By Chris McCree
After more than a year of discussion and debate, the Patriot League Council of Presidents formally announced its decision on Monday to alter the league’s existing athletic scholarship policy, allowing all league members to award athletic merit aid for football starting in the fall of 2013.
The move, which will apply to all current Patriot League members as well as football associate members (Fordham and Georgetown), grants each program the ability to award 15 scholarships each year, limiting the total amount of active scholarship players on the roster to 60 at any given time.
“The council has chosen to set this limit even though NCAA policies allow Football Championship Subdivision schools, such as those in the Patriot League, to award the equivalent of 63 full scholarships,” President John Bravman said in his latest press release.
By setting a lowered limit, the Council of Presidents hopes to maintain a balance between strong academics and athletics that many feared would be lost with the change.
“The League’s commitment to high academic standards will continue to be a hallmark of the League and we expect that our graduation rates for football and other sports will remain among the top in the country,” the Council said in response to questions about how the change will affect admission standards. “Patriot League institutions believe as strongly as ever that the academic and athletic values can be, and must be compatible.”
Although the league currently allows for use of athletic aid in each of its other 22 sponsored sports, a strict need-based aid program established in 1986 has prevented football programs from enjoying the same recruiting advantages. With the expanded aid policy, Patriot League programs will possess greater resources to attract and bring in more highly-touted recruits.
“The introduction of the Patriot League’s new financial aid model for football will strengthen Bucknell’s ability to compete for outstanding student-athletes while continuing to uphold the high academic standards of the League and our campus, said Athletic Director John Hardt. “In addition, the ability to offer merit aid should substantially increase the number of high quality prospective student-athletes that our football program can recruit.”
On top of to the recruiting benefits the programs will receive, the Patriot League will use the new policy to boost its image to outsiders in hopes of attracting other like-minded institutions.
“The League will now be able to direct its attention to potential membership growth,” Femovich said. “We anticipate that this change in policy will make the Patriot League a more attractive destination for potential expansion candidates for both football-only and all-sport members.”
With the policy not setting in place until 2013, it is unlikely that we will see many noticeable differences any time soon. That being said, the decision certainly has the potential to bring about some exciting changes to Patriot League football.
“As the policy is implemented and evolves, there may be increased flexibility with our scheduling of non-league opponents,” said Hardt. “Bucknell might see an old rival like Delaware or Villanova reappear on our schedule or a Richmond or a William & Mary. As it evolves further, there could be the occasion where we play an FBS (Division-1 bowl subdivision) opponent like an Army, a Navy, or an even a team like Rutgers or Penn State.”