In June, the Council of Ivy Group Presidents will meet for their spring talks about the state of Ivy League athletics.
Meanwhile, it seems, the Ivy Athletic Directors will be off debating ways to improve the level of academics in Ivy League classrooms.
Sadly, one of the above statements is true.
That’s right, the eight grim reapers of the Ivies will come together for their annual meeting in which they discuss what “excesses” need to be slashed from the realm of sports.
Over the past couple of years, their track record in this pursuit has been impeccable. The list is quite impressive and shows a dedicated effort to making Ivy League teams as noncompetitive as possible. In 2002, the Council instituted the seven-week rule, cut the number of football recruits by five and eliminated three part-time coaching positions.
A year later, the group increased the minimum class rank and standardized test scores—psst…otherwise known as the Academic Index—necessary to gain entrance into an Ivy League institution. This was a good decision, because, as we all know, grades and test scores can tell us everything about an individual.
The Council also instituted admission standards—banding students by their Academic Index number—for every recruited athlete entering a school. This set up a bizarre incentive system where, theoretically, you could sacrifice one sport by only recruiting students in the top band, allowing you more flexibility in terms of recruiting for other sports.
These changes were made, according to the official statement, to make “the average academic qualifications of newly matriculating students at each school who are recruited in those sports, as a group, now…meet a standard based on the average academic qualifications of all students at that school.” Since Harvard’s average academic qualifications are higher than those of Cornell’s, pardon me if I refer to this as the “separate, but equal” clause.
In fact, in reading through the two official statements from the last two years’ meetings, I found only one paragraph discussing athletic achievement. It was a brief mention of the Rhodes Scholars and Academic All-Americans that the Ivy League had produced.
And that’s when it hit me.
The Council of Ivy Presidents meeting isn’t meant to be a discussion of improving the role of athletics in the Ivy League. Rather, the goal of the annual meeting is to chip away at the integrity and the national standing of the sports in which the league participates.
Take football for example. The Ivy League is currently the only conference in Division I-AA that does not send its champion to the playoffs. When the topic was discussed at last year’s meetings, it was shot down for no particularly logical reason.
Rather, the discussion flipped to raising admissions standards so that football players who didn’t score well enough on their SATs would be immediately rejected regardless of what the other 98 percent of their application said.
Then there’s the impractical seven-week rule. The Ivy League proudly boasted in 2002 that “its approach of…limiting athletes’ year-round time commitments is unique in Division I.” Of course it’s unique. No other conference’s member schools would be stupid enough to mandate that its players sit through a 49-day holding pattern. Athletes come to college to play sports. They like playing sports. If you give them seven weeks off to do what they want, they’ll take the free time and go play sports. So, in effect, all that happens is the inefficient result of athletes substituting unstructured workouts for the structured ones.
But I’m all about compromise, so how about this one? Starting in the 2006-2007 school year, all students will be obligated to take a seven-week break from their studies. No books, no classes and no libraries. (Actually, Harvard’s already trying this. I think they’re calling it the J-term.)
This all leads me to my prediction. Once again, the Council of Ivy Group Presidents will use the June meetings as an opportunity to impose more restrictions on Ivy League sports in order to make the conference even more of an example of the “proper” role that collegiate sports in this country should assume. And once again, anyone who knows anything about college athletics will be dumbfounded by the changes.
But I won’t be. Ten years from now, no one will be worried about the incremental restrictions that have dominated these past couple years. Instead, everyone will be too busy trying to figure out how competitive we’ll be against our new foes in Division III.
—Staff writer Michael R. James can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears every Friday.