The Yale football team has not lost a single game this season, has pummeled opponents by an average of three touchdowns per game and, depending on the outcome of this Saturday’s showdown, has the chance to capture its first back-to-back Ivy title in more than two decades. After having had the pleasure of watching a team ranked 11th in all of Division 1-AA football — a team that is touted as the best Yale squad in recent memory — it’s hard not to choke on your organic Commons dinner in excitement and anticipation when discussing the team’s promising postseason prospects this year.
But hold the chicken tikka masala — Yale has about as much chance of winning the FCS title as Larry Summers has of being hit on at a feminist convention. In fact, the Bulldogs have had the same championship odds every year since the formation of Division 1-AA in 1981: a big, fat zero. The FCS champion is decided every year in a 16-team, single-elimination tournament that grants automatic bids to the champions of eight athletic conferences, including the Ivy League. But every year, Ivy League representation is conspicuously absent. Why? In all their wisdom, the eight schools of our illustrious league have decided not to participate in the four-week tournament, making football the only Ancient Eight sport without an opportunity for postseason play.
Tackling some of the nation’s best teams in the FCS tournament may have been a non-issue here at Yale for much of the past decade when Bulldog teams often struggled to stay afloat even amongst Ivy League foes. Indeed, much of the student body may still be apathetic to the postseason, believing The Game to be the end-all, be-all of college football. The sad fact is there may be more drunk freshman girls who surreptitiously nudge their neighbors asking, “Psst, what color are we?” than those who even know what the FCS is.
Nevertheless, there are plenty who yearn to see our school expand the scope of its season beyond seven Ancient Eight games and a Patriot league opponent tossed in now and again for good measure. To us, denying Ivy League schools the opportunity to square off against some of the elite teams in the nation seems both unfortunate and unnecessary. And for those players who pour their sweat and blood into every game, week in and week out, only to be refused a shot at an FCS title, this denial is somewhat of a tragedy.
“I think most football players in the Ivy League are very frustrated with the postseason ban,” place-kicker Alan Kimball ’08 said. “It would definitely be nice to play some of the top teams in the country after the season.”
Captain Brandt Hollander ’08 shares in his teammate’s dissatisfaction with the current system and calls upon the Ivy League administrations for change.
“Players dedicate themselves to representing their school to the best of their abilities,” Hollander argues. “I think the decision to prevent these players who have sacrificed so much in the service of their school from being able to test themselves against the highest available level of competition is a disservice, not only to the players, but the schools as well. Much stands to be gained from a decision to include Ivy League schools in postseason play, and I ask the administration to bring about this inclusion.”
And it’s not just the players who want to play in the playoffs. Several times in the past four or five years, coaches throughout the league have reportedly been unanimous in their desire to enter into postseason play. So what is holding the league back?
Princeton head coach Roger Hughes accuses Harvard and Yale of being the culprits, arguing that our much-hallowed Game is too precious a finale for us to want to compete after.
“I know our colleagues at Yale and Harvard would rather have only The Game, only their teams as the final game of the season, because for them, that’s more of a culminating thing than it is for the rest of us,” Hughes said. “So I’m not sure they share the rest of the league’s [desire] to go to the playoffs.”
But I think it’s a bit unfair to cite Harvard and Yale as the sole reasons for the league’s reluctance to enter postseason play. One can only imagine those greedy Bostonians at Harvard, with their World Champion Red Sox, dynasty-chasing Patriots and newly revamped Celtics craving yet another championship of some sort. On our side, head coach Jack Siedlecki has repeatedly expressed his interest in participating in the postseason, stating, “I have voted in favor of playoffs every time they have been brought up in our coaches’ meetings. If you’re a competitive person, that’s what you want to do.”
So if the coaches are also on board, what is the issue? The problem likely lies a bit higher up on the totem pole. According to Siedlecki, in order to get anything changed in this league, a decision must pass four levels of inspection: coaches, athletic directors, the policy committee and then the presidents. “You can imagine what it means as you go up the ladder to non-athletic people,” Siedlecki said.
For an Ivy League school to enter the FCS tournament it would mean a rigorous and grueling four-week commitment that extends into finals period for most schools in the league. With the Ivy League ultimately being an academic league, it is easy to see why this might cause some discomfort for the powers that be. Considering no Ancient Eight team has competed in the Division 1-AA tournament in 25 years and change from the status quo appears unlikely in the near future, we may have to be content with spanking Harvard and racking up Ivy League championships for the time being — which isn’t so bad either.
Dhruv Khullar is a junior in Davenport College.