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KING JAMES BIBLE: Presidents Need To Drop the Grudge

By Michael R. James, Crimson Staff Writer

When will the Ivy presidents admit they’re wrong?

This Saturday, No. 13 Harvard will travel to No. 16 Penn for a contest that will decide the Ivy football championship—one which, if it weren’t for an indefensible ban on postseason participation, would give the winner an automatic berth in the NCAA I-AA playoffs.

That’s the same NCAA tournament that the Crimson field hockey team and the women’s soccer team will both be participating in next weekend. That’s the same NCAA tournament that the Harvard women’s volleyball team could qualify for, depending on the results of their final two games on Friday and Saturday. And that’s the same NCAA tournament that the men’s team is eligible for as well.

In fact, out of the 41 varsity teams at Harvard, 40 of them are permitted to participate in postseason competition. Football, however, has been chosen as the sport the Ivy Presidents have decided to single out.

The history of this ridiculous ban is pretty easy to trace, and it starts in the late 1970s. The Ivy League began to complain about “big time” college football and tried to push for legislation to curb a perceived arms race that was developing.

The analysis proved to be prophetic, but it annoyed the NCAA to the point that it created a Division I-AA subclassification in order to keep the Ivy schools at a Division I level, while stifling the “reform” talk.

In retaliation, the Ivy League instituted several self-mandated reforms—including the ever-popular Academic Index—and refused to allow its teams to participate in the postseason.

That’s it. It’s just a grudge. There are no winners—except the ignorant Ivy presidents—but there are plenty of losers.

But it’s also telling in another aspect. We always hear about how the Ivy League wants to set an example of athletic competition as a means of enhancing a student’s education. Now, we know that’s just one more lie they’ve been feeding us.

If the Ivy League truly wanted to display its athletic model for all to see, it would do just that. It would give its highly-ranked football teams the shot at the national title that they deserve. It would allow those teams to prove on the field that you can have a championship-caliber program comprised solely of students, whose primary focus at the end of the day happens to be grades, not touchdowns.

It’s time to stop giving these presidents a pass. Football has held up its end of the bargain. The teams have adhered to the stringent rules and still found a way to put a competitive product on the field.

Even while the presidents have administered even more rules (limiting coaches and the size of recruiting classes), the teams have still managed to claw their way to the top of Division I-AA.

Short of terminating recruiting altogether or banning Penn coach Al Bagnoli and Harvard coach Tim Murphy from pacing the Ivy sidelines, there’s really nothing these eight administrators can do to keep Ivy teams from finding their way into championship contention.

So, they ban championships.

Every time I write a column about this issue, I get some e-mails asking what can be done to put pressure on the presidents to change this egregiously discriminatory policy. Personally, I’ve stopped cheering when President Summers makes his “appearance” at the Harvard football games. I understand why he feels he needs to show up there, and I also don’t attempt to delude myself into thinking he has a grasp of what Harvard’s record is, where the team stands in the Ivy League race, or even what the score of the game is. (One could call this the Manny Ramirez approach, except Manny’s a better dresser). Instead, I just chant “playoffs,” over and over again, until he decides to leave the sidelines en route to his next appointment.

I’ve also taken to discussing this topic with basically anyone who will listen. One of the reasons that Ivy presidents can get away with singling out football in terms of a postseason ban is that most students just aren’t aware of it. I feel that if most students knew how good of a shot Penn or Harvard had at winning a national title this season or even that such a distinction was even an option, the passivity of the fan bases would rapidly vanish.

And it would take an extreme backlash to cause the presidents to care enough to bury the hatchet and overturn the ban, because if there’s one thing we’ve learned about these eight administrators when it comes to athletics, it’s that they’ll almost never admit that they’re wrong.

—Staff writer Michael R. James can be reached at mrjames@fas.harvard.edu. His column appears every Tuesday.

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