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Media Day 2012: "A Significant Year for the League"

Patriot League executive director Carolyn Schlie Femovich has, by any measure, has presided over an extraordinary 2011-2012 athletic year.

That football scholarships were not the only interesting subject on Patriot League Media Day is a testament to the number of history-making moves that has taken place in the span of the 2011-2012 football offseason, and it's something that Femovich certainly understands well.

"It's been a very significant year for the league, and I give the presidents and athletic directors a lot of credit for that," she said. "The scholarship decision was a significant step for us, the admission of Boston Univeristy will be a strong member for us, and the expanded TV package - I think it's all an indication that what we're doing has value and merit: other people want to join us, we put a product on the field that is successful, and a product that people can be proud of. It's a good place to be."

To the executive director of the Patriot League, the historic decision on football scholarships is what opened the door for plenty of groundbreaking moves in the league this year.

It's definitely a flavor of scholarships, though, that reflects the way the Patriot League does business.

"I think scholarships opens up a lot more doors and avenues for both the talented football player, but also for the very bright academic student, and that's a win-win," she said.  "And we don't expect any decline in our academic performance with this decision, we actually expect increased performance.  It all comes down to how it's managed."

She also mentioned the flexibility each school will have in offering scholarships as well.

"First I'd like to say at the outset that it's permissive aid," she said, "so every institution will decide how they want to award their athletic aid: they can continue with need-limited aid, with a combination of scholarships should they choose.  Others may just decide to go to scholarships.  That's the insititutional perogative to decide how they want to split it up."

Femovich explained that each school might choose to do things differently.

"For example, one school might decide to spend money from academic awards that they might qualify for themsleves, they might continue to give money on a need-limited basis, or they could offer scholarship money, or some combination," she said.  "At another school, they could decide to take all the money they've been spending, put it in a pot, and they will allocate up to 15 each year, and when it's gone, it's gone."

She verified with me that football squad sizes, as a natural progression of  the move to scholarships and increased retention, would be reduced over time.

In addition to the flexibility for each school, there's an element to football scholarships that is not present in other leagues.

"There will be some reporting to the league to go along with scholarships, because the upper limit is 60," she said.  "And it's 60 of all forms of aid - need-based, scholarship, or academic awards."

It's a significant difference from many other FCS conferences. 

Delaware's president doesn't have to disclose to James Madison's president the names and academic standards of their football players receiving scholarship money. 

But as a part of the Patriot League, whose presidents, like the Ivy League, share all manner of academic and athletic information through the league office, it's a normal way of doing business.

It's a way of doing business that Boston University, the newest member of the League, is also learning about up close and personal.

They will begin participating in our meetings, our coaches' groups, plus administrative groups, so that they feeling like they are a part of our family.  They don't become an official member with voting rights or competitive opportunities until 2013.

Part of it is orientation to the Patriot League.  We've had lots of conversations and conference calls with their staff, and we're taking a delegation up to Boston to spend a day and a half with them, to meet their coaches, and spend time with their administrators to help them understand how we do business, how we do things administratively around all sports, and really explains our ethos and thinking on academics and athletics, and why we do things the way we do. 

They understand that when they join the Patriot League, some things are going to be different.  For example, when we talk about missed class time, we're very serious about that.  We play weekend games wherever we can because we want to make sure our kids stay in class.   For them, its a part of them learning about how we do business, and it's our responsibility to help them with that transition. 

Interestingly, she told me that the decision on football scholarships at least partially paved the way toward Boston University joining the league, though at first it might seem counter-intuitive since the Terriers unceremoniously dumped their scholarship football program in 1997, and have no plans to start it up again.

But with the scholarship decision out of the way, she said, it paved the way for the conversations to take place between Boston University's president, Robert A. Brown, and the presidents and memberships of the League.

Though it wasn't spelled out explicitly by Ms. Femovich, something that had to be attractive to Boston University was the Patriot League's TV deal, which includes a host of televised sports in men's and women's basketball, lacrosse, and football.

She did mention how the football part of the deal had been expanded, however.

"The deal with CBS Sports Network has given us an opportunity to further expose our football programs.  We've had a partnership and package for basketball," she said.  "but now this has been expanded to include football and lacrosse with several more nationally televised games.  And over time, this can continue to grow."

The league got an unexpected game when CBS Sports Network elected to pick up the Bucknell/Harvard game this season after the original broadcast schedule was announced.

"We were happy that Harvard was interested in a CBS Sports Network broadcast of their game at Bucknell," she siad.  "Last year, they televised a game where Cornell played there, and that's a good thing.  We help each other."

Might that open up the door to more football games to be broadcast?

I think it's possible, but a lot depends upon windows.  We don't necessarily want to play on a Thursday night.  If we decide to play on Thursday, we have a lot of opportunities.  But with their partnership with Army and Navy, all of their home games are televised.  So if Army is playing at home at noon, and Navy is playing at home at 3:30, there's no window for one of our games.

There are special occasions, for example, Holy Cross has played some games on a Friday night, or over Labor Day weekend, so there's an opportunity to do that, but we're very judicious about playing weekend games.  You're not going to see Patriot League football on Tuesday night games any time soon.


What's clear from my conversation with Ms. Femovich is that, yes, it's a significant year for the league, but at the same time, in many ways, the Patriot League has seen this as a critical validation that their measured approach, and their model of academic standards and institutional control, is a positive way forward.

The momentous football scholarship decision came about after a long period of discussion and debate. 

Whether Boston University approached the Patriot League first or not, the Terriers clearly approved of their model of academics and athletics.

And the slow-burning TV deal, after a modest beginning, is starting to really pay dividends as CBS Sports Network starts to really make a serious push into cable households all over the nation.

While some conferences flash bright and fade fast, the Patriot League's model is maintaining a slow burn. 

And in this uncertain time of collegiate realignment, it's a pretty great place to be.


Unknown said…
60 is max for ALL forms of aid? Your quote of Femovich is clear. Certainly will lead to significantly smaller squads. Only non recruited wakons wont count towards that mumber?

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