Patriot League Approves Scholarship Change

Holy Cross is a founding member of the Patriot League, a group of colleges and universities competing at the NCAA Division I level, and maintaining a strong academic commitment. Patriot League schools are American, Army, Bucknell, Colgate, Lafayette, Lehigh and Navy, along with very recent additions of Boston University and Loyola University Maryland, both joining in 2013. Fordham and Georgetown are associate members competing only in football only, while MIT participates in the women's rowing championship. In February of this year, the League's Council of Presidents approved a policy allowing schools to award athletic merit aid (i.e., scholarships) in the sport of football beginning with the class matriculating in the fall of 2013. The Patriot League has allowed merit aid in all sports except football for more than 10 years. Holy Cross currently awards scholarships in men's and women's basketball, men's and women's soccer, field hockey and men's ice hockey. With its storied athletics tradition and more than 25 percent of current students participating in a varsity sport, Holy Cross values its membership in the Patriot League. In addition to being a founding member of the League, Holy Cross was the driving force in convincing the Patriot League to adopt a permissive policy with respect to basketball scholarships in 1998.

Nonetheless, the decision to make football scholarships permissible is complex from budgetary, financial aid, gender equity and organizational perspectives. Conversations about the move continue on campus and among the League institutions and presidents. As the College begins to implement its plan to offer football scholarships, HCM talked to athletic director Richard Regan '76 (inset), chair of the League's Athletics Director Committee, about the decision, next steps and implications.


HCM   What motivated the Patriot League to adopt a permissive policy with respect to football scholarships?

REGAN   Frankly, as a group of athletic directors, we were struggling to find programs we felt comfortable scheduling. Under the best of circumstances, football is a very difficult sport to schedule. Opponents with existing scholarship programs-schools such as UNH, Villanova and William & Mary-have a strong competitive advantage over us. Moral victories achieved by playing well against these opponents get old pretty quickly.

A few years ago, the Northeast Conference began to allow football scholarships, and schools such as Bryant, Central Connecticut and Stony Brook began to gain a competitive edge. The Ivy League has its own built-in advantages. We started to run out of teams to play.


HCM   So, the primary benefit of the move is to attract more opponents?

REGAN   The scheduling challenge was one impetus, but it's much broader than that. We strongly believe that over time, having a permissive policy on football scholarships will allow us to strengthen and expand the entire Patriot League. Immediately, it assures that Fordham will once again become a full member in football. Going down the road, it's more likely that we could attract other colleges or universities to the League. BU and Loyola Maryland do not have football teams, but their decisions to join have already sparked excitement, and in the recent months, we've had discussions with numerous other institutions.


HCM   What is the advantage for Holy Cross and its students?

REGAN   The student-athlete experience at Holy Cross is very much a part of the campus experience. We want to attract the best student-athletes to be an active part of our community, in and out of the classroom, and join our alumni network. With this move, we anticipate that the number of prospective student-athletes who will consider Holy Cross will at least double. Under the need limited financial aid policy under which we've operated for over 20 years, the students we could compete for were skewed toward those with high need. In those cases we had a better chance of competing because the gap between a full scholarship offered by scholarship programs and our need-based aid packages was much less than it was for student-athletes with lower or no need. Now, we can compete more effectively for all those prospective student-athletes. We believe this move will help us recruit a better student as well as a better athlete.


HCM   Can you explain how our institutional financial aid and athletic scholarship awards will work together?

REGAN   Holy Cross has a formula for calculating all students' (including student-athletes') financial need. If a student-athlete qualifies for need-based aid of $30,000, we are going to take that demonstrated need into account and meet that need. Now we have the ability to offer more than demonstrated need if we believe the prospective student-athlete's athletic ability warrants it.


HCM   That makes it sound as if it would make more sense to actively recruit student-athletes who do not have high need-so that financial aid funds could be reserved for other students?

