Whether you think merit-based aid for the Patriot League in football is a good idea or not, the Patriot League presidents are getting together in the Lehigh Valley this week to discuss the possibility of allowing athletic aid for football that is not based entirely on need - in layman's terms, to allow the same sort of unrestricted athletic aid that is offered in a multitude of different Patriot League sports, from men's and women's basketball to softball.
It's quite possible that today, the Patriot League will vote on the matter, with a possible press conference to announce the decision today, or in the next few days. Before they announce the results, let me offer my own analysis of the situation. (more)
A New York Times' article today offers a good primer on the situation, as does my multitude of blog postings on the matter as well.
But I still think the best piece I wrote on the matter was an op-ed piece the Morning Call was kind enough to print a few years ago. A lengthy excerpt of the piece follows below:
Schools like Lehigh and Lafayette can currently offer only need-based aid to football players. While both Lehigh and Lafayette can convert all of the need-based aid to grants in some circumstances (which is in effect the same as a scholarship), not everyone suiting up has this opportunity.
To put this in perspective, if a family of two working parents are making $125,000 a year combined and have a son who is good enough to play college football (and has the grades), Patriot League schools can only offer a partial package of aid in most cases.
What this practically means is that some parents are being to choose between paying tens of thousands of dollars for the honor of playing at a Patriot League school, or paying only room and board to play elsewhere.
Grants-in-aid in football may have been adequate to field football teams at one time, but looking around today, the landscape of football aid has changed.
When the other universities are doing the offering are fine academic schools in Division I Championship Subdivision with 63 scholarships like Delaware, Villanova, Richmond, Furman, Wofford or Elon, many qualified players decide to go elsewhere.
Schools like Harvard, Yale and Princeton have made extremely generous financial aid terms available, in effect giving “scholarships” to any student (including football players) whose family income is less than $125,000 a year.
Furthermore, schools like Albany, Monmouth (NJ) and Robert Morris – schools that at one time only offered need-based aid – recently have been given permission to offer football scholarships.Today, on the eve of the presumed vote, I think the same arguments still very much apply. It may surprise some of you when I say that I wasn't always this one-sided on the issue, but over time I've become more and more an advocate for football scholarships. It's not really about getting the next Pat Devlin. It's about getting the next generation of Marquis Scholars.
And, of course, scholarships continue to be offered by Division I Bowl Subdivision schools like Syracuse, Boston College, Rutgers and Penn State.
That translates into an awful lot of free education out there for Division I football players. It’s hard to compete with free.
Some may think football scholarships are the first step towards a Lehigh or Lafayette going down the slippery slope to becoming a Boston College or Ohio State, with academic compromises and the problems of big-time athletics. Yet with the Patriot League’s Academic Index and the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate measurements, there are tools in place to ensure Lehigh’s and Lafayette’s stringent academic standards among their football recruits.
Academic standards shouldn’t the issue.
The issue should be: How many more Brendan VanAckeren’s (a member of ESPN the Magazine Academic All-District football team) or DeAndre Morrow’s (a McKelvy scholar) might become Mountain Hawks or Leopards if the presidents of the Patriot League schools would allow their member institutions to offer athletic scholarships for football players?
At the end of my Op-Ed piece, I asked where Lehigh's president, Alice P. Gast and Lafayette's president, Daniel Weiss, stood on the issue.
Mr. Weiss finally made his opinion clear this week: he's a no vote on scholarships. As for an opposing view to my argument that Lehigh and Lafayette might miss out on the next Marquis Scholars, Mr. Weiss was quoted as saying that voting against was "in the best long-term interests of the league" and, when pressed for a vision going forward, mentioned strengthening the partnership with the Ivy League.
Mr Weiss did not address the fact that Fordham, who started offering football scholarships last summer, will leave the Patriot League if they're not implemented, meaning at a bare minimum the Rams will need to be replaced by a school that will be willing to play by the Patriot League's grant-in-aid rules. The only realistic school that might be willing to do so and currently offers football is Marist. (Boston University is just about the only other option for immediate expansion after that - assuming that they are willing to resume the sport for the first time since it was noisily discontinued in 1997.)
This is something I netted this one out days after Fordham made their announcement:
So what will happen in 2010? Will Fordham become a powerhouse, accepting a class of 2014 that blows away everyone else in the league? Will they win head-to-head recruiting battles against Lehigh, Colgate, and the rest of the League? Will they need to spend more on Title IX? (The Fordham release claims that they will not need to spend more on Title IX - that it's simply putting money in the "need-based aid" pot to the "football scholarship" pot - but this fact is disputed in some quarters.)
What's also extremely interesting is that there can really only be two outcomes to this experiment: either the League implements scholarships and Fordham stays, or the League says goodbye to scholarships and Fordham goes. It's hard to see a scenario where Fordham decides their football scholarship money is not well spent and come rushing back to a need-based aid league - it's either a step towards scholarships or a step towards Fordham leaving the league, one or the other.
The 2010 season - one where Fordham went 5-6 and Lehigh won the League's first postseason game since 2003 - certainly proved that the Rams did not become a powerhouse that unbalanced the league. But the point about the two outcomes is more pertinent than ever. Fordham ain't going back. A vote against scholarships is a vote to expel Fordham from the league, in effect.
