View Full Version : Patriot League discusses football scholarships

July 22nd, 2009, 09:49 AM
Fordham has declared its intent to offer athletics scholarships for football student-athletes beginning in 2010, and the Patriot League now will grapple with whether to allow its member institutions to follow suit.

The league’s presidents will decide by December 31, 2010, what direction to take.

Executive Director Carolyn Femovich said several factors will influence the Patriot League’s decision, including economic conditions, Title IX requirements, and the history and tradition of the conference as one that does not offer football athletics aid.

Fordham will remain a full member of the Patriot League in 2009 and become an associate member for the 2010 season. If the conference decides to allow its schools to offer football scholarships, it could remain a full member of the league.

The decision to award athletics aid to football players at Fordham had little to do with economics. Unlike most institutions in the Patriot League, Fordham counted need-based aid given to football players toward its gender-equity limits under Title IX. The school already offered a comparable number of athletics scholarships to women as to men.

At most Patriot League schools, however, the need-based aid awarded to football players is not counted toward gender-equity limits. Therefore, if other institutions in the conference were to move toward awarding athletics aid in football, they also would need to award a comparable amount of athletics aid to female student-athletes to meet generally accepted Title IX requirements. For example, if a school were to offer 60 scholarships in football, it would need to offer 60 scholarships to female student-athletes as well.

For Fordham, which already counted its need-based aid as a scholarship for gender-equity purposes, the scale is already balanced. The school simply repackaged its dollars to be more strategic and assist in the recruitment of football student-athletes. (The school outlines its decision and its repercussions in a detailed Q&A document.) Most Patriot League schools do not count that way, and any move toward allowing the scholarships could be cost-prohibitive for them.

Additionally, the original Patriot League philosophy was grounded in treating student-athletes like the rest of the student body, especially with respect to academics and financial aid. The conference began as a football conference in the mid-1980s, expanding to a multisport league in 1990-91.

“To a certain degree, there is a sense that this is why we came together, this is how football developed and this is something we want to preserve,” Femovich said. “We just believe philosophically that it’s important to treat student-athletes like other students with regard to financial aid. But the reality is all of our institutions have begun awarding scholarships in other sports, certainly in men’s and women’s basketball … We have evolved as a league to a position of athletics aid being permissive in all sports of an institution’s choosing – except football.”

Femovich called the decision to offer basketball scholarships (made in the mid-1990s) “philosophical and practical.” Most Patriot League schools also offer aid in other sports, at varying levels.

The behavior of the economy over the next 18 months likely will influence discussions among the league’s remaining full members. The conference executives hope to see an improvement in the financial climate by December 2010.

“It’s not too early or too late,” Femovich said. “If we move in the direction of athletics merit aid, it means that we would begin recruiting for the class that would enter in the fall of 2012. We will see how the economy develops. It allows institutions to have internal discussions in a much more focused way.

“And it doesn’t create a situation where Fordham would be too far ahead (of the other institutions in recruiting). If we decide not to change our policy, then Fordham needs to know so they can look for a new home. And we will need to begin exploring our options for other membership opportunities as well.”

Femovich imagined that, should the presidents move toward football scholarships, the implementation would be similar to the league’s move toward basketball scholarships: Simply declare the football aid permissible and allow each institution to make decisions on its own.

“That approach allows schools to determine the best approaches on their individual campuses,” Femovich said. “I think if we went that direction, some might work to get up to 58 or 60 equivalencies, and others might say we’ll do scholarships for key athletes and other individuals that might not have the need, but we’ll do a combination, a hybrid model.”

While the conference office and other members weren’t surprised by Fordham’s decision – discussions have been ongoing within the league for some time – Femovich said the timing wasn’t ideal. The recession is forcing schools to make deep cuts in all areas of the institution, and asking for more dollars for athletics is difficult to balance with the league’s academic focus.

“We’ll get through this as well,” Femovich said. “We have a strong commitment to each other, Fordham as well as the rest of our football group. We want to maintain that association if at all possible.”