For many years Ivy League football teams kept to themselves, generally playing only one another, in-state rivals, or schools that shared their athletic philosophy. But now that the Ivies have added a tenth game to their schedules, the league has begun to branch out and play some meatier opponents.
This weekend, for example, Harvard ventures to West Point to face Army for the first time since the early 1950s. Yale, meanwhile, travels all the way to Colorado to take on Air Force, then meets Boston College, a producer of many pro players, a week from Saturday.
If you think this sounds ambitous, brace yourself, because in 1983 and again in 1985 Brown goes against Penn State, a perennial national power accustomed to playing in major post-season bowls.
Many people are intrigued by the Ivies' adventurous spirit and will watch closely to see if schools which award no athletic scholarships can compete against those which award as many as 95, the limit established by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
On one hand, these football exams offer an opportunity to show people just how well the Ivies can play. On the other hand, they could be something of a Waterloo, sad mismatches that demoralize and tarnish the league's image.
John Parry, Brown's athletic director, admits that there's a definite risk involved. "When some of these schedules were announced in 1976," he says, "people were worried that the Ivy schools might get hammered, and the league suffer for it."
At that juncture, however, the trend toward more equitable competition (brought on by new scholarship limitations) had begun. So a projection was made that a game against Penn State, where Brown alumnus Joe Paterno is the coach, was not unreasonable seven years hence.
And how does Parry feel about the matchup now that it's only three years away? "If the caliber of player here at Brown continues to increase, it makes sense. But if it goes the other way, well, . . . " and here Parry leaves the listener to draw his own conclusions.
Princeton has already concluded that there's little to gain from playing heavyweight competition. Last Saturday it met Rutgers for the last time, thus terminating a rivalry that begin intercollegiate football back in 1869.
In recent years, Rutgers has made a serious commitment to upgrading its football program, as evidenced by the Scarlet Knights' victory over Tennessee last season. Princeton, which once held the upperhand in the series, felt it could no longer compete at the Rutgers level.
During football's first half century, before the college game took on the big-time trappings of today, schools such as Yale, Harvard, and Princeton were among the best in the land.
The national prominence of the Ivies gradually declined as football spread to other regions of the country, but still such schools as Dartmouth (1937), Cornell (1939), and Pennsylvania (1947) managed to make the writers' Top 10. Led by Heisman-winning halfback Dick Kazmaier, Princeton finished sixth in the 1950 and '51 polls. Since then, Dartmouth's undefeated 1970 team (No. 14) has been the only Ivy school to crack the Associated Press end-of-season rankings.
The decision that placed the Ivies on their present course occurred in 1954, when, after years of discussions, the eight schools (Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, Dartmouth, Cornell, Brown, and Penn) formalized their mutual ties in the formation of the Ivy League. Since it was a federation forged primarily on the basis of academic traditions, the league has always attempted to keep football in perspective. There are no athletic scholarships or spring practice sessions; freshman cannot play on the varsity; post-season bowl appearances are taboo; and making money is not an objective since Ivy football programs are funded out of general university coffers. Consequently, scheduling nonleague games against other colleges carrying the NCAA's 1- A classification is a tricky business.
The service academies, though absent from Ivy schedules for years, have enough in common to warrant their return as opponents. Philosophically their athletic programs are similar, so much so that Army and Navy at present compete against the Ivies in track, cross-country, baseball, wrestling, swimming, and racket sports.
Both academies might be welcomed if they ever applied for football membership in the league, but neither school wants to give up a national schedule.
To some degree, the Ivies are looking beyond the Northeast themselves. William and Mary has been scheduled by several schools, and Parry indicates that "a lot of us [Ivy members] would like to play in Chicago," where Northwestern would be the logical opponent.
Playing a Big Ten school, even if a weak one, would make for an interesting challenge in a city populated with Ivy alums. Other academic-minded, big-time institutions the Ivies might like to play included Vanderbilt, Duke, Virginia, and Stanford. The Ivy League schools, of course, would have less to lose in such matchups.
Playing early-season games against the bigger schools, which have spring practice, verges on "suicide," according to Parry. "Ideally you'd want to catch them in about the season's eight week, when your team was well drilled."