Mahler: Imagine if Conference Shuffle Hit the Ivies
You better sit down.
I have it on good authority that the tornado blowing through the collegiate athletic conference landscape will soon touch down right here in our neighborhood. Don’t look now, but the Ivy League is about to get shaken up like a vodka martini.
I’m sure you haven’t heard yet because the Ivy League is doing the best it can to keep this under wraps for as long as possible. After all, breaking up this old gang of mine would send seismic shocks throughout the sporting world. I mean, it’s one thing to have a school jump around the country looking for new geographic partners to pad their athletic war chests.
But the Ivy League? Long the bastion of pomposity and academic integrity?
Sorry to burst your bubble, but yes, it appears now that the vagabond bug has bitten the Ivies, too. In an announcement expected to come by Christmas — talk about a special holiday gift — Harvard University will declare its intention to leave the comfy confines of the Ivy League and join the newly minted North East Royal Division.
The people in Cambridge are naturally mum on the subject, understanding the ramifications — both philosophical and historical — to a move of this magnitude. The word I get was that the push to make the break came from football, where the Crimson have long coveted the opportunity to show off its talents on the FBS playoff stage, but have been thwarted by the Ivy League’s antiquated, non-participation decree minted back in the 1950s.
But ironically, coach Tim Murphy may not be around to share in the fruits of his labors, his name being bandied about as the next Boston College football coach.
So say goodbye Ancient Eight, and hello Lucky Seven.
Or maybe not.
If Harvard gets the trustee OK to make the move to its new league home, do you think Gary Walters, the uber-competitive Princeton athletic director, is going to sit idly by down at Princeton and let Harvard grab all the headlines and glory? Absolutely not.
You can bet as this thing heats up, the boys down at Old Nassau will be thumbing through their contracts and documents to find a way out. I can hear Walters’ whip cracking through the air all the way up here. If Harvard goes, can Princeton be far behind?
Those in the know will tell you, there are two Ivy Leagues. There’s the H-Y-P troika ... and then all the rest.
And if the H(arvard) and P(rinceton) legs of the Ivy power triangle have got their running shoes on, don’t you think the folks down in New Haven will be giving free reign to their wanderlust? Yale is most certainly next to depart.
Ivy League? What Ivy League? Now all of a sudden you’ve got just five teams in a non-competitive athletic league with hardly any identity, hanging on just to appease the ardent members of their own fervent alumni base.
At Penn, the athletic people must be kicking themselves for not pulling the trigger on a move like this years ago, when the Quakers were rolling through the league with nationally ranked football and basketball teams. Columbia has been so bad for so long that nobody cares; Cornell is so far north that nobody will travel and Brown is just lost in its own liberal haze.
That leaves, by default, Dartmouth as the new leader. Without question, the Dartmouth women’s program was once the envy of all in the league, and with the upsurge in talent on the football field, maybe the Big Green can wake up the echoes one more time.
But who’s going to care? What’s a league with five teams going to do, battle over who has the biggest endowment and most New York Times references?
Meanwhile, there’s old Johnny Harvard in his brand new six-team league along with like-minded partners from West Point and Annapolis. Those two schools bring academic integrity and instant credibility. The athletics should be relatively competitive and the admissions standards will be equally strict. It’s a perfect match.
Then there’s also Rice University. Another mediocre sports program tied to a superior academic profile. Plus, it gives you a Texas warm weather stop during winter’s long season. And anyway, travel doesn’t matter.
Just check out some of those trips Big East teams will be making in the future. These North-South jaunts have nothing on those coast-to-coast visits.
The final two schools that have been invited are William & Mary and Lehigh. Granted, that adding these two programs will be a subtraction to their former conferences — but so what? That’s the way things go. This is what college athletics has come to: irrational and unnatural alliances formed solely to bring in money. It has nothing to do with student-athletes or grade point average or graduation rates. It’s all about playoff berths, bowls and big bucks.
So don’t blame Harvard. Those guys just followed the national trend. Sad, though. When you look at that North East Royal Division, you get a sense it may be the laughingstock of college athletics. I hear they’re already calling it the NERD Conference.
Harvard doesn’t need to search all that far to find it.
It’s called the Ivy League.
Don Mahler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3225.