Fordham Football to Offer Athletic Scholarships in 2010

Decision Will Render Rams Ineligible for Patriot League Title, Hopefully Improve Recruiting


Published: August 27, 2009

Fordham University announced it will begin awarding football scholarships starting in 2010, a decision that aims to improve the school’s football program but is at odds with the policy of the Patriot League, of which Fordham football is a member. Players are currently eligible only for need-based scholarships, which, in accordance with league policy, are independent of athletic ability. The new athletic scholarships, to be offered to incoming recruits in 2010, will render the team ineligible for a Patriot League title. The decision was announced on June 5 after what the University described in a statement on the athletics website as “many years of study and deliberation.”

The new scholarships were made possible by breaking from the Patriot League and reallocating money already earmarked for need-based scholarships in accordance with league policy towards new athletic scholarships. The new skill-based football scholarships are no different than those offered by other Fordham athletic teams that play in the Atlantic-10 conference, which does allow athletic awards.

The policy shift, which will not take effect until 2010 and will have no impact on the 2009 season, signals a desire to reestablish Fordham’s lost football relevance by positioning the program to achieve greater national success.

The scholarship decision will immediately impact the team’s recruiting of high school players, “opening up a bigger pool of athletes” as head coach Tom Masella put it. Fordham will be able to recruit players who would have normally ignored the school because they were not eligible for need-based scholarships.

“Right now we’ve been recruiting on the edges; a lot of rural kids and a lot of inner city kids, bypassing a whole section of middle class kids,” Masella said. “Northern New Jersey has been tough, Connecticut too. Because of the economics [of need-based scholarships] a kid from areas like that won’t qualify. It’s a lot of work to get kids to fill out the FAFSA [free application for Federal Student Aid] when they can go to a Villanova or a UMass [both of which offer athletic scholarships] and they say, ‘just come, you have the scholarship.’”

Fordham belongs to the Football Championship Subdivision of the NCAA, of which the Patriot League is a member. The FCS crowns a national championship every season by way of playoff system. Currently, Fordham’s best hope to garner a playoff spot is to win the regular season Patriot League title, as it did most recently in 2007, thus winning an automatic

bid. Once Fordham becomes ineligible for a league title, the Rams will have to vie for what is called an at-large bid, reserved for FCS teams that did not win their respective conference championship. The NCAA will soon be increasing the number of these at-large bids by four.

In terms of scheduling, Fordham will remain an associate member of the Patriot League until 2012 and continue to play league opponents, though these contests will not count towards a league title and players and coaches will no longer be recognized with Patriot League honors. Administrators have said that the move will allow the university to achieve greater success by raising the level of its competition, with the Rams slated to take on strong programs such as UConn, Army, Navy and Villanova in coming years.

While the Rams undoubtedly hope to improve on last season’s disappointing 1-5 Patriot League title, the chance to play bigger name schools is appealing. “I don’t think anyone on the team is worried that we won’t be competing for a Patriot League title,” said wide receiver Asa Lucas, FCRH ’10. “Everyone is so excited that we will be able to improve our schedule to be recognized on a national level that the thought of not competing for a title hasn’t crossed our minds.”

Some observers might scoff that a team coming off of a 1-5 conference record would forsake a conference title in hope of greater FCS success, but Masella said the move is not presumptuous. “I’m sure other teams will use it as bulletin board material,” Masella said. “But scholarships were the right thing to do for Fordham University.”

University administrators heralded the announcement as ushering in a new era for Fordham football. “I am very pleased to announce this momentous news for the football Rams,” Fordham President Rev. Joseph M. McShane S.J. said in a statement on the school’s athletics Web site. “Momentous may be understating it, in fact. This is a sea change for Fordham athletics: these scholarships will allow more students to participate in Fordham football, and will make the team much more competitive both in Patriot League and non-league games.”

The administration’s satisfaction with the deal is likely due at least in part to the nonexistent cost to the university, as money previously reserved for need-based scholarships will be reallocated for the new athletic awards.

“This level of football is getting too competitive and without scholarships, its hard to compete,” Masella said. “And we’re already spending the money, so we should use it to the best of our ability.”