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Whither the Ivy League?

Josh Perlin finishes his three-part series on financial aid and athletics recruiting today by suggesting that some of the other Ivies may be "creatively financing" certain athletes financial aid packages, looking beyond simple need-based formulas:

Noel believes that schools have found ways to “creatively finance” athletes by designating some students as “high priority,” such as certain minorities or genders. By applying this standard to all students, it allows schools better package financial aid.

Penn Director of Athletics Steve Bilsky declined to comment on his school’s specific practices.

“There are variables that allow some ability to be subjective in [matching financial aid packages],” Bilsky said. “[Penn does] not have the resources to match Harvard’s policy. … So, our coaches can’t go out and say, whatever Harvard does, we will match your package. That would be a short-term solution to say that. But that would cost so much, that my guess would be most of the schools in the league won’t do that and can’t do that.”

And in an accompanying opinion piece, Josh ponders the future of the Ivy League:

Competitive balance isn’t about two teams: it’s about every team and school in the league. Cornell has a grand total of zero championships in 2007-08, and is on pace to take only two through the winter season. What’s more, after a record pace of titles from 2001-06, Cornell hit a five-year low last year. So, between last year and this year, it’s pretty safe to say Cornell is on the decline … I won’t speculate why.

So, without solutions, is this the end of Cornell Athletics or the Ivy League? Dealing with the latter part first, I asked, could Cornell get kicked out of the conference? Would HYP leave the conference? Would the conference dissolve? No, was what I soon found out from ADs and coaches alike, for many reasons (so many, in fact, that I won’t burden you with them here).

It's pretty clear that changing financial aid policies are putting more stress on the League than at any other point in the last three decades -- certainly since the AI system was adopted. And there has been a lot of active, cerebral discussion stemming out of Josh's articles across the Ivy League.

I still maintain that Cornell might be better served in a conference such as the Big Ten.

After all, Cornell's a big, diverse, multi-headed university, and scholarship football would add a lot to the student and alumni experience without negatively impacting the overall academic caliber of University like it presumably would at a Dartmouth or a Brown. If Stanford and Northwestern, Michigan and Berkeley can do it, why couldn't we? Moreover, Cornell is really quite a different place than the rest of the Ivies, and we could certainly afford to forgo some of the student body who only chose to attend Cornell due to the athletic association in which it happens to compete.

On the other hand, the ideals of the Ivy League are very attractive. The notion of a true scholar-athlete and the aim for competitive parity across schools is really what makes the Ivy League exemplary.

If anything, Josh's articles should be a wake-up call to the University community, and in particular, its alumni base. If we value the principles of the Ivy League, and we value the experiences of our Cornell education, we should be doing more to help contribute financially to Cornell's mission. After all, it is only due to the philanthropy of others that we have benefited as much as we have from our Cornell education.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on February 22, 2008 (#)

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