Patriot League Decides to Postpone Decision on Football Scholarships


After having been part of the Patriot League for 21 years, Fordham’s future membership with the Division I league is now facing an uncertain future. With the league’s decision to postpone talks on football athletic scholarships till 2012, Fordham has to revaluate its football strategy.

The main issue is that Fordham wants its football program to become more competitive. However, to become more competitive Fordham needs to attract better talent through athletic scholarships. The Patriot League doesn’t allow this; instead, the league believes in attracting players with a need-based financial aid system.

Fordham offered 14 football scholarships prior to the start of the 2010 season. According to the New York Times’ interview with Fordham’s executive athletic director, Frank McLaughlin, Fordham was able to offer these scholarships without increasing its $4 million annual football budget. Nevertheless, since Fordham offered athletic scholarships and the other schools in the Patriot League did not, Fordham was demoted to an associate member of the Patriot League.

Now that it is an associate member, Fordham’s matches against Patriot League opponents will not be counted in the league standings. Moreover the Rams will not be eligible for the league’s title or NCAA playoff bid. Since Fordham still had a two-year scheduling agreement with the Patriot League, the Rams continued to play in the Patriot League and finished off the 2010 season with a 5-6 overall record and a unofficial record of 3-3 against Patriot League opponents.

With the introduction of athletic scholarships in Patriot League football, many people feel that the academic standards for student athletes will start to decline. The Patriot League’s mission, as stated on its website, is to “promote opportunities for students to compete in Division I intercollegiate athletics programs within a context that holds paramount the high academic standards and integrity of member institutions, and the academic and personal growth of student-athletes.”  Many people feel that this mission of academic standards might be at risk of being forgotten if competitive scholarships are allowed in Patriot League football.

However, McLaughlin doesn’t see it like that. Instead he believes a balance could be reached between being a competitive football team and upholding high academic standards. “We have made a decision and we’re focused on being successful,” McLaughlin said in a New York Times article. “We’re committed as ever to fielding a competitive football team.”

Fordham’s position is clear, however, as the postponement of the decision shows many schools within the Patriot League are uncertain how to handle the issue of football scholarships. Schools within the Patriot League such as Lehigh and Lafayette want to know how much it will take to become competitive. According to the New York Times, Patriot League members spend from $1.4 million to more than $4.5 million annually and some are unwilling to spend more for extra talent.

Not allowed to comment after the league’s decision, the Patriot League Council of Presidents issued a statement regarding football scholarships.

“We had discussions about the various financial aid models and recognized and evaluated the benefits as well as the potential costs associated with athletic merit aid for football,” the statement said.

Nonetheless, one of the things the Patriot League Council of Presidents did agree on in their meeting was the continued stability of the Patriot League. “League presidents expressed their commitment to the stability and long-term positioning of the League,” the statement said.

Looking to be more competitive in the future, Fordham’s football program stands at a crossroads. If the league decides not to allow football scholarships, McLaughlin has not ruled out leaving the Patriot League. “It’s a tremendous group of academic institutions, and we’re tremendously proud to be associated with them,” McLaughlin told the New York Times. “But we have a vision for where we want to go.”

If Fordham does indeed decide to end its 21 year relationship with the Patriot League in the future, the league would be down to a minimum six teams needed to keep an automatic berth in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. For now the Fordham Rams will continue to be a part of the Patriot League. Only time will tell if this will be a long-term or short-term commitment.