Much of the focus in today’s college football landscape is placed on conference expansion and profit.
Not all college football conferences, however, are about big-time spending and marketing.
Butler’s conference, the Pioneer Football League, is competitive at the Division I level and does so without players on scholarships.
The conference has been a non-scholarship league since its formation in 1992 and will remain a non-scholarship league next season when it begins receiving an automatic bid for the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
League commissioner Patty Viverito said the league has more of an academic focus.
“It’s a good fit academically and athletically,” she said.
Viverito said that most athletes deciding between a scholarship program and the PFL are inclined to take the scholarship offer, but the league still attracts good athletes and remains competitive.
“I think the lack of a postseason opportunity has been our biggest hurdle, but we are overcoming that,” Viverito said.
She said the league has valued cost sensibility from the very beginning. Now, the addition of a postseason opportunity could add more incentive for athletes to commit to the league despite a lack of scholarships.
Butler head football coach Jeff Voris said the league still sees good football players, most of whom didn’t receive scholarships elsewhere.
“There’s more good players than there are scholarships,” Voris said. “Once the scholarship opportunity isn’t there, guys start looking for ‘Where can I play at the highest level?’”
The Bulldogs’ starting quarterback, Matt Lancaster, is a transfer from Illinois State.
Lancaster chose Illinois State because of the full-ride scholarship he received, despite always being a fan of Butler.
“I knew a lot about the program, and I knew it was non-scholarship, but at the time, coming out of high school it was kind of neat to have a scholarship,” Lancaster said.
Lancaster said he left Illinois State because playing under the scholarship became too much about the coach’s philosophy and felt out of place with lifestyles of other players.
“Sometimes when you get to that level, unfortunately, it becomes more of a job than something that you actually enjoy,” Lancaster said.
He said there are advantages to a scholarship, but he agrees with Voris in saying that there are plenty of good non-scholarship players.
“I think you might get more depth with scholarship programs, but I still believe that any player is capable of helping a team win,” Lancaster said.
Lancaster said he thinks the success of a team comes with cohesion.
“There’s a lot of people that are deserving of scholarships, and there’s a lot of people that aren’t,” Lancaster said. “I think it just depends on how the team works together and goes out there and performs on the field.”