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Friday Water Cooler: Ivy League Hypocrisy

If the folks at Yale have their way, their football staff will be celebrating a lot like the folks pictured here to my left.

Originally posted at the New Haven Register and reprinted in the American Chronicle, Yale athletic director Tom Beckett and current head football coach Tom Williams came out last week with a whopper to the rest of the Ivy League: that not only do they want an 11th game, played one week earlier than their current mid-September kickoff, but they want to count towards a bowl victory should they choose to use that game to schedule an FBS opponent.

There's a problem with their proposal, however. The Ivy League is - in theory - "non-scholarship". Under current NCAA rules, only schools with at least 56 1/2 scholarships are to cound as "bowl counters". That means that they'd have to apply for an exemption from the NCAA to "count". In other words, Yale is "non-scholarship", but not really. (more)

"There's been discussion about trying to play a week earlier," Beckett said Tuesday during Yale's weekly press conference in anticipation of the season opener Saturday against Georgetown in the Yale Bowl at noon. "And if you play an earlyseason game, you just might get an opportunity, if you're so inclined (to play an FBS team). We would like to do that. Tom (Williams) would like to do that."

"Would we like to play Duke? We'd love to play Duke," Beckett said. "Would they want to play us?"

That's something he can't answer, though Duke president Richard Brodhead is the former dean of Yale College and close friends with Yale president Richard Levin.

"I would love to see us play that game and see how it turned out," Beckett said. Duke played Elon in its opener and one has to think Yale would be a more attractive FCS opponent.

Pretty extraordinary that the Yale AD could piss off so many people in three paragraphs: the Ivy League presidents and athletic directors that want the status quo for Ivy League football; the Patriot League presidents and ADs, who would love to play FBS opponents but have run up against the scholarship requirement; and Elon, who - somehow - isn't as "attractive" opponent for Duke as Yale.

Just to give some background here, the Ivy League has elected to have their football teams compete on a different schedule than the rest of FCS football, playing a ten-game schedule, consecutively, starting in mid-September and ending the week before Thanksgiving. They've also consistently denied their champions an opportunity to play in the FCS playoffs, citing a shifting rationale for not participating.

They've also perpetrated the fiction that they're "non-scholarship", even though Harvard, Yale and Princeton have instituted the most generous financial aid programs in the country that ensure that any student whose family makes less than six figures will go to their hallowed institutions for free. "Non-scholarship". Right. Even though the entire student body is "on scholarship".

That's fine by me if the Ivy League wants to do those things to themselves. I don't agree with any of them, and I'm sure Patriot League schools have used it to recruit against the Ivy Leagues as well. I'd love to see the Ivy League champion get an autobid to the playoffs for the sole reason that I think they would have a chance. This year's Harvard team is as good or better than James Madison or Villanova, and it's a travesty that they will never be able to prove that on the field this year.

But I do have a problem when the Ivy League only uses the term "non-scholarship" when it suits them. When it comes to marketing and conference branding, they're "non-scholarship". But when that designation makes them unable to do things per NCAA rules, their solution is to call an end run around the rules. There's no debate as to the "non-scholarship" nature of the Ivy League. Instead, Yale petitions the NCAA for their own selfish reasons - they want to play Army - yet the same base of hypocrisies remain in place. They are "non-scholarship". But not really.

Why isn't the Ivy League having an internal debate about ripping up every restriction they have on their football programs right now? Eleven game seasons? Bye weeks? FBS opponents? Postseason? Even "football scholarships"?

As a fan of the Patriot League, I'm certainly OK with an "Academic Index" to make sure that the incoming recruits are representative of the rest of the class. I think the AI results in great kids entering Ivy League and Patriot League football programs for the most part.

But everything else just seem to be vestigial to bygone eras. Starting in the third weekend of the year made a lot of sense when freshman football didn't exist and kids came to campus in late August and needed the time to adapt to class work, but in this century kids at Stanford and Duke manage to get to school a month before other students and they seem to be doing OK. Postseason bans made a lot of sense when bowls in the Jim Crow south were sponsoring them and the only reason to accept a bowl invite was money - but in a world of FCS playoffs that are more about competition than cash, does a postseason ban still really make any sense?

When asked by the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jonathan Tannenwald about the if the Ivy League postseason ban in football might be lifted, executive director Robin Harris shut the door almost immediately to that notion. “That’s an issue that with the presidents is absolutely a non-starter, and it has to do with more than class time and exams,” she said. “It also has to do with focusing on the tradition of intra-league competition in football, and our history, and the tradition of culminating with certain games at the end of the season - certainly the Harvard-Yale tradition.”

So for the Ivy League, postseason is not an option for the forseeable future, thanks in no small part to the "Harvard-Yale tradition".

It illustrates the dirty little secret that the Ivy League has: that its bigger schools - Harvard, Yale, and Princeton - have boatloads more resources than the others. While schools like these "big three" can afford to scholarship all their students making less than six figures, other Ivy League schools like Columbia and Dartmouth cannot.

Small wonder that Harvard is competing for Ivy League titles year in and year out, while Cornell, Columbia and Dartmouth have consistently struggled during the last decade.

The perfect solution to this resource discrepancy would be to allow the other Ivy League schools to offer limited football scholarships to possible recruits. Harvard would still get some great football players instead of Cornell, simply due to Harvard's reputation as a global force of ideas and education. But Cornell could at least get in the game and offer kids what Harvard can afford to offer to all students.

But - unsurprisingly - the Big Three are unenthusiastic about discussing anything like this, even though it would make the "tradition of intra-league football" more competitive. And with an Academic Index in place, the Ivy League would still get the types of high-academic achieving recruits they currently get.

Who knows - they might be able to shop the idea to the NCAA that all the types of aid offered - from Harvard's "scholarship everybody" approach to Elon's "offer football scholarships to kids that can do well academically at Elon" - are basically "scholarships". And Exhibit A would be: now Columbia can offer something close to what Yale can offer to a football recruit, with no dropoff in academic quality of football player.

But "Big Three" seem to be happy with their ten game schedules, ending the season when Harvard plays Yale, and being "non-scholarship".

And it seems to Yale, getting an exception from the NCAA is much better than starting a discussion on bringing Ivy League football into the 21st century.


Lehigh's game versus New Hampshire will not be televised in the Lehigh Valley, but will be available by radio on ESPN AM 1230 and 1320, featuring the broadcast team of Matt Kerr, Matt Markus, Tom Fallon and Jeff Tourial. If you are subscribed to Lehigh's GameCentral portal, you can get the audio delivered to you via your computer or iPhone.

You can also get video available via the UNH Athletics Website, at, for $8 for the event. It seems like it's only available on computer, so if you're mobile, the GameCentral Broadcast is your only option.

Personally, I'll be watching the video feed from UNH Athletics, but I'll be listening to the audio from our friendly neighborhood ESPN guys.


Finally, head coach Andy Coen will wear a Coach to Cure MD logo patch on the sidelines this weekend at New Hampshire. College football fans will be asked to donate to research projects supported by Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy, the largest nonprofit organization in the U.S. focused entirely on Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. It's an effort coach Coen supported last year, and it's a very worthy cause.


Anonymous said…
Wait a minute. Didn't the Dartmouth AD say that the Ivy League schools should NOT play anybody who gives out scholarships? This comment was made when Patriot League discussed doing so. He did not rule out dropping the PL schools from their schedule if this happened.

And now Yale wants to play Duke???

Sounds like the IL Presidents need to issue another "clarification" next spring. I predict they will toe the current line, and Duke won't need to drop Elon for favor of the "more attractive" Yale team.

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