic aid office, and eventually the amount of aid they receive would be calculated.

The actual words of the Patriot League bylaw are:

In the sport of football, student-athletes may not be awarded financial aid
based upon athletic ability in excess of demonstrated need (also known as grants-in-aid). Any football student-athlete receiving an academic merit-based financial aid award above need should have academic credentials similar to other students generally receiving academic merit awards at that institution.


It appears that Fordham is saying: "Starting with the 2009 class, we're going to start to offer full scholarships to recruits regardless of need," meaning they would be offering scholarships the same way that it is offered in every other sport in the Patriot League:

Consistent with the above principles, and at the discretion of the member institution, student-athletes [in all sports other than football] may be granted academic or athletic merit-based financial aid awards. All student-athletes receiving merit awards above need, shall be reported annually, along with their academic index, to the Executive Director for review by the Policy Committee at its spring meeting.

Is Fordham saying that? Or does Fordham have a beef with the other institutional modus operandi of the league - that they're not willing to play ball with the newly revised academic index, or that they have a problem with the fact that the admissions office has the final say over whether athletes are admitted? Do they have a bigger problem with the way the Patriot League does its business?

There is certainly circumstantial evidence that Fordham has a beef with the new AI calculations put into place this year, which set up AI bands and changed the academic recruiting rules. The school that was clearly most affected by the new rules? Fordham - and the comments on the message boards seem to bear this out:

the recruiting class was referrred to by Masella as solid but not spectacular. the PL academic band for recruiting was frustrating to coach.

...

The true win for scholarships is opening up recruiting so we can get away from need-based aid and recruit who we want. The only reason AI is really a factor is because Masella said that we were told by the league that they would both be implemented one-after-the-other. Then, they implemented AI and started to balk at scholarships.

This talk of quid-pro-quo is all speculation for sure, but it's pretty interesting. But it also puts some reasonable doubt as to Fordham's endgame. Talk of coach Masella "liking" the schools of the Patriot League nonwithstanding, I'd like to see some reassurance that it's specifically the need-based aid, and not anything else, that is the issue.

Still, it's about time that somebody said something about the issue to get some forward motion on the idea of treating football aid just like the aid to all other athletes. It's unfair that football players have to jump through hoops for aid that, say, women's volleyball players don't have to jump through. If Fordham's actions make that happen, it will all be worth it.

*****

It's extraordinary that Fordham, who is only an associate member of the Patriot League in football, is trying to call the shots in a sport where there are five full Patriot League members. Why? The answer is enshrined in the Patriot League's statement of "Who we are":

We believe that athletic programs should be integrated into an institution’s campus life and governance structure, and operate with integrity and under presidential control. The Patriot League model includes oversight of our policies at both the League and campus level while remaining focused on the individual development of all students.

This means that what Fordham needs to do isn't convince the public, football coaches and athletic directors that scholarships are the right thing to do. Fordham ultimately needs to convince the full-member Patriot League presidents and Georgetown that it's in their best interest to institute scholarships in football. And they're doing so by, in effect, laying down an ultimatum.

It's possible to picture a scenario that Fordham convinces Lehigh, Lafayette, and Colgate's ADs and BOT's to huddle together and say we want scholarships in football (though it's a lot harder to picture that same scenario with Bucknell, American, Army, Navy, and Holy Cross.) The selling point would be that the direction towards scholarships have seemed inevitable for some time now, and with the AI changes behind them, it would be good for the league - and would make the Patriot League much more enticing for other Division I schools to consider joining. It is certainly possible to see the case ending with: "give us football scholarships, and we'll get you Richmond and Villanova". (Or Fordham in all sports.)

It's also possible to picture the Patriot League presidents saying "we don't need this hassle," believing it's the wrong time to go full scholarship while GM is shedding jobs and the Dow is scraping 6500. They could just say sayonara to Fordham while grabbing Marist, Bryant and/or Loyola (MD) to take their place in all sports - who seem like they would jump at the chance for Patriot League membership, scholarships or no. Their closing argument would be: "who needs 'em? Marist and Bryant will do things our way. Why keep those malcontents around?"

The X-factor in all of this? Georgetown. Will they see a potential arms race in football that they won't (or can't) win - and simply decide to leave the league, perhaps to play in a Northeast Conference that won't commit to full-scholarship football, or play in the non-scholarship Pioneer League? Or might the Hoyas "grin and bare it" and slowly ramp up their spending on football scholarships or equivalencies? There's the distinct possibility that the League might please Fordham - but in the process push away Georgetown. (This has its own thread on the Any Given Saturday message board.)

