By William Bowman
CENTER VALLEY -- One year removed from its second Patriot League title, Fordham has made a decision which will not only eliminate it from title contention, but take it out of the running for the league's automatic playoff berth.
Fordham, an associate member of the league which participates only in football, notified the Patriot League that it will begin awarding athletic scholarships to its football players beginning after the 2009 season.
"This is a great day for Fordham football," said head coach Tom Masella. "Being able to award scholarships based on athletic ability will greatly increase the pool of student-athletes that we are able to recruit. We are pleased to be able to maintain our Patriot League schedule and at the same time, look to enhance our schedule with the addition of some FBS schools along with top FCS schools. In the end this will aid us in achieving our ultimate goal, a chance to compete for an FCS championship."
As a result, the Patriot League Football Presidents reached an agreement with Fordham that will allow the Bronx, N.Y. university to continue its association with the Patriot League, but make it ineligible for the league title and the automatic playoff berth beginning in 2010, announced Patriot League Executive Director Carolyn Schlie Femovich on Friday.
Fordham will remain as an associate member in the Patriot League, and will continue to be eligible for the title and automatic playoff berth this coming season before giving out around 60 scholarships in 2010. The Rams, who won the Patriot League title in 2002 and 2007, will be included in the conference schedule through 2012, although their games against league members will not count in the standings from 2010 to 2012.
Although they will not be eligible for the NCAA bid out of the Patriot League, the Rams can earn an at-large bid. The NCAA will expand the field from 16 to 20 bids beginning in 2010, including 10 at-large berths.
While the move by Fordham would seem to signal a possible push toward exiting the league altogether, officials at the Patriot League office want Fordham to be part of the league.
"There is a strong desire both on the part of Fordham and the Patriot League to continue our long-standing relationship," said Bucknell President Brian C. Mitchell, the Chair of the Patriot League Council of Presidents. "The interim arrangement we have agreed to will allow Fordham to begin to award scholarships in football while affording the league time to address merit aid for football and broader issues related to membership expansion. This issue comes at a very difficult financial time on all of our campuses."
Fordham's eligibility for the title in the future will be evaluated pending the decision on athletic scholarships for all members.
Patriot League members are permitted to offer scholarships in the League's other 22 sports, but most do not. Bucknell only issues merit-based -- or athletic -- scholarships in basketball, as do all other conference schools. All other student-athletes at Bucknell, including those in football, receive need-based financial aid and receive assistance through the financial aid office, just as non-student-athletes.
The idea of athletic scholarships has been floated around the league for more than a decade. In 1996, the league allowed scholarships for basketball players beginning in 1998, and within the next decade all schools were doing so. Lafayette was the final holdout, finally giving way to basketball scholarships in 2006.
The Patriot League Council of Presidents will continue to discuss both the competitive and financial implications of athletic scholarships for football as well as the long-term goals of the league.