Jeff Jacobs: Silly NCAA rule deters Ivies from playing FBS schools
BRISTOL — Robin Harris doesn’t like the NCAA bowl eligibility rule that handcuffs her august group of schools’ football scheduling against FBS teams.
And the Ivy League executive director is right.
Yale coach Tony Reno says he’d love to play UConn.
And, yeah, that sounds about right now, too.
The Ivy League brought its media day to ESPN on Thursday, and with the 150th anniversary of the sport being celebrated this autumn, it seems like a good time to take a wider view of where the league stands in the landscape of college football.
The Ivy League obviously stands deep, deep, deep in the history of the game. As ESPN executive vice president John Dahl spoke about the 35 hours of content the network will dedicate to College Football 150 over 150 days — from daily vignettes to two documentary series to an eight-part, 12-hour film to a long list of Greatest — it’s clear ESPN is all in on this project. The Ivy League’s dominance in the first 50 years of college football, Dahl said, will be highlighted.
Yet that’s the WAS.
What about the IS?
Last year, the Ivy League led the FCS in non-conference winning percentage (.750) and NFL representation (24 players) for the second straight season.
Undefeated Ivy champion Princeton was ranked ninth and Dartmouth 15th in the final FCS coaches poll.
Obviously, these aren’t the pre-WWII halcyon days with Yale Heisman winners, but then again, you haven’t been watching if you think this is the same old dawdling Ivy League. The IS is very good.
“The league is way better than it was five years ago and much better than it was 10 years ago,” Reno said. “You look at the Ivy League, look at the big picture and how many guys we’re putting in the NFL. You look at our team (Ivy champions) in ’17 and Princeton last year. If we were able to compete in the national playoffs, I think both those teams would have done incredibly well.
“Last year, we played Maine (Yale won, 35-14) and they went to the national FCS semifinals.”
That’s what makes the NCAA rule, as well meaning as it may be, on bowl eligibility so unfair. An FBS team can count no more than one win against an FCS team toward its total and only if the FCS team awards athletic aid equivalent to 56.7 scholarships (90 percent of the limit) over a period of a few years. The requirement may be waived only if there’s a “unique or catastrophic situation.”
UConn has scheduled Central Connecticut for 2022 and 2025. Central spokesman Tom Pincince said the program currently meets the requirement.
Look, the NCAA doesn’t want FBS schools to essentially roll over the Sisters of Charity. Get it.
But UConn-Yale at the Yale Bowl or UMass-Harvard at Fenway or an Ivy league team annually playing one of the service schools?
“You want my honest opinion?” Harris said.
“I don’t think the rule makes any sense,” Harris said. “They’re basing it solely on scholarships. That is such a small aspect of your commitment and support to football.
“If you’re going to allow FCS competition to count, then Ivy League competition should count as well. I’m not saying we’re going to play a ton of games. But you had Army play Yale in 2014 — Yale won by the way — and Army did get a waiver from the NCAA. It was not a slam-dunk waiver.”
It wasn’t for catastrophic purposes. It was unique.
“It was all based on the 100th anniversary of the Yale Bowl, playing Army (historically),” Harris said. “It’s not going to be automatic. FBS teams don’t look to play Ivy League teams. They need the games potentially to get into a bowl.”
The Ivy League is the only FCS conference that doesn’t compete in the 24-team national playoff. That’s not going to change. Harris says the question inevitably arises anytime there’s an outstanding champion like Princeton in 2018. It’s no. It will remain no.
“The answer is multi-level,” Harris said. “There’s the tradition and the history surrounding Ivy League football and the fact our presidents are very comfortable the focus is on the Ivy League champion and competition. There’s also a concern on how the football championship extends into December and now into January and the impact it would have academically during serious times in the academic year.”
Sure, we can cover our ears, hold our breath and stomp when some FBS coaches refer to their flyby visitors as “student-athletes,” but the Ivy Leaguers deserve the title.
“Right now we finish up in football before Thanksgiving, and I still remember the crazy crush of academic obligations when you return from Thanksgiving break before exams,” said Harris, who received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Duke. “Having to continue to prepare for the championship experience … our teams would win some games so the impact on the student-athletes is a real concern. The presidents have reaffirmed we’re very comfortable where Ivy League football is now. Student-athletes still have the opportunity to have a fabulous experience on the field and to continue their lifelong success in whatever career they choose.”
Not participating in the national playoffs, doesn’t mean the Ivy League isn’t up for signature moments to nurture its product and give the kids a kick. That’s why it went in heavy with ESPN last year, and that’s why there’s a game like Princeton-Dartmouth at Yankee Stadium on Nov. 9. The first college game ever was Princeton vs. Rutgers on Nov. 6, 1869.
Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens said he had only one word when Princeton coach Bob Surace called to ask him if he wanted to play at Yankee Stadium. Yes.
“Legendary venue,” Teevens said. “We had the opportunity to play at Fenway Park (against Brown) in 2017, it was wonderful. Boston kid, walk into Fenway Park, through the dugouts, see the Green Monster … the guys were all eyes and cameras.”
If the Ivy League kids, without athletic scholarships, are good enough for the NCAA Tournament in basketball, if the Ivy League kids are good enough to win lacrosse and ice hockey national championships, they are damn well good enough to have their score count in football.
Especially when they truly represent what the NCAA claims to be about.
No, Cornell shouldn’t schedule Alabama. Princeton has Army on the schedule in 2020. Good. Man, I would have loved to see Princeton play Rutgers at Yankee Stadium on Nov. 9. And, no, UConn doesn’t have to play Yale every year, but every kid should get a chance play once during a four-year stay.
You want to argue what does UConn have to gain? Well, what does UConn have to gain by playing Wagner or Central (beyond putting $275,000 for each game to help Central’s financial challenges)? A potential W for a bowl bid. That’s what. It’s unfair the Ivy League doesn’t get the same chance.
“I agree,” Reno said. “We want to play at our highest level. To play UConn would be incredible for us. I think it would be great for the state. For our kids to have that experience, to play an instate rival, would be awesome. To go play Air Force, to go play Army, to go play Navy, Rice, that opportunity would be great for our guys.”
History’s tide rolls in and rolls out. The late Carm Cozza told me in 1998 that one of the haughty Old Blues football alumni once wrote to him asking how the “scrimmage” with UConn went. Of course, Cozza also was shocked 13-6 by UConn in his Yale debut in 1965. He got one letter that read, “There’s a train leaving for New York at 4 o’clock. Be under it.”
The 63 points Yale allowed to UConn in 1998 was the most the Bulldogs had allowed in their then 116-year history of the program. They had lost 10 of 11 to State U by the combined score of 404-156. It was time to end the series. Now it’s time to try it again and let the win count toward bowl eligibility. Of course, getting there is a whole different story for UConn.