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Fordham's Announcement: At Least They Spelled Their Name Right

No word if this unidentified person actually is associated in any way with Fordham University, but I wouldn't be surprised if she had this same reaction going through all the press reports about Fordham's Friday announcement that they are going to start offering merit-based aid in football starting in 2010.

While Fordham football frequently has to battle for any coverage of their football team in New York City (where they have as competition two pro baseball teams, three pro hockey teams, and two pro football teams, despite the fact that half of them play in New Jersey), the June announcement did admittedly get their school in the paper. But with coverage like this, who needs coverage?

Start with the AP report:

Fordham will award football scholarships next year for the first time since 1954, hoping to compete with the top schools in its division.

Fordham is a member of the Patriot League, which does not offer football scholarships.

The AP, whose report was reprinted in the NY Times, Sports Illustrated and newspapers around the country, make it sound like Fordham has been aid-free since 1954. Nothing could be further from the truth: tons of Fordham football players get athletic aid, they just need to go through the financial aid office to do determine need. Starting in 2010, they will be able to offer merit-based aid regardless of need to their football players.

(And the rest of the Patriot League also offers scholarships to football players: it's just that athletes need to go through the financial office to do so.)

Even the term "football scholarships for the first time since 1954" is very misleading. At the turn of the century, for example, higher education was free in many institutions (like Lehigh), so there was no added cost for students who play football. And it was only after the GI Bill when scholarships became more of a way of life for collegiate athletics. Lest folks think "football scholarships" got folks like Vince Lombardi to Rose Hill, the truth is football scholarships contributed to exactly two winning seasons in the post-war era, and probably contributed mightily to Fordham's decision to drop football in 1954 (due to the rising costs of having a team).

Next up: the New York Daily News, which gave a report on Fordham "offering scholorships (sic)" and a Fordham Hoops blogger who apparently thinks reporting on Fordham football involves a lot of cut-n-pasting:

Fordham took a giant step toward transforming itself into a nationally competitive Division I-AA football program today when it announced it will award football scholarships in the fall of 2010 for the first time since 1954.

The Rams are currently a member of the Atlantic 10 and play Division I in every sport but football, where they are an associate member of the Patriot League, which currently doesn't offer scholarships. Fordham will have to wait until the 2010 season to be eligible for the championship in that elite academic conference as well as the league's automatic NCAA playoff bid.

Fordham will offer 60 scholarships, allowing the Rams to schedule NCAA Division I-A, Football Bowl Subdivision schools.

Apparently the writers didn't exactly read the report from the Patriot League reaffirming that Fordham, who has been an associate member in football since 1990 (and was, for good measure, a member of Patriot League basketball from 1990 to 1995) would continue to be a member of the Patriot League in football.

And it must be heartwarming for Fordham fans to hear that their football program will "finally be nationally competitive" - except that they made the Round of Eight in the I-AA Playoffs by beating Northeastern in 2002, and fell in a 49-35 barnburner at national runnerup UMass in the 2007 FCS playoffs, proving that they are already "nationally competitive". (Without scholarships - er, merit-based aid - I might add.)

It's also a misnomer to say that since the Rams "will [now] offer 60 scholarships" that they are now "allowed to schedule [FBS] schools." There's nothing stopping them from scheduling those games now - just that FBS schools are less likely to accept games with schools that won't count towards bowl eligibility. "Making it easier" to schedule FBS games is the term that ought to be used - of course, according to these reporters, we're still waiting for Fordham to join the Patriot League in 2010.


As for folks who follow the Patriot League and FCS more closely on a day-to-day basis, reaction was all over the map.

One reporterr from the Hampton Roads Daily Press thought that it might be a temporary arrangement as Fordham heads to the CAA.

Matt from CollegeSportsInfo also thinks that Fordham is shopping for a new conference but neglecting their beleaguered basketball program:

But why would Fordham agree to this deal? Well, they are waiting for a conference opportunity to present itself. Fordham has 3 years to work this odd Patriot League scheduling agreement as they search for a new home.

