Our columnist offers some insight on the recent Patriot League meetings and three compromise solutions to save the conference from possible dimise
By Chuck Burton
College Sporting News
PHILADELPHIA — Yeah, I'll admit it's, um, a bit presumptuous to start a column with "Saving the Patriot League". *And to follow it with a photo of Benjamin Franklin goes beyond audacious.
But I am coming to the inescapable conclusion that the Patriot League is in deep trouble. *And a Mr. Franklin, whose political skills were instrumental in the founding of our nation, would certainly be welcome in helping forge an acceptable compromise between the different world views of the Patriot League presidents.
I'm going to split this blog post into two parts: my analysis of what I think happened last week; and then I'm going to do my best, pale imitation of Mr. Franklin to attempt - nay, plea - for a compromise solution that all interested parties can accept.
Consider it... my Patriotic duty... to try to do something.
WHAT I THINK HAPPENED
By necessity, the meetings of the "council of Patriot League presidents" are strictly confidential. Therefore, unless you get Lehigh president Alice Gast or Bucknell president John C. Bravman on the phone on the matter, to some degree there will be speculation and "tea leaf-reading" as to where all the presidents stand.
There are two articles of public record, though, that are available that show some insight on differing opinions on the matter of scholarships. Since no other presidents or athletic departments have made public statements on the matter, they're all we have to go on.
The first comes from the New York Times, where Fordham athletic director Frank McLaughlin supplied his school's rationale for scholarships (which is, mind you, a decision they have already made):
Only Fordham’s executive athletic director, Frank McLaughlin, spoke on the record about the decision. It was his university that decided to give football scholarships last year, and subsequently forced the hand of the other Patriot League members.
“We have made a decision and we’re focused on being successful,” McLaughlin said. “We’re committed as ever to fielding a competitive football team without sacrificing high academics.
“[Scholarships] been a home run — when you have something to offer players, you don’t have to waste time and effort finding them,” McLaughlin said. “And we’ve got a game next year against Army.”
McLaughlin said that Fordham would like to continue to play football in the Patriot League, but that it would not hesitate to go elsewhere if scholarships are not approved — perhaps to the Colonial Athletic Association, with teams like Villanova and William & Mary.
“It’s a tremendous group of academic institutions, and we’re tremendously proud to be associated with them,” he said. “But we have a vision for where we want to go.”
The other comes from Lafayette president Daniel Weiss, who broke the informal confidentiality agreement in the school newspaper to lay out the case for remaining non-scholarship:
Weiss said, "increasing our commitments to athletic scholarships is not consistent with the mission and vision of our college," and that the institution is better suited using additional resources in other areas.
"I wasn't satisfied that it can be done without incremental cost and I don't think that it's appropriate at this time in the life of this college to be putting more money into football when there are other programs and needs that are more pressing," he said.
"My position is that I don't believe that this initiative is in the best interest in the long-term interest of the League," Weiss said. "And I don't support it. I think we can accomplish our goals just as effectively without it."
I highlight "incremental cost" since it seems like it's one of his key arguments. Incremental cost "is the change in total cost that arises when the quantity produced changes by one unit," according to Wikipedia - meaning that his threshold for allowing scholarships is that it doesn't increase the costs for the university.
On top of that, he says that increasing commitment to athletic scholarships isn't consistent with his vision for Lafayette, and that it's not in the best interest of the long-term interest of the League. *That is, the "status quo" for funding need-based aid is fine. *But not increasing it.
TWO SIDES OF AN ARGUMENT
It seems like these are the two sides of the argument. One side wants scholarships in order to "focus on being successful" in football, and getting games with FBS schools. The other does not want scholarships since they increase costs for their membership and having them would jeopardize the stability of the League.
Did the intransigence of these two sides end up jeopardizing the Patriot League?
Again, we only have these public statements and "tea leaves" to read. But making the safe assumption that these two sides were duking it out behind closed doors, and the result that the vote was "tabled" and would be re-visited two years hence, we can hypothesize as two what happened.
