Dear Colleagues,

I write to update you on the status of the Patriot League Presidents’ Council’s evaluation of permitting athletic merit scholarships for Patriot League football programs. I shared this update last weekend with the Board of Trustees and, while I will provide a fuller briefing of the board meeting to all faculty and staff in the coming days, I wanted to share this update with you now.

As you will recall, in fall 2010 we hosted a campus forum about this question and how such a decision would impact Bucknell. In December 2010, the Presidents’ Council voted to table the question for up to two years to allow further time for financial analysis of the impact that adding athletic merit scholarships in football might have on the league and on member institutions. For Bucknell, making that change in our financial-aid allocation to football would be roughly equal to three to five additional scholarships for football student-athletes per year. Title IX commitments would have to expand accordingly. I have no illusions about the likelihood of there being other cost impacts as well that are difficult to predict.

Since December 2010, and notably late last year, the Presidents’ Council has had intensifying discussions about this question. We have looked at such issues as the following:

  • The academic goals of the Patriot League and its member institutions.
  • The student-athlete experience, including in such areas as admissions, retention, diversity and graduation.
  • The long history of football at Patriot League member institutions and the support for these programs on each campus and among alumni.
  • The expressed intent of Fordham to end league affiliation if it is not permitted the right to award merit aid scholarships in football. Any departure of a league affiliate or member in football would bring numerous risks for the future of Patriot League football competition and league continuance.
  • The possibility of increasing the stability of the league, via growth in membership, should permissive merit aid be adopted.
  • The financial impact on each institution of moving from football student-athletes receiving need-based financial aid to receiving athletic merit aid, including Title IX implications.
  • The impact on each institution of a permissive system for merit aid for football student-athletes in the Patriot League that does not require athletic merit scholarships but that allows them.
  • The problems currently affecting several college football programs at large public universities.

These conversations among the presidents have been thorough and candid.

I write now about these matters because, based on the recent pace of the presidents’ discussions, I believe (1) that the Patriot League Presidents’ Council will vote in February on whether the league will permit member institutions to award merit scholarships in football and, (2) that there will be a decisive majority vote to permit football scholarships. Should the Presidents’ Council reach this conclusion, it likely will become unavoidable for Bucknell to add merit-aid scholarships in football, not least to protect the health and well-being of student-athletes competing in that sport.

As most of you know, at Bucknell we currently award some form of merit aid to student-athletes in 10 of our 27 Division I sports: men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s swimming, women’s cross country, and wrestling. If we add the equivalent of three to five merit-aid scholarships that we project would meet the new roster guidelines, we are confident that this increased cost would be recouped in part through Bowl Championship Series-related revenues that would be available if we provide merit-aid scholarships in football.

During our campus forum in fall 2010, I discussed the variety of other issues listed above as they pertain to Bucknell. Clearly we will have to remain sensitive to the many implications of any decision to permit merit aid in football. I am proud to say that I believe that Bucknell takes great care in providing its student-athletes with an outstanding learning experience and in striving to meet the high ideals we all hold for ourselves as a university. The University has moved carefully in the past managing the addition of merit aid in its other athletics programs, and we will take even greater care should the Patriot League allow this merit aid program.

I will report to you upon the vote of the Presidents’ Council.