But there aren't many options. In fact, there really is only one. What will not likely be an option will be the CAA, as that conference is set to expand to 14 teams in the next couple years. What could happen would be an A10/America East sponsored football league, made of mostly of current associate members for CAA football.


All this football talk takes away from a bigger problem. Fordham is will to spend money on football scholarships and upgrading their program at a time when they have a dreadful basketball program in the A10. They have the worst facilities and are fresh off a 3-22 record. They can't recruit as their top players are transferring out. The Fordham basketball program is a complete mess and they aren't far away from getting pressure by the league. When they joined there were assumptions about facility upgrades. Over a decade later, there has been no progress. The Fordham program is best suited for the MAAC right now and looks to be at the bottom of the conference.

The football drama is just that, but the bigger question is "Why?". Why worry about football until after you've brought basketball to at least an average level?

He's not the only one to notice Fordham's dismal showing in A-10 hoops: a Hofstra blogger speculates that Fordham might be destined to be back in the Patriot League... in all sports:

[T]he move to the A-10 has been an unqualified disaster for the Fordham men’s basketball team. The Rams lack the facilities to compete in the A-10 and their academic standards remain at a Patriot League level. This, too, is a reunion that makes sense for both sides. The one hurdle might be Fordham’s desire to add football scholarships.. [T]he Patriot League may not be ready to sink that kind of dough into its football programs any time soon. But at the least, Fordham to the Patriot League in every other sport makes all sorts of sense.

Yet another hoops blogger (Vin Parise, high school sports announcer for MSG+) thinks it could be the start of resuscitating the Atlantic 10... in football:

The Fordham Strategic Plan states that the university will use basketball to promote the school nationally using success in the A-10. The football team is also going full scholarship this summer. There is also talk of the return of the A-10 Football Conference with Fordham being the driving force in bringing that league back, which was formerly the top FCS Football league in the nation.
Keith Groller of the Morning Call thinks Fordham has finally forced the Patriot League's hand and seems to think that this will make scholarships a reality in the Patriot League:

This has to prompt the league to go to scholarships across the board in football, something that has been advocated by every football coach I've talked to for several years, including Lehigh's Andy Coen and Lafayette's Frank Tavani. The league can't afford to lose another member. It needs to add, not lose teams if it wants to keep its automatic bid in the NCAA tournament. This gives the Patriot League the push it needs to make the change.

Finally, David Coulson of The Sports Network had a balanced view of the proceedings:

This agreement, which was voted on this week by the Patriot League football presidents, seems to buy time for all parties. It gives Fordham three years to determine the best conference solution to match its long-term plans, and it provides the notoriously slow-moving PL with a more comfortable timeframe to grapple with and discuss the issue of scholarships.

But make no mistake, this is anything but a perfect solution, and when the next three years are up, we could see Fordham move to a conference more in line with its future goals, unless the PL follows the Rams' lead.


There will be more to come from me on this later in the week.


Anonymous said…
There is at least one flaw in your story... You make the arguement that financial aid to a football player and "merit" aid are inherently the same thing just logistically different. This may be true in a very small number of cases where the need is high enough a level that the player pay still benefit from a fully funded packed but in essence it severly hinders the ability of a school to recruit and enroll a wide swath of students. With financial aid you either must recruit those wealthy enough to pay full freight or those of modest enough means to require a large ammount of aid. In effect you lose everyone in the middle whom may only qualify for 5-8-10,000 in aid. True scholarships allow a coach/program to offer these scholarships based on the telent of the player not on the balance of their checkbook.
Doug-H said…
One of the other items regarding Merit Aid whether it is for academics or athletics is that the Merit Aid counts against the amount of money received if need based aid is also required... I know this from having a Lehigh student who received a Merit based scholarship but since I need additional financial aid to afford Lehigh, the amount of that merit scholarship was deducted from the Need based scholarship so in reality the partial Merit scholarship is worthless to an otherwise needy student.... The only thing the Merit scholarship idea helps ( if not a full ride) are families who don't need much if any aid to afford Lehigh.. In FCS football, many of the scholarships are partials.. In FBS football, all scholarships are full rides...

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