AS COLLEGE spending on football spins out of control, the Patriot League is to be cheered for not caving in to competitive envy and boosterism. The presidents of the seven colleges and universities in the league, which include Worcester’s Holy Cross, last week tabled until 2012 a decision on whether to allow football scholarships. They should not, and the colleges and universities should open up any scholarship money that would have gone exclusively to football players to all students, based on need or academic performance.
The Patriot League currently allows athletic scholarships in other sports, but football requires so many more players that scholarships have not been allowed since the league came into existence in 1986. Even without scholarships and being far from the klieg lights of televised bowl games, Patriot League football costs more than $4 million a year for some of its teams. League member Fordham, seeking to be more competitive, broke ranks to grant football scholarships. It did so at the short-term risk of being banned from the league championship or post-season play, clearly believing the rest of the league would swiftly follow suit. Indeed, several Patriot League football coaches and athletic directors clamored for scholarships, saying they were tired of being beaten badly in non-conference games by scholarship schools.
But the Patriot League has benefited in many ways by not giving scholarships, which have so upped the competitive ante that come colleges and universities function like semi-pro teams — at a cost to academics. By contrast, the football-player graduation rates of the Patriot League teams of Holy Cross, Lafayette, Colgate, and Bucknell range between 90 and 99 percent. Preserving that sense of balance between football and study was clearly on the mind of Lafayette President Dan Weiss who, despite bitter criticism from boosters, became the voice of opposition to football scholarships. Weiss said, “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.’’
His voice carried the day as the presidents did not approve scholarships this time around. The stated mission of the Patriot League is to promote athletics “within a context that holds paramount the high academic standards and integrity of member institutions.’’ While boosters dream of championships and sky boxes, Weiss refused to be boxed in. He and the other presidents deserve credit for upholding the league’s sense of priorities.