Philadelphia, PA – The big question with Ivy League football often centers around the school presidents keeping the league champion on the sidelines during the FCS playoffs.
This week, another important issue developed for the Ivy League: the Patriot League announced it will begin to offer football scholarships with the 2013 season. It certainly isn't welcomed news for the Ivy League, which offers need-based financial aid to student-athletes, but not athletic scholarships.
The two leagues have enjoyed an outstanding relationship through the years, both in their commitment to academics and their regional proximity for scheduling games. Two-thirds of the Ivy's non-league games will be against Patriot opponents this coming season.
But as the scholarships in Patriot programs - 15 per recruiting class - add up, the playing field won't be so level. Ivy programs will be hard-pressed to be as competitive as they have been against their sister league.
Robin Harris, executive director for the Ivy League, wants to see the rivalries continue, but acknowledges there could be some change in future scheduling.
It might not even be the decision of the Ivy schools. Patriot programs may want to branch out with more non-league games against scholarship opponents.
In Five-a-Side - In the FCS Huddle's monthly feature of "five questions, five answers" with an influential person in the FCS - Harris discusses the Patriot League's decision to add football scholarships as well as that old elephant in the room, the Ivy football champion not going to the playoffs.
Let's kick off:
TSN: How will the Patriot League's decision affect the Ivy League?
RH: I don't think it will affect us that much, to be honest. Our schools were not offering athletic scholarships before the Patriot League was formed (in 1986) and will continue to not offer athletic scholarships. We enjoy playing Patriot League schools, they're not changing who they are academically, it's a good fit for us to play them when we can. I think that you'll still see our schools playing Patriot League schools, certainly in the near future. Even if there's diminishment of the number of games that we would play them, I still think there are natural rivalries and we're in the geographic region, our academic values are similar. Our schools are still going to have to play teams that offer athletic scholarships.
TSN: Obviously, some of your football programs play scholarship opponents even now, like Penn playing a Villanova or another school playing a Fordham with scholarships. Is it difficult to do that?
RH: Well, there's a difference, right, playing a Villanova who recently was in the championship game versus playing other scholarship schools that don't even qualify for the tournament. So I think it just varies. It's no different than any other sport, where we're playing scholarship schools in every other sport and we have wins in some of those and we have losses in some of those. So I think the same dynamics will be in play. We have great coaches and we have great tradition in the Ivy League. We have an ability to attract good student- athletes because of the schools that we are - the academics that are involved, the degree that they get and how that sets them up for a life beyond athletics.
TSN: Your programs often schedule games years in advance. Is it possible that feelings five years down the line could be different?
RH: Sure. I have no way of knowing that, how things will change. I think things tend to evolve. And I haven't had a chance to talk to the athletic directors since the decision, but I think they're going to continue to schedule programs that make sense for our schools to play. Same thing for our coaches. We have certain rivalries with the Patriot League that I think will continue. There may be other games that stop because there will be reasons to look at other athletic scholarship schools. But, certainly, I like the relationship that we have with the Patriot League and I hope that that continues.
TSN: How viable is it to schedule more games against Pioneer League teams (the only other FCS conference without football scholarships)?
RH: You know, then you start to get into travel issues. So I think that's the other key piece to this, is that the Patriot League is in our footprint. I think you may see occasional games where we go outside our footprint - that happens now - so we may see that a little bit more. But I don't know because that has a financial component and a time component to it.
TSN: So many people around your football teams, especially the coaches, continue to be in favor of sending the league champion to the FCS playoffs. Why aren't the school presidents changing that policy?
RH: There's an interest in focusing on the Ivy League season, that that should be the most important thing in football. We just have so much tradition and there's great value to be placed on the Ivy League season. There's also a concern with exams at that time of year.