Unfortunately, the hypothesis is not pretty.
If the "scholarship" forces had won the day, we could reasonably assume that last Wednesday there would have been a statement allowing football scholarships, starting with some class, and with some rules in place.
Alternatively, had the "status quo" forces won the day, we could reasonably assume that last Wednesday there would have been a statement maintaining the ban on athletic scholarships.
But that's not what happened. The motion was tabled. No vote was taken.
In my interpretation of events, that means that there was stalemate. Neither side won the day.
Why is that?
There were ten presidents in the room - the seven Patriot League-playing presidents, and the three other non-FCS football-playing members: Army, Navy, and American.
Logic might dictate that a simple majority of six votes would be enough to pass scholarships. Logic might also dictate that, if the three non-football playing members decided to say beforehand that "as long as four of the football-playing members vote "yes", we'll all vote "yes", too", then all that would be needed is a vote of four of seven.
In theory, that works fine. In practice, however, this poses a problem.
Suppose, say, Fordham and Colgate said, "Either all the rest of you Patriot League members approve scholarships, or we're leaving". Even if the rest of the council of presidents vote 8-2 to keep the status quo, the Patriot League would be committing to a membership of five members.
This would strip the Patriot League of its autobid to the FCS playoffs, and almost certainly be the "tipping point" for the end of the football League.
Already in the past three years, the MAAC folded with only five football-playing members and the Great West Conference has struggled to maintain its membership. The outlook of a five-school league in football is, to put it mildly, dire.
If you accept that dipping below six members is in effect disbanding the Patriot League, this means, in effect two votes are enough to cause inaction.
These two votes could come from anywhere. Just from the two factions we can reasonably mention, a "we refuse to implement scholarships" block (from Lafayette and, say, Georgetown, if they thought that 63 scholarships would make them uncompetitive in the League), or a "we need to implement scholarships, just try to stop us" block (from Fordham and, say, Colgate, if they want to schedule FBS Syracuse on a regular basis) would be enough to table the resolution.
SO WHAT ABOUT A COMPROMISE SOLUTION?
Unfortunately, even a badly-crafted compromise could also bring the Patriot League to the "tipping point", too. Let's say the league offered 48 unrestricted scholarships, with the rest being need-based aid. That might be enough for, say, Fordham to leave (if they are hell-bent on 63 scholarships, or bust) and, say, Georgetown to leave (if they felt 48 scholarships would tip the balances so bad that they couldn't compete).
A Patriot League with associate members Georgetown and Fordham both leaving would ALSO bring the result to five - and make the League in danger of folding as well.
After thinking about it for a while, it is my belief that some combination of the following happened last week.
There were at least two entrenched sides, willing to put themselves on the canvas for their beliefs. And ultimately, the only thing that could be agreed was that tabling the resolution would be better than breaking apart the league.
Yes, it is only a theory. And I don't have any special knowledge that puts me in the room with the Patriot League presidents. But it's the only theory that happens to fit the facts — and the public statements.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
The only way, it seems to bring together two entrenched sides is to find some middle ground and make a compromise that doesn't give everybody what they want, but gives enough so that enough of the goals by both sides are achieved — including the most important one, the continued existence of Patriot League football.
There are possible compromise solutions that might cause the stalemate to be broken.
1. Make a Fordham exception. Many folks like to mention that the Patriot League modelled itself originally around the structure of the Ivy League.
What folks tend to forget, though, is that their model has not always been as sacrosanct and pure as folks would like to believe.
When they instituted their banded Academic Index in 1987, Columbia was granted an exception for a few scholar-athletes — which caused an uproar in Ivy circles at the time, but whose lasting legacy was to allow a few hard-working scholar-athletes an opportunity to get an Ivy League education which otherwise would have been unavailable to them. (And, last I checked, the world did not end.)
