IVY LEAGUE: MUCH MORE THAN A SPORTS CONFERENCE, THESE ARE AMONGST THE WORLD’S BEST COLLEGES
The Ivy League is a sports conference for a select group of Universities and Colleges from the Northeastern United States that share a reputation for excellence and prestige. Despite the group’s founding as a sports conference, the constituent members work closely together on other aspects of university life and the conference’s name now transcends it’s sports conference heritage to the extent that “Ivy League” has become a byword for the elite tier of universities and colleges in the United States and, indeed, internationally.
The Ivy League, formally, is an athletics conference comprised of eight highly-selective, research intensive private universities in the Northeast of the United States. The eight member institutions: Brown; Columbia; Cornell; Dartmouth; Harvard; Princeton; Penn; and Yale, are amongst the best known and most highly regarded universities in the world.
The Ivy League athletics conference was founded in 1954 as a means of consolidating informal sporting arrangements between a select group of universities that considered themselves to be peers at that time. These schools had regularly played against one another in a host of sports, particularly football, rowing, basketball etc. They were the schools that helped develop and codify American football amongst other sports. They participated in the Eastern Intercollegiate Basketball League (the EIBL – since absorbed into the Ivy League) and many of the member schools competed in the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association and the Intercollegiate Rowing Association. Additionally, many of the schools have a football rivalry with one or another that existed long before the creation of the NCAA. With the advent of televised sports fixtures and the proposals of the NCAA in the early 1950s to develop college football television markets on a league and conference basis, the Ivy League colleges saw the need to establish a formalised conference to protect their markets and to operate within the NCAA structure. Whilst the colleges had long-played each other and a number of other select institutions, it made sense to formalise a full sports conference around the long-established EIBL in which the same 8 schools participated. The EIBL only added Brown in the years leading to the establishment of the Ivy League (and, at that stage, it was done so with the expressed purpose of establishing the Ivy League).
The schools that today comprise the Ivy League, have long considered one another to be peers athletically and academically. They have competed against one another and sometime peers (historically including schools like: Army; Bucknell; Colgate; Navy; McGill; Rutgers; Stanford; Syracuse; Toronto; and Tufts, particularly) both in various varsity sporting fixtures and in terms of admissions of the best and brightest minds from across North America. Today, many Ivy League conferences still maintain rivalries and occasional athletics fixtures with those one-time peer schools, especially those competing in the similarly regulated Patriot League. Thus, whilst, the Ivy League is, ostensibly, an athletic conference, it has always been a byword for exclusivity. That remains clear from the outset, the athletic directors and executive leadership of the member institutions set out firm criteria and commitments for academic rigour and exclusivity in order to preserve the reputation and standing of each school.
Such criteria includes strict standards for admissions and academic performance of student athletes. Moreover, it is best known as one of a select-few Division I NCAA conferences that prohibit financial scholarships and support for student athletes with Ivy League members prohibited from availing of the scholarship allowances set by the NCAA.
Notwithstanding that the Ivy League is, fundamentally, an athletics conference, the term “Ivy League” has been in use at least as far back as the 1930s as a description for an exclusive tier of Northeastern schools in the United States. Many of the Ivy League schools were established prior to the United States becoming and independent country (the so-called “Colonial Colleges”). The exact origin of the term remains unclear and has been subject to wide speculation with theories ranging from the common tradition of planting ivy on the campuses of ancient schools and colleges on the East Coast (often known as “Ivy Day” and many of the campuses are heavily decorated with ivy), to the application of Roman numerals to a mythical previous athletics conference comprised of the Big Three: Harvard; Princeton; and Yale and another unidentified school (It is worth noting that, historically, these three schools were collectively referred to as the Big Four alongside Union College – considered to be the preferred destinations for higher learning for the sons of America’s wealthy Protestant elite). The schools also share a close relationship with the so-called Seven Sisters schools (a group of historic women’s colleges that served as a counterpart to the historically male-only Ivy League). The term “Ivy League” has also come to be applied to a fashion subculture that celebrates the typical campus attire of the elite Northeastern colleges during the 1930s to 1960s.
The ambiguity of the term’s origins has contributed to the prestige afforded to the member schools and other schools that seek to be associated therewith. Various authors have ascribed terms such as Little Ivies; Hidden Ivies; Public Ivies; Jesuit/Catholic Ivies, Public Ivies and Black Ivies to a host of other institutions around the United States that hold a similar prestigious reputation but that may exist to serve those that were not the typical Ivy League candidate pre-1950s.
Indeed, communities at a number of Northeastern universities have approached the idea of a hypothesised Ivy League expansion with great fervour in order to boost the perception of their own alma mater as a peer school. It has long been rumoured that other colleges were invited for entry during the initial development of the league, albeit little proof has ever been afforded to back up those claims. It is often raised as a rumour only by those who attended the college to which the rumour they raise refers. Prior to the creation of the Ivy League, a sports journalist argued in 1936 that such a league should be established and, in order to combat accusations of elitism, that Army; Brown; Fordham; Georgetown; Navy; Syracuse; and Pitt should be considered for inclusion alongside the initial EIBL schools. That being said, it is likely that Rutgers may have been considered for admission at one point in time prior to being public and it is known that Rutgers formally inquired about becoming a member in 1953 before being annexed by the State of New Jersey. It has been regularly implied that the College of William and Mary was considered as a peer Colonial College to the core group of Ivy League colleges and considered as a potential candidate for admission to the league prior to its inception.
It is certainly the case that the League has longstanding rivalries and fixtures with both Army and Navy. This lead to speculation in a number of media reports in the 1980s that the League had allegedly considered extending invitations to those service colleges in order to bolster its standing and maintain its participation in the FBS upper divisions of Division I football. Similarly, those same reports indicated Northwestern as another potential candidate. Of the rumours most commonly embraced, however, the most persistent have been attached to Colgate and Bucknell who often compete against Ivy league colleges when not playing in their primary conference – the Patriot League. For some time, the Patriot League emulated the Ivies in their selectivity and their eschewing of athletic scholarships. Albeit, the latter is no longer true.
Outside of these institutions, various names have often been touted, particularly those of similar institutions that may be further afield. Luminaries including: Stanford; Duke; Georgetown; Rice; Emory; Cal Tech; Berkeley; Chicago; Wisconsin; John Hopkins have often been touted as potential or likely candidates for admission to the league. Similarly, MIT; Amherst; Vassar; and, occasionally Carnegie Mellon; Rochester; NYU; or even athletic powerhouses like Holy Cross; Boston College; or Boston University have been postulated. These rumours are often far-fetched given the vast differences in the range of athletics programmes and statuses of those programmes vis-a-vis the existing Ivy League. More often, these rumours are predicated on the idea that these schools are approaching the Ivy Leagues (or, indeed, exceeding them) in terms of academic pedigree and admissions selectivity.
No such plans, however, currently exist for Ivy League expansion and it remains unlikely that the league will expand any time soon. For now, the Ivy League remains a grouping of eight top-tier research universities that are benchmarking themselves against their peers across the United States and internationally.
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