So it comes down to the vote. Helpfully, I already talked about that, too:
Non-football members Army, Navy and American will also get a vote on this matter, and it's not abundantly clear which way they will vote. But what I heard is that the case for allowing scholarships is probably bolstered, not hindered, by their votes.
While American doesn't have football (and doesn't seem likely in the near future to bring it back) and FBS Army and Navy would not leave FBS nor leave their cherished independent status in that subdivision, it seems like their perspective is one of the overall brand of the Patriot League nationally. A strong FCS football conference - ideally, with more than seven football-playing members - helps that brand. They would only reap the benefits of that improved brand, without incurring any costs.
But will the presidents move even if it's a split 4-3 decision by the football playing schools? That's a question that couldn't be answered by anyone in the room, but it's one that matters. Would a slight majority, including the three non-FCS football-playing schools - be enough? Or would a stronger majority be required?
Could a compromise solution make it an easier decision - perhaps with a cap of 40 "conventional" scholarships, with the remainder of aid coming from the need-based variety? One wonders if that could tip the scales - and make it more affordable for schools who might be having Title IX issues. But then the question becomes: is Fordham OK with that?
Six months after I wrote this, these answers are no clearer now than they were then. Will Army, Navy, and American be the deciding votes on this matter?
Here's my thinking right now on how this vote might turn out. I will stop short of predicting votes, but I will give percentages instead. And, of course, this is all just my opinion.
American. 55% NO. While the Eagles obviously do not have a football team, as an all-sports, football-free school they may see football scholarships as shifting the balance away from themselves, which is why I have them tilting NO. If the president votes "YES", the reason might be to allow increased influence in the NCAA as a result of their move - that having a well-rounded offering of sports strengthens the league, and therefore strengthens them.
Army. 70% YES. If the rumors are true that the service academies would be more willing to schedule Patriot League schools, that's a strong indicator that they are interested in league schools being bowl counters for them - and also being more of a "peer school" in terms of academics. Furthermore, I have to believe that the generals want the Patriot League to offer scholarships for their own selling purposes - it's easier to sell fans and potential officers on the Patriot League if their football teams are competing for FCS championships.
Bucknell. TOSS UP. They've done a lot of work studying the issue, and there are indicators that president John C. Bravman was a big football fan during his time at Stanford. But aside from Lafayette, no other school would have as uphill a battle in terms of Title IX compliance and fundraising, and while Mr. Bravman might be a big football fan, he won't vote against the interest of the school if that's what finances dictate.
Colgate. 80% YES. In the past, Colgate has been big advocates for scholarships, but the relatively recent appointment of Jeffrey Herbst makes this more of a wild card than one might think. In addition, it's not at all clear what the Raiders' Title IX impacts might be with such a decision - some seem to think it will not have much impact, but I happen to think otherwise. Still, their historical support for scholarships and a recent taste of a "money game" with Syracuse - which seemed like it went over very well in Hamilton - would seem to keep the Raiders as a "YES".
Fordham. 100% YES. They are currently offering football scholarships, and according to executive athletic director Frank McLaughlin, they're very happy with them.
Georgetown. 90% NO. There is precious little official word from Georgetown on this matter, but looking at it from their point of view it's difficult to see a scenario where the league offers scholarships and the Hoyas come out as a great beneficiary with their current funding for football being equal. Furthermore, there is a Title IX issue as well as the Hoyas would need to match any new spending on football with spending on women's sports, meaning that it deals with overall funding of athletics at Georgetown, not just football.
(Having said that, I don't necessarily think Georgetown would be out the door if scholarships are approved. The Hoyas would still benefit by being in the league and increasing the amoutn of scholarships gradually.)
Holy Cross. 65% NO. President Michael C. McFarland has overseen scholarships in other sports at the Cross, notably hockey and men's basketball. But there's also no indication that he has changed his stance at all from the statement he made in 2008 on the matter: "Right now the Patriot League allows scholarships in every sport but football. And there are several schools that would like to institute scholarships in football. But we’re not one of them. In any event, the restoration of football scholarships would have to be a league decision. Beyond this, football scholarships would be tremendously expensive." I am assuming that his mind has not changed - and that there would still be a Title IX issue with becoming scholarship.
Lafayette. 100% NO. President Weiss has gone public on the matter.
Lehigh. 95% YES. The big reason this number is so high is that athletic director Joe Sterrett made a statement about scholarships a year and a half ago supporting Fordham's decision. Another reason, though, is that Lehigh - due to a quirk in having a favorable male-to-female ratio and some robustly-sponsored women's sports such as women's basketball and softball - is in particularly good shape in terms of Title IX than some of the other schools. President Gast has never committed one way or another on this - thus the 5% - but my feeling is that Lehigh is a "YES" vote.
Navy. 70% YES. See Army, above.
For those scoring at home, this seems to me to be a 5-4 vote, with Bucknell being THE swing vote on the matter with the football-playing schools being evenly split 3-3.
Brace yourselves for the results. It's going to be a tight one, I think.