And after the Patriot League Council of Presidents locked themselves in a room for a couple days to make a decision and made... no decision... my mind cannot shoo away a vision of the Ents from the legendary trilogy.
I keep having this vision in my head from the movie The Two Towers, with the Ents gathered with Merry and Pippin, who are desperately trying to impart on the tree people the importance of getting the Ents to battle Saruman and his army to save Middle Earth. The Ents talked... and talked... and talked... and finally said, with Merry and Pippin waiting for their answer with baited breath:
"I have told your names to the Entmoot, and we have agreed you are not orcs." (more)
The more you look at the Ents, the more the statements from the Patriot League office make some sort of "sense".
The end result of the Patriot League meeting were almost identical to the Entmoot's anticlimactic discussion.
"Following extensive discussions at their meetings this week, the Patriot League Council of Presidents elected to table a decision to adjust the current need-limited model of financial aid for two years pending additional deliberations related to the League's strategic direction," the Council of Presidents announced in a joint statement.
They didn't actually release the statement in Old Entish, which, as Treebeard helpfully tells us, "it takes a long time to say anything in Old Entish. And we never say anything unless it is worth taking a long time to say."
But using forty-two words to say what can be communicated in two words on a message board - "no scholarships" - it may as well have been.
And the more you look at the particulars of the decision, the more Entish it becomes - especially when you consider that it took a special convention for the Ents to determine the specific species of Pippin and Merry.
The discussion on whether the Patriot League should sponsor football scholarships certainly spans four years, when the league themselves sponsored a study on the subject (and I, who didn't get paid for my effort, went ahead and issued my own recommendations back in 2007):
There’s no reason why the Patriot League should lose their soul if they offer some scholarships or change their AI calculation. What would be much worse is if the league does nothing while the rest of the world adapts to the new realities. The Patriot League could lose their brand of athletics, squeezed by free education on the athletic side and squeezed by the Ivies and FBS schools on the academic side. That would be an awful – and preventable - shame.
But with two years of no action, it seemed like in the spring of 2009, there would be some movement on the issue one way or another. That's because Fordham decided to start offering football scholarships starting with the 2010 season.
Unusually for a school that was, in effect, breaking conference rules, the council strongly emphasized that Fordham was still closely associated with the Patriot League, despite their decision:
"There is strong desire both on the part of Fordham and the Patriot League to continue our long-standing relationship," said Bucknell President Brian C. Mitchell, the Chair of the Patriot League Council of Presidents. "The interim arrangement we have agreed to will allow Fordham to begin to award scholarships in football while affording the League time to address merit aid for football and broader issues related to membership expansion. This issue comes at a very difficult financial time on all of our campuses."
The Patriot League Council of Presidents will continue to discuss the competitive and financial implications of athletic merit aid for the League football membership as well as the long-term goals of the League. It is anticipated that a decision will be made no later than the end of 2010.
With such a bold violation of the "rules", some Patriot League fans were hoping to hear something on the subject from the League office. But in retrospect, the Patriot League football fans were like Pippin in The Lord of the Rings, who said, "They must have decided something by now," with Treebeard replying, "Decided? No, we have just finished saying 'Good Morning'."
Every year, for the past four years and more, the "debate" over football scholarships would take place on the world-wide-interwebs. Gradually - among fans, anyway - it stopped being a philosophical discussion and more of a practical one. The "why" was no longer in doubt, especially now that the Patriot League was offering scholarships in every other sport and Bucknell basketball had now beaten Kansas. It was more of the "how" - how much would it cost? How could scholarships be implemented in a fair way so that there's not two classes of teams in the league - those with the full complement of scholarships, and the others who will not offer them?
Unfortunately for fans, we foolishly thought that some of similar discussions were going on through email between the ten college presidents of the Patriot League on the matter. Instead of envisioning a vision of a full-scholarship Patriot League and possible games with Army, Navy and Rutgers, they seemed more like - wait for it - the Ents, talking in some ancient language that fans could not figure out.
There were some rustling in the trees in the last two years, involving schools like Harvard perhaps re-thinking their scheduling arrangements with Patriot League schools.
Such rustling went largely unnoticed by fans, but may have been a declaration of war in Old Entish. Perhaps that got the emails going amongst the Patriot League presidents, but fans just laughed it off for the most part.
"Suppose they dropped Lehigh from the schedule. Who are they going to play? Davidson?" many scoffed.
"Now, don't be hasty, master Merriadoc," the Ents seemed to be saying. "We need more time to think about this..."
Meanwhile, Fordham's first scholarship class enrolled and started in the fall of 2010. And the folks at Fordham happily told recruits that they will be playing Army in 2013... hopefully in Yankee Stadium. And they waited for the "anticipated" decision at the end of 2010 - in double-fast time for the Ents, but a reasonable amount of time for Fordham to adjust to a scholarship future as well.
Many over at Fordham - and folks who follow the Patriot League - probably wouldn't have dreamed that they would make the same mistake with Fordham all over again.
At one time, Fordham was an all-sports member in the Patriot League. But their basketball program suffered mightily after going non-scholarship in basketball, and when the Atlantic Ten came calling in all sports they jumped at the chance - but keeping their football program in the Patriot League, crucially keeping the fledgling football league together.
