In the second full week of December last year, the Council of Patriot League Presidents met at the Patriot League offices outside of Lehigh, Pennsylvania to discuss whether League members would be allowed to offer merit-based football scholarships. At the meeting, the 10 members of the Council voted to forgo making a definitive decision on the issue until 2012.
This discussion had been set in motion nearly two years earlier, in the spring of 2009, when Fordham University announced that it would begin to grant merit-based football scholarships for the Fall 2010 season.
“The Patriot League had an agreement with Fordham that it would get back to them in December 2010 to try to give them an answer in terms of the aid that could be extended to [football] players,” Director of the Division of Physical Education, Recreation and Athletics David Roach said.
When the Patriot League was founded nearly 25 years ago with a commitment to both academic achievement and athletic competition, aid for all sports was need-based. Twelve years ago the League allowed its member institutions to offer merit-based athletic scholarships in men’s and women’s basketball, which gradually carried over to all other sports, except football.
Head Football Coach Dick Biddle explained the advantage of merit-based football scholarships.
“You’re not going to lose a kid because they don’t receive enough financial aid and go somewhere else. That’s the key. [Scholarships] take that part out of the recruiting process,” he said. “The other thing is, you would probably be more attractive to some pretty good athletes.”
The Patriot League’s agreement with Fordham extends to 2012, so Fordham will still be able to play in the League under current conditions. They will, however, be ineligible for the Patriot League title and a bid to the National
Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) playoffs. If the Council decides in 2012 to prohibit the extension of merit-based football scholarships, Fordham will officially drop out of the League.
Currently, the Patriot League is composed of eight full members: American University, United States Military Academy, Bucknell University, Colgate University, College of the Holy Cross, Lafayette College, Lehigh University and the United States Naval Academy. Associate members of the League include Fordham University and Georgetown University. If Fordham drops out of the Patriot League, it will be down to the minimum six members, which will make it difficult to schedule six or seven League games each season. Most competitive leagues ideally have eight to 10 institutions, Roach explained.
Biddle outlined the League’s three options in the event that another member decides on its own to grant merit-based aid: the Patriot League can keep that institution in the League while the other teams remain at a disadvantage: dismiss that institution from the league, or agree that all members will be allowed to offer scholarships.
At present, the Patriot League members remain divided on the issue. While Fordham has already begun granting scholarships, Lafayette President Daniel Weiss has spoken out publicly against merit-based aid for football.
Like most of the other Patriot League presidents, President Jeffrey Herbst offered a diplomatic take on the issue.
“We [Colgate] will be evaluating where we are and trying to make an assessment of what the best path is in the future.”
As the long-time head coach of Colgate’s football team, Biddle said that he would like to be consulted when it comes time to make a decision, as he has an intimate understanding of how it should be done.
“I would like to see Colgate do what’s best for Colgate, and since it’s a football issue, what’s best for Colgate football … I think we’ve got a great program and we run it right, and we want to continue to do that,” Biddle said.