A "Fordham exception" could mean that they are be allowed a tiny number of football scholarships per year — say, 20 for the entire team, with the rest being need-based aid. Core members would continue to operate under the current need-based aid structure, but "affiliate members" (which, presumably, would include Georgetown) would operate under different rules.
This should please the status-quo crowd — as need-based aid would be the rule for core members. For their part, Fordham would have to give up dreams of 63 scholarships, but they would still be able to use need-based aid to get to 63 equivalencies and still get games with FBS schools.
The big losers in this scenario would be the Patriot League core members that harbor dreams of playing FBS teams on a semi-regular basis, since they'd still be operating under the status quo and would still be under the same challenges to get FBS games. (Other potential losers might be Army and Navy, since Patriot League teams would continue to be hit-and-miss whether they meet the bowl eligibility scholarship requirements.)
The million dollar question would be - would those twenty merit-based scholarships, by themselves, unbalance the League in Fordham's favor? *It's very difficult to say.
2. Make a Georgetown exception. Georgetown, with the smallest football budget in the League, could also be offered a different type of exception. They could be allowed to recruit to the floor of the AI, but not be subject to the banding of the core members of the Patriot League. This would expand the pool from which they could recruit, without adding added expense in scholarship costs if they chose to offer only need-based aid.
Where this compromise gets interesting is if this is is extended to all affiliates, including Fordham. The increase to their pool of recruits might help both schools.
As with the "Fordham exception", the status-quo crowd should find this acceptable, while not providing as large a competitive disadvantage within the League. Fordham would be deeply affected, and would have to make the adjustment back to need-based aid — but with a larger pool of recruits since they're no longer subject to the bands. It might be acceptable to them, but it might not.
The possibility exists that the change to the AI might be an unfair competitive advantage for both Fordham and Georgetown, even with the league returning to all need-based aid.
But the biggest hitch is that it could be interpreted as "bending academic standards" in order to keep Fordham and Georgetown in the League.
I fail to see how that is the case, as long as they are not able to recruit below the floor. *But if the AI is seen as untouchable, this could be a non-starter.
3. X Scholarships and the rest need-based grants. If 63 is deemed too costly for one side, and 0 is deemed inadequate for the other, without an exception being made, the only possible compromise solution would be some hard limit on merit-based scholarships.
On the "scholarship" side, they would have to accept a ceiling below the number of 63 merit-based scholarships. That's not to say that schools will not be allowed to get to 63 equivalences - they will still be able to do so — but with a combination of merit-based and need-based aid.
On the "status quo" side, they would have to accept that some schools want to offer at least some merit-based aid - and accept a compromise of a low number of merit-based scholarships, which would offer some incremental cost, but obviously not as much as a 63 scholarship league.
The biggest positive is that it keeps the Patriot League together. *For the "scholarship" crowd, it gives them some merit-based aid to work with, and while it would still be a challenge to get to the maximum number of equivalencies, it would become a tiny bit easier. *The "status quo" side would have to declare victory by saying that it's a level of scholarships with which they can compete with need-based aid.
On the negative side, it's a compromise that makes nobody really happy. *There would be "incremental cost", and getting to 63 equivalencies easily is hardly a foregone conclusion. *The worst of both worlds might alienate both camps. *It would be a gamble.
THREE POSSIBLE COMPROMISES
I may not have the political skills of Ben Franklin, but Patriot League Presidents, I offer you these three possible compromises that allow the Patriot League to continue.
The actual number can be haggled and vary, but I have to believe that option three - and a lot of finger-crossing - is the best possible solution. *I have to believe, with the fate of the Patriot League on the line, there is some merit-based/need-based threshold that both the "scholarship" and "status quo" sides can agree on.
It seems the most sensible compromise from this reporter's opinion — say, up to 8 merit-based scholar-athletes per recruiting class for a grand total of 32 per team, with the remainder being need-based aid.
It's not going to be easy,*Patriot League presidents, but are you ready to compromise to save your League? * Compromise is the only way the League survives in football. *Isn't a compromise better than the alternative?