REGAN   We will recruit the best student-athletes that we believe will prosper athletically and academically, regardless of need. This move may actually help us with higher need student-athletes. Consider this: The value of a full scholarship for this academic year is approximately $56,000. Let's say there is an exceptional student-athlete with a need of $47,000. That's a very high need situation, yet he or she still has to pay $9,000 to attend Holy Cross. While that may not seem like a high number to many families, it could be a tremendous financial burden for that particular family. For the first time, we will have the ability to offer that family more than their need of $47,000 up to $56,000.


HCM   Why do you think we can recruit better students, as well as better athletes?

REGAN   I think there are two factors that will contribute to this. As we discussed, it is clear to us even at this early stage that we will have a broader pool of candidates that will seriously consider Holy Cross. That alone will allow us to be more selective. Also, some highly rated academic institutions such as the Ivy League schools will continue to award need-based aid, even though need might be generously calculated in some of those institutions. There could be a debate as to whether or not this gives us an edge, but one would have to agree that the ability to award merit scholarships certainly starts to "level the field" in competing for highly rated student-athletes.


HCM   How exactly will athletic scholarships be funded? Where will the money come from?

REGAN   It goes back to what we discussed a couple minutes ago-for the past 20-plus years we've been offering aid for football based entirely upon need. Starting with students matriculating in August 2013, we will consider both need and merit in awarding athletic scholarships to football players and many female athletes as well. We've been very careful in calculating the number of scholarships we will award to ensure that it does not have a net increase upon the operating budget.


HCM   You just mentioned our female athletes. Much of this talk has centered on football. How will women's sports be impacted?

REGAN   We will continue to maintain compliance with Title IX, and the relevant regulations with respect to athletic aid are very specific. Athletic aid awarded to male and female athletes must be commensurate with participation as measured on the basis of head count. Say Holy Cross has x percent of its women students participating in varsity athletics, we are required to award x percent of our athletic scholarships to women. Accordingly, as we begin to award athletic scholarships in football, we will be awarding an appropriate number of scholarships to women's programs at the same time.


HCM   Has it been determined which women's programs will be awarded athletic scholarships?

REGAN   Keep in mind that women's basketball has awarded athletic scholarships since 1998, and field hockey and women's soccer have been doing so for the past three years. While we haven't determined the precise allocation at this point, our plans at the moment are to award some level of athletic scholarships to women's crew, cross country, track and field, lacrosse, softball, volleyball and swimming and diving.


HCM   What about other women's sports or men's sports other than football, ice hockey and soccer?

REGAN   It is certainly something we would like to do, and we will continue to explore the possibilities. Remember that we have two constraints that presently govern how we do this. First, we need to be cost neutral in any awarding of athletic scholarships. We are committed to this benefiting Holy Cross and the student experience, and not impacting the operating budget. Secondly, we must maintain gender balance in our scholarship awards--and that's more complicated than many realize. The male/female participation rate can vary year to year, and that fluctuation would require adjustments in awards. It's not a particularly volatile number but it can move, and over a few years it could trend in a particular direction.

A number of factors impact the cost aspect. The amount of need-based aid we are currently awarding in a particular sport is a consideration and our ability to reallocate within existing sports is another. If fundraising is particularly successful in a certain sport, that could open some doors as well. There are a number of other factors, which also come into play with respect to all of our sports, and our aspirations and competitive pressures are just two of them. All in all, there are a number of "moving parts," and this is a fluid situation to say the least. What I can say with some certainty is that this is a huge step in improving our ability to compete for superior student-athletes.   ■


What the Coaches Say

We asked two of Crusader Athletics' coaches what they think of the scholarship plan.

"While it is still early in the recruiting process for our sport, the addition of scholarships has already made a difference. In the past we've lost a number of top recruits who have loved Holy Cross early in the process but have moved on for financial reasons We're now a contender for those student-athletes." 

—Egetta Alfonso '92, Women's Track & Field

"This is such great news for us. Most of the teams we play have athletic scholarships and that can be disheartening-constantly facing opponents with greater resources. Over the next four  years this will really help level the playing field." —Erin Cady, Women's Volleyball