It wasn't talked about a lot, but it was assumed that the League presidents wouldn't make the same mistake with Fordham again - to let them to leave over a scholarship issue, only to be coerced later into offering them when one of the core members starts offering them but too late to allow Fordham to still remain a part of the league.
Again, it seems like we've all underestimated the inability of Old Entish to be able to talk about things in the past tense. It seems like the Ents are doomed to repeat the past, never to learn anything from it.
"We Ents cannot hold back this storm. We must weather such things as we have always done," Treebeard said in The Lord of the Rings. Similarly, the Patriot League Council of presidents seems to be saying, "We cannot hold back Fordham, if scholarships are what they want to do. We must weather such talk of scholarships as we have always done... and we'll meet again in two years to talk about it once again."
OK, I'll step away from the Rings metaphor, and I'll start to get to the editorializing.
The Patriot League's decision may never really, truly, be adequately explained - what happened in that closed room, with the ten presidents and the executive director of the Patriot League, Carolyn Schlie Femovich presiding.
We know for sure is that Patriot League presidents commissioned a study on scholarships two years ago; faced with the possibility of Fordham leaving the league a year and a half ago, they asked for time to study the situation further; and yesterday, instead of issuing a statement one way or another, they asked to study the situation some more.
And we know for sure is that Lafayette president Daniel Weiss was the only Patriot League president who went on the record with his opinion on the matter - a "No" vote. When asked for a vision for the future, Weiss didn't offer much, only "strengthening our partnership with the Ivy League", while offering no real plan as to how remaining with need-based aid would do this.
And finally, we know that there are a lot of friends of Patriot League football that are pissed to high heaven about this. ("These guys (the league presidents) have no guts and offer no leadership," said Jack Bourger, chairman of the Friends of Lafayette Football, to Brad Wilson of the Express-Times. "I'm sick to my stomach right now. This is unbelievable.")
I'd hope that the case for football scholarships was at least talked about in the room - one I've made repeatedly on my blog. Actually, I hope the issue got a full hearing - my view, and the opposing view.
I could have accepted a "No" vote. I would have been disappointed, but I could have accepted the Ents telling me that it was too much money, that it would have ruined the schools somehow, that the Ivy League would never, ever, ever speak to us again. I might have disagreed, but I could have accepted it, started to get excited at the prospect of Marist becoming an all-sports member, and moving on.
But my biggest issue with it is that it's a non-decision.
It's bad enough that it not making a decision it sends a cloudy message to any 63 scholarship school (Richmond, William & Mary, Villanova) or need-based aid school (Marist) about joining the league. When are they going to decide?, I picture their presidents asking.
But worst of all, it is, in effect, is showing Fordham the door.
The Rams could have chosen to destroy the Patriot League years ago when they left. They could have - with some justification - said, "Your non-scholarship mentality has brought down our basketball program, which we expect to be competing for the Final Four. We're going to yank everything, including our football program, and join the Atlantic Ten along with the rest of out sports programs."
But Fordham did not do that. They stayed in football - and make no mistake, their action kept the Patriot League alive in football, and by extension as an all-sports conference.
They believe in what the Patriot League stands for in terms of accepting athletes that are representative of the rest of the class. They believe in academics, and are an ideal fit for the Patriot League in all sports - especially now that basketball allows scholarships as well.
Even with the decision on football scholarships - and all the bad blood that was caused by the basketball scholarships issue - they still could have chosen to leave in football.
They could have chosen to ditch the Academic Index that is a part of the Patriot League, started redshirting freshmen, and prepared for life in another conference. But they didn't do that. Nobody is redshirted. They are adhering to the Academic Index. They played by the rules of a scholarship Patriot League.
They have a positive vision about what the Patriot League should be. They are not just any affiliate: they have invested time and energy into their program, including taking an active role in crafting their program. They want to be in the Patriot League.
And to repay Fordham's loyalty to the league - something they did when they didn't have to - the presidents instead told them to get lost.
Sure, it is spun as a "we need to study this further". But Fordham will not go back. They will offer football scholarships with yet another football class, and still be ineligible for Patriot League awards and titles in 2011. But if another conference starts to see Fordham, with its footprint in New York City and its improving scholarship football program, as a good addition or a reason to save their conference - why on earth wouldn't Fordham say yes to them?
(Incidentally, one of Fordham's leaguemates in the Atlantic Ten, UMass, is making a lot of noise that they are going to move up to FBS and join the Mid-American Conference, or MAC, in football. An extremely plausible scenario is UMass accepting their bid to play in the MAC - and a week later, CAA commissioner Tom Yeager announcing Fordham as UMass' replacement in the CAA.)
Fordham has been loyal to the Patriot League, even when they didn't have to be. As repayment, the Patriot League presidents repaid their loyalty by doing nothing on the one subject that they cared about the most.
Losing them will mean a lot more than just losing a football school. It will mean losing a school that wanted so much to be a part of the Patriot League experiment - one that had a good vision, a correct vision, for the Patriot League, but were cursed to be "ahead of their time". Worse, other schools thinking about joining the Patriot League will look at Fordham and see an example of a school that did its best, played by the rules, tried to nudge things in the right direction - and get severely punished for believing so.
I don't think the Patriot League presidents really, truly get the fact that losing Fordham will mean the eventual end of the Patriot League.
But I do. And unfortunately, I don't think they will effectively get it until its too late.
Because I don't know Old Entish.