Throw away all your Nike and Adidas gear, Yale fans, because we’ve entered the world of Under Armour.
The Baltimore-based apparel manufacturer reached a deal with Yale athletics reportedly worth $16.5 million over 10 years to outfit Yale’s 35 varsity sports. That’s quite a chunk of change: The annual value of $1.65 million beats out the Nike deals with major-conference powerhouses such as Rutgers, of the Big Ten, or Iowa State, of the Big 12.
Under Armour representatives were apparently interested in a deal and choosing between Harvard, Yale or Princeton, proving that the Ivy League, though not on the level of the Southeastern Conference or the Pac-12, is a respectable league in its own right.
Need more proof? Check out the recently released ESPN men’s basketball recruiting rankings. Unsurprisingly, Kentucky and Duke have the top two classes in the country, and longtime powerhouse North Carolina is ranked ninth.
And yes, that’s Harvard — Harvard! — at No. 10, with three top-100 recruits having already verbally committed.
It’s not just Harvard that has reeled in big-time recruits on the hardwood, either. Yale snagged a verbal commitment from South Carolina forward Jordan Bruner, who picked the Elis over Clemson among other schools, and both Princeton and Penn have also received verbal commitments from three-star recruits.
This trend of Ivy League schools creeping into the national spotlight has only accelerated in recent years. Consider hockey, where Yale won a national championship — For God, For Country and 4–0 — in 2013 and where Harvard, Cornell and Yale are all currently ranked in the top-12 of the country. Consider basketball, with Harvard’s recent March Madness victories. Consider Yale crew, which seems to win championships year after year, beating schools such as my hometown University of Washington.
Yes, it’s time to face the facts: The Ivy League is a bona fide athletic conference. And it needs to update its rulebook to reflect that.
For years, Ivy League schools refused to hold a basketball conference tournament, holding fast to tradition and its coveted “14-Game Tournament.” But without a playoff to decide the league’s automatic representative to the NCAA Tournament, any co-champions of the Ancient Eight are not recognized as champions, leading to situations such as the one last March when Yale was snubbed by the National Invitation Tournament despite winning a share of the Ivy crown.
Fortunately, it appears likely that there will be a four-team conference tournament starting in 2016–17, potentially helping more Ivy schools play in the postseason while increasing the league’s national platform. This move is unquestionably beneficial, as Daily Pennsylvanian Sports columnist Steven Tydings articulated in an op-ed last January.
But why stop there?
In football, the Ivy League, citing tradition and academics, annually declines a bid into the 16-team national title playoff, and is just one of two Football Championship Subdivision leagues to do so. While the academic concern is real, it seems nonsensical to prevent teams like the 10–0 Harvard squad of 2014 from proving that they are among the best in the FCS.
By doing so, the Ivy League is continually perpetuating the notion that Ivy student-athletes are not worthy of competing at the highest level — the exact opposite of the message Ivy admissions departments and classes preach to students about professional and academic pursuits.
For maybe the first time in history, things are changing rapidly in the Ancient Eight. While I was writing this column, I received a press release saying that the Ivy League has reached a deal with JMI Sports to serve as “the League’s official marketing rights agency” to target “elite regional, national and international brands.”
It appears that the off-the-field powers are starting to move away from the sacrosanct traditions of yore, given the consideration of a basketball playoff, the Ivy League Digital Network’s expansion in coverage, a major apparel contract and now a contracted marketing rights agency.
Now it’s time to face the facts and complete the journey into the 21st century.
GRANT BRONSDON is a senior in Ezra Stiles College and a former Sports Editor for the News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .