Feb. 19, 2012: Further reflection on the decision of the Patriot League to allow merit aid in football
20 February 2012
Dear Faculty and Staff Colleagues,
I write to provide the further reflection promised on the decision of the Patriot League to allow merit aid in football, as announced last week. I will return to some of the issues that surfaced during the faculty meeting and open campus forum held in fall 2010, when the league presidents first announced we were debating this policy. I don't expect to be able with this email to answer every question resulting from the presidents' decision, but I think it is important to address some of the core issues. I also refer you to my website for the other statements I have made on this matter; with the Faculty Chair's concurrence, I will also address the issue during the March faculty meeting.
During the deliberations of the Presidents' Council, I have had to accept that any decision of the league to allow football merit aid ultimately would compel Bucknell to make a choice: (1) implement merit aid as the other league participants were likely to do under those circumstances; (2) not implement merit aid and have our football players compete against scholarship athletes weekend after weekend; or (3) end football at Bucknell. Leaving the Patriot League in football, for reasons touched on below, is not a viable option.
In my initial note to campus a few weeks ago I expressed the opinion that Option 1 seems to me unavoidable. I did this not to truncate further discussion but to be direct and forthright following more than a year of work in which others and I examined all possible options. I cannot in good conscience support Option (2), given the disparities it would lead to on the field, and given the grave effect it would have on our recruiting. As for Option (3), recognizing that we have a football program that is more than 100 years old, enjoys the support of many alumni, opens doors to the University to many outstanding studentathletes, and is part of Bucknell's meaningful participation in the Patriot League, I do not believe it is worth pretending that this is a realistic choice. Amongst other considerations, I believe that the Board would not permit this option, nor would I support it.
Bucknell also cannot continue to belong to the Patriot League, which sponsors athletics within NCAA Division I, and move football to NCAA Division III, where athletic meritaid scholarships are prohibited. NCAA rules do not allow Division I schools to sponsor other sports at the Division III level. (In the past some exceptions to this rule were granted but the NCAA policy is now unequivocal.)
Near the end of 2011, after campuses had weighed in during the previous fall, the Council of Presidents talked candidly about each university's perspective and grappled with a host of related facts affecting each member and the league as a whole. We have discussed such issues as the league's future, the type of student-athletes the league recruits, the primacy of academics to league members, alternative financial-aid models, the impact of a policy 2 change on league and associate members' financial and competitive standing, and the history of merit aid in the league.
Such discussions have forced every member of the Patriot League to confront the sometimes uncomfortable fact that we surrender some institutional independence in return for being part of a league. But membership in the Patriot League has been beneficial to members in ways meaningful to our academic reputations, admissions, financial stability, campus life and alumni. If we wish to remain part of a league that has a strong commitment to academics, there is no alternative; there is, for instance, no viable option that uses an academic index system for athlete admissions, which in the Patriot League is and will remain the most stringent in NCAA Division I sports. Bucknell is for good reason proud to be part of this exceptional league.
As a relative newcomer to the league, I have been reassured by the conversations among the presidents that the Patriot League takes seriously the principle of academics first for its student-athletes. Ultimately, the presidents' consensus was that while every institution had different concerns about a policy change, making the change had many benefits and that the high standards of each institution gave us assurance that it would be implemented in the right way. The change promises to stabilize the league and improve its capacity to expand membership and thereby ensure its long-term viability, which are goals every member shares. It allows each institution to decide how best to adjust financial-aid resources to the change, and allows the schools to implement the change gradually, starting in 2013 until full implementation by 2017.
The presidents' decision to limit the awarding of merit-aid equivalencies in football to 60, rather than the 63 allowed by the NCAA, reflects our consensus aim to minimize the financial impact of this policy change. We also recognize that adopting a merit aid program will ultimately add marginally to the operating income of each institution because members will be able occasionally to compete against non-league Division I opponents, which typically pay large fees for such games. We also expect the overall squad size to diminish a bit over time, which will bring some attendant reductions in cost (e.g., travel, equipment, and recruitment expenses).
For Bucknell, the spread between the current budget invested in need-based aid for football and reaching 60 scholarship equivalencies based on need and merit is perhaps five scholarship equivalencies. (Note that the aid that comprises these equivalencies may be distributed amongst many more than 60 individuals.) I am confident that we can manage through any scholarship costs that exceed the new revenues mentioned above. We will also match the new resources allocated to merit-aid in football with similar investments in merit-aid scholarships for our women's sports, in keeping with our commitment to gender equity and Title IX compliance. This fact means that we will be able to expand our capacity to recruit the best student-athletes to our women's athletic programs. I also am reassured by 3 the fact Bucknell has faced before the challenge of implementing merit-aid scholarships in different sports and has done so in a way that upholds our core values.
On that note, I must stress that the university's commitment to need-based aid is not and will not be diminished by the Patriot League's decision. As I see it, the fundamental issue reiterated by the league's policy change isn't merit- or need-based aid in football but growing the entire financial aid budget, for both need-based and for various merit-based programs. That is why scholarships, along with faculty support, are the top goals in the campaign. That is why I tell alumni and donors that one of the greatest contributions they can make to Bucknell is to increase our financial aid resources. I am happy to say that we know from research that alumni believe that financial aid should be a top campaign goal as well, giving us even greater confidence about this fundraising priority.
As one sign of our commitment to need-based aid, let me share with you what we have not announced broadly, but which we announced last May, at the graduation for the most recent students in the program: when the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation's funding for the community college transfer initiative ended last year, we decided that Bucknell will continue this program out of its own operating budget. Programs like this were essential to our future before the Patriot League's decision, and they remain essential now.
It is worth adding that the Planning and Budget Committee has discussed the complexity of the University's financial aid budget, and that the Committee on Athletics has in the past year discussed the nuanced dimensions of a permissive Patriot League merit-aid policy for football. I have asked to join an upcoming meeting of the Committee on Admissions and Financial Aid so that we can talk about these matters and ways we can manage through implementing a merit-aid policy in football here.
Any decision that is not entirely the University's comes with some discomfort. But as a member of the Patriot League, we have faced changes like this before, and we will implement this new policy carefully here again. This change strengthens the league in many ways. It will strengthen our ability to recruit outstanding student-athletes, in football and in women's sports; and it leaves to Bucknell the responsibility for managing well the financial and moral implications to our university. We have met that challenge the right way before, and we will do so again as we move forward as part of a league in which we are justifiably a proud and successful participant.
John C. Bravman President