Which will happen? Or will the presidents pick Door No. 3? It's anyone's guess.

*****

Finally, worthy of mention here is the history between Fordham and the Patriot League - a marriage that has seen its share of turmoil.

Fordham used to be a Patriot League member in all sports, and threatened to leave over the subject of basketball scholarships in the late 1990s. Fordham was unhappy that the league was unwilling to lift the need-based aid requirement for basketball, and the Rams' teams went from NCAA tournament-worthy teams to the dregs of Division I in a staggeringly short period of time.

The Patriot League took them up on their threat and Fordham ended up joining the Atlantic 10 in all sports (but kept the Rams as a football-only member). Fordham's presence in the A-10 has not reversed the slide, however, of their basketball program. If you ask many A-10 basketball fans (and they have no vote in this), they'd love to see the back of Fordham almost as much as the Patriot League would love to see them come back.

Insofar as the Patriot League, there have reportedly been no hard feelings on both sides (Fordham's AD told me point blank a few years ago that he liked being in the Patriot League), but it's hard to escape the fact that their move very nearly caused the Patriot League's demise. Ironically, after losing Fordham, Holy Cross followed suit not much later - and got the scholarships that Fordham so desperately wanted in basketball.

Perhaps the Patriot League won't make the same mistake twice, even to lose an affiliate? Possibly - especially if the League holds out hope that Fordham can someday return in all sports. But you have to wonder if Fordham's past history with the League is a big X-factor the other way, too. Maybe the Patriot League presidents have had enough of the Fordham show, and will finally block them for good.

*****

So many questions, and so few answers.

The only thing that can be said for sure is: dese are interesting times. And it's far from certain what the future holds for the Patriot League.

Comments

Doug H said…
Do we know how much need based scholarship money a school like Lehigh has in football????
How in the world can these schools afford a full scholarship program without a huge endowment increase which is how some of the small Southern Conference schools pay for it as well as money games like Furman is doing with Missouri.. Could Lehigh have money games with bigger programs if they chose to go scholarship?????

With colleges cutting costs left and right, I do have a problem seeing how schools like Lehigh can afford a full scholarship program these days.... That's 2.4-3MM per year in scholarship aid just for football... In addition, would Title IX issues crop up???? If the money spent on football increases too much will that spell the end of some other men's sports ( obviously not wrestling which is endowed for its scholarships)....
ngineer said…
It's NOT and increase in money that is the issue. It's how the money is spent. No one HAS to increase scholarships to the full 63. Lehigh could stay where it is (around 54) and can decide who gets a 'full ride' or 'half ride' or whatever offer. The difference is without the 'need-based' formula, the PL schools are not restricted to recruiting only those students to whom they can give money to (or who have such rich families it doesn't matter--not many). Time to 'get off the pot' on this one. We do it in wrestling, with an increased quality in BOTH academics and athletics.
Anonymous said…
Say good bye to Fordham, the ostriches will keep their heads buried in the sand and let them go rather than institute scholarships for football in the Patriot league. Bravo Fordham and kudos to Massella. We can just search for another hapless program to fill there shoes, or drop down to D3. How far the Engineers have fallen. Oh and way to go Alice chief ostrich in charge.....disgusting!
Anonymous said…
Doug H is representative of most of the naysayers thought process. Don't expect a change, dweebs like him are the norm when it comes to LU and the others. Im pretty much thinking that LU will have to find a place to play, because Holy Cross is definitely next in line and guess what, Tavani wants scholarships. I hope that in the future we can schedule our one D1 per year and that Tavani will still play us.
DFW HOYA said…
A point missing in this entire argument is Fordham and the AI..they're agaisnt a league-wide index because it no longer gives them an advantage with low-band recruits.

The talk of Fordham setting up I-A games is secondary to what Masella really wants: recruiting outside the new Index. The PL presidents might accept scholarships (4 a year?), but they won't drop the Index.
PA Ram said…
2 things:

1. next season in any Fordham message board comments was referencing the next recruiting class/season. So we're talking 2010, not 2009 fwiw.

2. DFW, if all we did was want to get away from the AI we would not have given an ultimatum ... we just would have left. I asked Masella personally if we would stay in the PL if they agreed to allow us to go scholarship (either b/c the league goes fully scholarship or b/c they just allow each school to make their own decision on the matter) and he said absolutely yes.
Anonymous said…
Why doesn't Lehigh just recruit this kid?

http://www.gridironstuds.com/detail.php?ret=1&id=274
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