Conference realignments, eye-popping TV deals and compensation for college athletes’ name, image and likeness have upended the college sports landscape. What is Ivy hoops’ place in all the hoopla? How should the Ivy League and its member schools raise the profile of its basketball programs? With Ivy student support waning and NIL on the rise, what moves would improve Ivy hoops? Our writers consider these looming questions below:
Despite being led by eight presidents that don’t seem to put a huge emphasis on athletics, the coaches, athletes and staffs do an incredible job being a competitive mid-major conference. With that noted, I cannot see Ivy hoops changing significantly without the inclusion of athletic scholarships.
While Ivy athletes, like Division III athletes, don’t receive scholarships, they do tend to have advantages in the admissions process. This certainly helps those students whose families are willing to pay the almost $350,000 four-year cost or can take advantage of the need-based financial aid packages. However, there are a lot of students whose families don’t feel the need to pay that type of money or don’t get enough in financial aid. Offering merit scholarships to athletes and non-athletes would increase opportunities for people in all parts of the socioeconomic spectrum to attain an Ivy League degree and would go a long way towards making the conference more successful.
I understand the admirable idea promoted from these schools that they limit those types of scholarships to be able to use aid money to a wider number of families, but the reality is that they can afford to use their large endowments to be much more generous and spread the wealth to a broader group of people.
It’s time for change on many levels. Ivy schools, which once got their pick of the litter of high school in college basketball in the 1960s and ’70s, now rarely compete for even three-star student-athletes. The Ivy recruiting competition, which was once California, Northwestern, Rutgers, etc., is now Towson, Loyola Chicago and Vermont, among others.
It’s extremely difficult for non-athletes to get into any Ivy. There are rampant stories about regular high school student-athletes with a 1580 and a 3.8 GPA getting rejected amid acceptance levels of 5% and even lower. There are also stories about Ivy student-athletes with a 1250 and a 3.5 GPA gaining admission. That’s not to say that those student-athletes aren’t good students. Most, if not all, are. But they were accepted in large part because they are exceptional athletes.
But then these students aren’t nourished once on campus. They take long-distance buses to games. They stay in pedestrian motels and hotels. They have below-average facilities to help them weight train. The Yale lacrosse facility is an exceptional exception, but facilities of that caliber are ubiquitous at most other Division I college basketball programs and all the power conferences.
Once at an Ivy university they are given few, if any, privileges that student-athletes at the likes of fine academic schools like Northwestern, Cal, Duke, Rice, Vanderbilt and Rutgers enjoy.
First, they have to pay anywhere between say 10% and the full cost of $80,000 to attend. There aren’t any athletic scholarships and no academic scholarships either.
The Ivy universities and the league itself do little to promote and market their excellence and their teams, locally and nationally. The Ivy television package is laughable. You rarely, if ever, see an Ivy contest on a non-streaming platform, and it takes a credit card and a map to find the Ivy TV outlet.
Get a better package and people will watch and go to more games in person. The likes of Vanderbilt and Stanford would play Ivy teams in non-buy games because the contests would have TV broadcast visibility. They might even make a trip to Jadwin or The Palestra to play in home-and-homes.
Consider academic and athletic scholarships. This is not heretical. Why not reward supremely talented Ivy students and athletes along with, say, piano players with a scholarship like all other 350-some Division I schools do? It makes no sense not to. Ivies, you can afford it with your bloated $10 billion-plus endowments, and your athletics will jettison forward.
There is a strange Ivy antitrust exemption out there which Ivies use, in part as a defense to scholarships. It may soon be abrogated federally.
A few years back one Ivy men’s coach said, in essence, get me three basketball scholarships a year and I will bring you a top-20 program. Is that hyperbole? Maybe, but it is certainly possible. It’s been nearly a quarter-century since a men’s Ivy received a single-digit seed in the NCAA tourney.
Play the NIL game. The universities cannot technically be involved, but with a wink and a nod, they all are. There are well over 100 NIL collectives out there, but none at any Ivy. And I should know. I’m a consultant to a premier NIL company. I have met with three Ivies, and they have no interest in helping to facilitate by providing donor names. Yet they have very wealthy alumni and boosters, many of whom would gladly support their student-athletes financially. It would help to level the playing field in recruiting against non-Ivies.
And what about the arcane rule that does not permit an Ivy athlete to redshirt? What is the rationale, if any, for that? Why penalize a student-athlete who gets injured or want to graduate in five years? That makes no sense.
Make some of the above changes and you will most importantly give the Ivy student-athlete a better experience and ultimately create a scenario where Ivy men’s and women’s basketball teams are players once again on the national stage.
While I believe the state of Ivy League basketball is actually quite strong right now, it might make sense for the league to consider at least one modest reform and one radical change.
The modest reform would be to open the postseason tournament to every program in place of the current format, which only allows the top four teams (based on conference standings) to compete. I have attended two Ivy League tournaments in person so far (2017 and 2022), and the level of fan enthusiasm at both events was very high. But opening the tournament to every team would raise the level of enthusiasm across the league even higher and would create more exposure for some of the traditionally less successful programs.
The radical change I have in mind is conference expansion. The Ivy League’s composition hasn’t changed since it was formed in 1954 as an athletic affiliation of eight private schools located in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. While the stability of the Ivy League is refreshing amid the turmoil swirling throughout the power conferences, it would be prudent for the league to at least study the idea of expansion. Candidate schools for expansion could include some or all of the major military academies, any of the Patriot League schools, and perhaps even a school or two outside the Eastern time zone, such as Rice. Georgetown would be a natural fit for the Ivy League, although I doubt the Hoyas would be willing to give up on their (fading) ambition to remain a power player in college basketball. Traditions die hard in the Ivy League, but bringing in some fresh blood could expand the conference’s exposure and fortify the league’s place in a changing intercollegiate athletics landscape.