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The Ivy League.
It's probably the only conference not Division I in football that's known from coast to coast. It is heralded for academic achievement and filled with famous universities--but at the same time it is always expected to stink in major college sports.
Penn, no matter how many consecutive men's basketball games it wins in the Ivies, won't be holding an NCAA championship trophy anytime soon. And the Quakers' football team is in the hole even more, unwilling to so much as take part in the I-AA playoffs.
The reason for all this is, of course, the scholarship ban. As is well known, the Ancient Eight for- bids schools to pay athletes' tuition, a policy which is different from just about every other school in the nation.
This really ticks off some people. Since the Ivy League is supposed to stand for excellence, they reason, why can't Harvard whip Oklahoma's butt in U.S. News & World Report and on the gridiron?
Dropping the scholarship ban would probably bring some big-time national titles to the Ivies, along with the gold mine of television revenue. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake.
It's easy to see where these would- be reformers are coming from. Back in the good ol' days, the race for the NCAA football title was decided solely by the games between Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Fans flocked to massive stadiums, all of which looked as historic as Nassau Hall.
Today, the story looks much bleaker. The Yale Bowl and Princeton's Palmer Stadium are falling apart. A game at a more than half- filled Harvard Stadium is considered a success--the Yale game excepted, which is more of a rite of passage than a display of fanaticism.
The fact of the matter is, Ivy League football and basketball teams practically never deserve or receive national notoriety. Which will always be a sore spot to those that want to see the Ivies be the best in everything.
But those that want to allow athletic scholarships don't see the longterm problems. They forget about how scholarships give schools incentives to cheat, or give powerful booster clubs reason to form, or create an "athletic underclass" that see school as a four-year purgatory until professional athletics become possible.
As awful as these situations are, they pale in comparison to the dilemma faced by the true student-athletes. Even at powerhouses like Penn State, some members of the football team know that they will not make it to the NFL. Nevertheless, they are part of the program and subsequently must do everything they can to create victories.
But what are their priorities? UMass was derided by the media for the low GPA's of its men's basketball team, yet one can argue that it makes logical sense for a scholarship athlete to work out in the gym instead of going to class. He goes to school because of what his body can do, not what his mind can do.
So a third-string quarterback at Florida State probably feels that he ought to pass off his studies in favor of football--something that will not help him at all in later life. I'm not trying to tell this hypothetical athlete what he should or shouldn't be doing; my point is that being a scholarship implies obligations that conflict with schoolwork.
The Ivy League understands this. No, the system is not perfect, but it works pretty well. And I'll take mediocre seasons instead of athletic scholarships any day.
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