Full court press at Lafayette

According to Corky Blake, in today's Express-Times, Lafayette's Maroon Club is making a push for scholarships. The club, citing an internal survey, says supp[ort is there to convert need-based scholarship funds to merit aid. The plan would give Lafayette 19 full rides, 10 for women and 9 for men.

There is a problem with the plan that is not mentioned in the story. By cannibalizing the need-based aid funds, the Leopards might have a hard time recruiting a full roster of quality players. While they point out that Bucknell, with five scholarship players, won the league and beat Kansas, bring Bucknell tremendous exposure, they miss the fact that the rest of Bucknell's roster is need-based.

But wait, there's more. According to the latest issue of The Lafayette:
Rappolt also said the Maroon Club Executive Committee is about to recommend a pilot program, the same one that was described in the October 29 issue of The Lafayette. The proposed 19 basketball scholarships, which would cost no additional funds to the school, is already being spent in equivalency costs in the current 179 need-based aid packages for student-athletes. The pilot program would change the need-based aid and redistribute it as merit-based aid, while only drawing some of the costs from general funds of the school.
Unless we read that wrong, it sounds like the idea is to cannibalize all the need-based aid currently going to other sports, too.

No need-based aid for football? A year after winning the league title? It is hard to imagine anybody other than hardcore hoops boosters going along with that idea.

They also use the teams' records to argue for scholarships. According to Blake:
Since Lafayette's men won consecutive league tournament titles in 1999 and 2000, the Leopards are 67-75 overall and 32-36 in the league.

The women's program is 34-163 overall and 16-76 in the league since its last winning season (15-13) in 1997-98. Moreover, it has not produced a first team all-league player since Alicia Yapsuga in 1997.
On surface, compelling arguments. But dig a little. The men were 18-10 last season and in contention for the regular season title until the last week of the season. And they were 15-10, 8-6 in the league in 2002. Fran O'Hanlon is a victim of his own successes. His teams have stayed competitive. It would be easier to make the case for scholarships if they had Army's record.

The women, on the other hand, have been almost as bad as the Army men. That is not something new since the advent of scholarships. Lafayette has only had four winning seasons on the women's side since joining the league. It is going to take more than just full rides to make them better.

Before the Lafayette boosters start bombarding us with e-mails, understand one thing: We absolutely agree the school ought to offer scholarships like the rest of the league. We just don't think you convince Patriot League college president types that it is the right thing by using dubious win-loss numbers. And you don't do it by adopting a shortsighted, underfunded proposal.

Here is some unsolicited advice for the Maroon folks:

1) You need a better study. Someone as smart as a Lafayette College president or trustee will laugh you out of the building when you present an e-mail survey that shows 108 of 1,071 members favoring the proposal. Yes, we know that was 108 out of 157 that responded. But your case will be much stronger if you find a way to get at least a majority of the club to participate in the survey.

2) You are preaching to the choir. Getting Maroon Club members to support a proposal to benefit athletics should be easy. What you need is a way to win over those who are not athletics boosters. The single most important statistic you need to find is how Bucknell's win translates into increased qualified applicants that do not play basketball. If you can also find a link to increased non-athletic giving, that would be strong stuff, too.

3) Money talks. According to the article in The Lafayette, "About 25 percent of the Maroon Club members are also members of the Marquis Society, which comprises the largest donors to Lafayette." If those folks were to band together and threaten to withhold further donations until scholarships come about, or if they offered a significant pledge contingent on scholarships being adapted, it would have more influence than a 1,000 e-mail surveys.

Don't believe it? Talk to folks in the know at Bucknell about how their deal went down (including the funding for the new arena).

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