Perhaps it was Penn's 30-10 defeat of Lehigh a couple of weeks ago. Or maybe it was Princeton's 50-9 drubbing of another team that made the FCS Playoffs last year, Monmouth. Or maybe it was Yale's shockingly dominant 35-14 win over nationally-ranked Maine last weekend.
The Ivy League has gone an astounding 12-4 so far in out-of-conference play, many of those wins coming against the Patriot League.
But it's not just against the Patriot League where the Ivy League has excelled.
Every Ivy League school has at least one out-of-conference victory, which is remarkable since it is only three games into their football season.
The four losses - Rhode Island over Harvard, Holy Cross over Yale, Delaware over Cornell, and Cal Poly over Brown - were either close losses that could have gone either way or expected blowouts of teams picked to be at the bottom of the Ivy League.
Why the Ivy League, and why now? How has the Ivy League turned things around, completely, as a league?
The answer appears to lie with three converging trends that every Ivy is starting to exploit to their advantage - increasing the overall number of athletic admits, using their so-called non-scholarship status to make a mockery of the scholarship limits of FCS football, and allowing essentially an unlimited roster size for home games.
35, 26, 29, 28.
Those were the sizes of the incoming football recruit classes at Harvard during the last four years.
All of these players were recruited athletes. It says so on the releases. All 118 student-athletes were recruited to play football at Harvard.
If you're a college football fan, this might not compute. Doesn't the NCAA cap student aid at 85 full-ride college football players? That's at the FBS level, too; at the FCS level, the cap on scholarship aid is 63, divided as whole or partial scholarships across the entire team.
The Ivy League gets around this because, technically, the institutions are rich enough to scholarship everyone in the entire student body.
Harvard has a financial aid policy which states that if your parents make less than $65,000 a year, if you apply and pass Harvard's stringent academic requirements, you can attend school for free.
Additionally, if your parents make more than $65,000 a year, through a sliding scale the cost of tuition is reduced for an even larger number of the populations. "Ninety percent of American families would pay the same or less to send their children to Harvard as they would a state school," Harvard's financial aid website proudly proclaims.
Columbia head coach Al Bagnoli said earlier this year, “the Ivy League as a conference made an aggressive push to make things more affordable.”
That's about the time that all eight Ivy League teams started to open up their endowments to offer very generous financial aid to all students. Football players included. And as a result, football recruiting almost immediately felt the benefits.
“I’ve been here 24 years as a coach and almost 20 as a head coach,” Brown’s Phil Estes said in the same article. “And at all levels — the athletic side of it as well as the offensive and defensive lines — we’re all recruiting at a different level now.”
That might be OK - if the Ivy League were operating under the same scholarship restriction rulebook as the rest of the subdivision that they are ostensibly a part of, the Football Championship Subdivision. But as is very evident from Harvard's incoming classes, that's not the case.
In a sense, it is great that the Ivy League is willing to open up their endowment to scholarship the vast majority of its students. However, so do many Patriot League schools, though not at the same level of generosity as Harvard.
However this loophole has the unintended effect of making Ivy League football teams, essentially, teams filled with students receiving scholarship money to play football. This makes a mockery of the NCAA's scholarship restrictions, where limits of 85 athletic scholarships were ostensibly put in place to reduce costs for athletic departments and to improve competitiveness.
Harvard's roster has 113 recruited student-athletes on it, all of which receive generous financial aid to attend the university.
Some, like OL Larry Allen, who started at guard this past weekend for the Crimson against Rhode Island, are essentially redshirt seniors.
Technically, athletic redshirting is not allowed at Ivy League schools.
in one of the most suspicious press releases of all time, redshirted in all but name. "[Allen] will not be enrolled for the fall semester," it read. "A Harvard athletic spokesman said the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Larry Allen Jr. is expected to return to the Ivy League university next year. A reason for his departure was not given."
Technically, Ivy League players are not supposed to redshirt. "Students must complete four seasons in eight academic terms, meaning they have to leave school for a term if they want to compete in an extra season," The Harvard Crimson reported back in 2014, a fact that very conveniently explains Larry Allen Jr.'s choice to not enroll in classes in the fall of 2017.
Needless to say this is not a course of action that happens at Lehigh or any Patriot League school, another league that has a no redshirt rule.
The reason for this is that if Lehigh decided to redshirt, say, QB Tyler Monaco, he would still count as a scholarship player in the eyes of the NCAA. Head coach Andy Coen couldn't simply add another recruited quarterback to Lehigh's stable of quarterbacks - he would still be up against the NCAA limit for scholarships of 63, and would have to fill that spot on the roster with a true walk-on.
But Larry Allen Jr.'s choice to simply not enroll doesn't "count" as a redshirt in the eyes of the NCAA. Why? Because to them, Larry Allen Jr. is just another Harvard student with the same financial aid as all other Harvard students. Never mind that the amount of financial aid Larry Allen, Jr. is receiving is more generous that the aid given at most places anywhere; there is no limit on Ivy League football players receiving institutional non-athletic financial aid that the NCAA enforces in this area.
The Ivy League has no limit on the amount of football players that can suit up during a home game.
So that means that if Harvard head coach Tim Murphy wants to suit up 100 recruited football players on scholarship at home with every player receiving significant financial aid, he can.
“Last year we played nine defensive linemen in a game, and we played 20 to 22 guys in a game on defense,” Yale head coach Tony Reno said, detailing some of the unique advantages the Ivy League has in terms of gameplans that other FCS schools cannot practically implement. “So our ability to play our style of aggressive defense was great. We had guys who could play in different packages."
The Ivy League stipulates that their travel squad size is a more modest 62.
That might explain why of the four Ivy League out-of-conference losses on the season, only one, Harvard's narrow 22-16 loss to nationally-ranked Rhode Island, came at home. All three of the other games, most notably Holy Cross' thrilling 31-28 win over Yale, came when the Ivy League team was on the road.
To some, all of this rule-stretching might not seem like much of a big deal. So the Harvard plays with 113 players on scholarship, some redshirting to enhance their NFL value, and are able as a result of their lacksidasical conference rules to engage in coaching decisions and practices that other schools cannot possibly bankroll. So what? They don't play in the FCS playoffs, they don't play in bowls, and they really don't have to answer to anybody. Does it even matter?
Yes, it does.
The FCS operates under certain rules to keep contain costs and to maintain competitive balance by limiting the number of scholarship athletes that a team can field. It's hard to escape the conclusion that the Ivy League has violated the spirit of those restrictions through their newly aggressive recruiting and newly generous financial aid policies over the last five to ten years.
It is an issue that goes beyond the recent uncompetitiveness between the Ivy League and the Patriot League - it is starting to be seen against the CAA and Big South, too, against teams that offer a full complement of scholarships.
And it will continue, unless the NCAA finally opens up their eyes and sees that something is fundamentally unbalanced between the Ivy League and the rest of FCS. It is not a fair fight when the home team can field 113 kids receiving scholarship money and the other is restricted by NCAA rules to only field 62 players.