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Decision Made: Patriot League Football Goes Scholarship

Today, a decision was made by the Patriot League.

The decision on Patriot League football scholarships that many, many followers of the quarter-century-old league have been waiting for.

The decision came in the official announcement that the Patriot League "endorsed a policy that will allow athletic merit aid for the sport of football, beginning with the class entering school in the fall of 2013."

After a surprise press conference and official press release announcing the result of the presidents' deliberations on the matter, the Patriot League entered a brand new world. 

 
"First of all, we make this decision in recognition that we believe that it will help the league to remain strong and competitive," Lafayette president Daniel Weiss said in his opening statement today.  "both with regard to our academic goals, which are foremost in the league, and to athletic competitiveness."

"This approach for awarding athletic merit aid to football student-athletes will allow our member schools flexibility to determine the most effective use of their financial aid resources to attract highly-qualified Division I scholar-athletes in a very competitive academic and athletic marketplace,"  Patriot League Executive Director Carolyn Schlie Femovich said in the official release as well. "The introduction of this financial aid model for football will strengthen the Patriot League's ability to compete for outstanding student-athletes while continuing to uphold the high academic standards of the League and its member institutions."   

Academic standards are unaffected by this change in financial aid policy.  Incoming athletes still need to have grades representative of the rest of the incoming class in order to be admitted to Patriot League schools. 

"We believe over time what this decision is in the best interest of the league because it will help us with future membership prospects,"  Weiss also noted, "it will help us with scheduling out-of-league competitors in football, and it will allow us to be more competitive in admissions with regard to identifying and recruiting outstanding students who also can play Division I football at the level of the Patriot League."

Of all the words uttered by the president of Lafayette College, it's the times he used word 'decision' that undoubtedly made Patriot League watchers the happiest. 

That's because it has been years that fans have been waiting for a decision on the issue of need-based aid versus scholarships. 

*****

The Patriot League was founded in 1986 on certain principles, two of which were the separation financial aid and athletic admittance, and the institution of academic standards for athletic recruits.

Athletes would have to adhere to academic standards that were representative of the rest of the class, and go through the same financial aid office that every other student also goes through.

Originally, the only athletic aid offered to athletes was aid based on need - the same type of aid offered to the rest of the incoming class.

Over time, however, the ultra-competitive marketplace for talented athletes made it impractical, in many, many cases, for Patriot League schools to compete for many highly-qualified academic athletes. 

Put it this way - if a football player is faced with the choice of going to Delaware and receiving a full scholarship or paying money to go to Lehigh, the athlete would generally end up as a Blue Hen.  

While it might be uncomfortable to contemplate, the truth is that athletes that can play Division I sports have many opportunities to acquire an education on scholarship that is different than the opportunities of their classmates.



This is especially true of the Patriot League, whose schools expressedly recruit only athletes that are representative academically of the high SAT scores and GPAs of the rest of their class.

A few years into the implementation of Patriot League model, studies showed that only allowing need-based aid was severely hurting the competitiveness of certain sports.

And it would be basketball that would drove the change for other Patriot League sports to switch to traditional scholarships - or "merit-based" scholarships, the same types of scholarships offered by other schools -  putting them on a level financial playing field with other Division I athletics programs. 

Of the Patriot League's 22 other sponsored competitions, football was the last holdout - a point Mr. Weiss made in his opening statements as well. 

"This policy is consistent allowing merit aid in the other sports in the Patriot League," he said.



Partially based on their experience with basketball, Holy Cross' Richard Regan, speaking on behalf of the ten Patriot League athletic directors, said that "we believe that the ability to offer merit aid in football will perhaps more than double the size of the recruiting pool of student-athletes."

Lehigh athletic director Joe Sterrett echoed Regan's sentiments to me as well.

"The pool of viable prospects just got larger, including the segment of those who present highly attractive qualifications and qualities," he told me.  "It means our coaches can conduct our already challenging recruiting efforts without confronting the frustrating final hurdle of financial aid awards from other fine institutions with which we are unable to compete on aid offers.  

"The decision allows us to think and feel differently about recruiting, our schedule, and perhaps even the attractiveness of our league."

Yes, Virginia, it really is that momentous.

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